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What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4


It’s been a dreary week for the College Football Playoff race. And that leads us to ask ourselves: what if it was already 2026?

In all of college football, there isn’t a single game on this week’s roster in which both teams have at least a percentage point of playoff leverage, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor. In other words: there is no game where a win or a loss counts for both teams in terms of the playoff chase.

Would it be better with a 12-team playoff? Well, by this measure, yes. There would be eight games where both teams broke the admittedly low one percentage point mark of playoff leverage. With more playoff spots available, that was bound to increase. But it would also change the consequences of games across the board. So let’s take a look: what would be the stakes in Week 4 in a 12-team world?


What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4

In our current state, Tennessee is a playoff contender with one outside shot and a 14% chance of earning a berth. This can increase to…15% with a win. A loss drops them to 3%.

In a 12-team playoff? No team would have more playoff weight at stake in Week 4 than the Vols. A win or loss to Florida would be the difference between a 72% chance in the 12-team playoffs and a 39% chance. It is enormous!

What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4

Remember those eight games I mentioned where both teams would have at least a percentage point of playoff leverage? You look at the first of them. Suddenly, with a 12-team playoff, a team like 3-0 Maryland has a chance if all goes well. In that case, if the Terps came out of Michigan Stadium with a win, they would have an 11% chance of making the playoffs, according to the Predictor. Unlike less than 1% chance today.

Michigan would have multiple levels of leverage in play: Wolverines’ playoff odds would go from 52% with a loss to 82% with a win. But Michigan will also have its eye on one of those byes if things go well for the rest. Wolverines could get up to a 19% chance of being bye with a win, while a loss would reduce their bye hopes to just 7%.

What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4

It’s not a good idea for the Trojans against the Beavers 3-0, with the FPI giving USC a 69% chance of winning. The consequences are significant for USC in both configurations: the Trojans’ chance of winning the playoffs would increase to 25% in a four-team format and drop to 7% in a loss.

While a loss would no longer be so devastating in a 12-team format, the difference between a win and a loss would be greater: 73% to 44%. As with Michigan, there would also be serious bye stakes for USC, especially as a team more likely to win its conference. Beating Oregon State would see the Trojans hit 48% (!) passing shooting, while losing would drop them to 29%.

And how about those beavers? They would have a 7% chance of making the playoffs in a 12-team world if they beat USC this week (less than 1% with a loss). It’s better than nothing, and it increases the reward of winning for just being a spoiler (from a playoff perspective).

What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4

Here’s a game where a playoff contender’s leverage would drop in a 12-team playoff setup. Ohio State is currently looking at a 70% chance of earning a spot with a win over the Badgers and a 42% chance with a loss, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor.

With a 12-team playoff, the difference between those numbers would compress, as a loss for a great team like Ohio State would hardly prevent it: The Buckeyes would go from a 97% playoff chance with a win to a 85% chance with a loss. But the game would also have first-round ramifications, with Ohio State’s odds dropping from 53% to 38% depending on a win or loss.

And the game would have playoff significance for Wisconsin that it currently doesn’t have in the four-team format: The Badgers would have a 20% chance of securing a berth with a win over Ohio State and an 8% chances of losing.

What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4

FPI makes Michigan State a 61% favorite in this contest, although undefeated Minnesota is the team with higher leverage: an 18 percentage point gap between win and loss with the 30 advantage. % chance of reaching CFP with a win. The game would also matter for the Spartans, even after their loss to Washington, to the tune of eight percentage points of leverage (maximizing an 11% chance at CFP with a win).

In our current state, only Minnesota has playoff stakes, and barely: a 3% shot with a win.

What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4What a 12-team college football playoff would mean for the biggest matchups of Week 4

This game goes from what should be a close game (Baylor is a 53% favorite) with virtually no playoff involvement to a close game with significant playoff implications for both teams. Neither team would likely make the playoffs in a 12-team format, but with a win, they’d both stand a chance. For Baylor, that would be a 25% shot and Iowa State a 10% chance.

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