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What The 12-Team College Football Playoff Means For BYU, Utah, Utah State

Dec 1, 2022, 12:51 PM
Kalani Sitake, Kyle Whittingham, Blake Anderson...
The College Football Playoff will have an impact on BYU, Utah, and Utah State. (Courtesy of Getty Images)
(Courtesy of Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The College Football Playoff is about to enter a 12-team era. Hard to believe. But it’s happening in 2024. Fans of teams from inside the state of Utah should be excited about the change.

We’ve been at the center of playoff debates here in Utah for decades.

 

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At the heart of the playoff’s evolution was in 1984. When BYU won the last National Championship for a team outside a major conference. Television networks were holding unofficial toll-free polls with their viewers to determine if BYU was worthy of being the No. 1 team in the land.

You could point to BYU’s unanimous National Championship in ’84 being the point that later formed the Bowl Alliance and then the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

In the BCS era, BYU considered suing the Bowl Championship Series with an anti-trust lawsuit in 2001. They never did, but it opened the door for BCS Busters like undefeated Utah to emerge in 2004.

The Utes had another undefeated run in 2008 that was capped off with a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Utah finished the season No. 2 in the final AP Top 25 but was never considered to play in the National Championship Game. Former Utah Senator Orrin Hatch was ready to take on the BCS in 2009. But that got put to rest one year later when Utah was invited to the Pac-12.

Five years later, we were greeted with a four-team Playoff which seemed like the perfect solution to all the problems. But it’s become more of an invitational. Instead of being the football equivalent to what the NCAA basketball tournament is, a national event.

In 2020, BYU cobbled up a schedule with anyone that would play them amid the COVID-19 pandemic. BYU rolled to a 9-0 start playing a light schedule. But they were putting out feelers to anyone who would listen. BYU had Alabama and Texas A&M on the 2020 schedule before the SEC went to a conference-only schedule. The College Football Playoff committee didn’t care, ranking BYU well below where the AP pollsters had them. The knock on BYU? Didn’t play a tough enough schedule.

A 12-team College Football Playoff with guaranteed bids to conference champion changes everything we’ve grown to know about this sport.

Here’s what it means for our local teams.

Direct path to playing for a National Championship

For BYU and Utah, the path is clear, win your Autonomous Five conference, and you’ll likely be in the 12-team College Football Playoff. The 12-team CFP will give automatic bids to the six highest-ranked conference champions.

A conference champion from the Big 12 or Pac-12 is likely always going to get into the field of 12. Of course, there’s always that chance an 8-4 team wins a conference, but leagues are shifting away from divisions and pitting the top two teams in conference championship games. Win your league, and you’ll be in.

The same potentially could be said for Utah State. What’s great about this 12-team Playoff format is that it guarantees a conference champion from the Group of Five gets into the Playoff. But, think about how much that changes season goals and the outlook for a program like Utah State.

The Aggies have fielded three 11-win teams in the last decade. Think about the meaning of a Mountain West Conference Championship Game for the Aggies if a potential playoff bid is at stake. It brings more national recognition and eyeballs to the USU brand. Honestly, it’s a game-changer for the Group of Five.

Going back to BYU and Utah, it’s a game-changer for them too. Think about the Utes entering this season. There was playoff buzz around them. But it came with caveats. “Win at Florida and hope the Gators are good this season.” Utah or BYU no longer have to hope their out-of-conference opponents are strong. Just win as many games as possible and win your conference. You’ll likely be in the 12-team playoff.

Potential for huge College Football Playoff home games

Imagine a scenario where LaVell Edwards Stadium or Rice-Eccles Stadium is hosting an ACC, Big Ten, or SEC team in December. That alone makes it sound big time. Then you add that it’s a playoff game with a chance to advance in a national tournament.

Those home games will be massive and become some of the biggest events sports fans in Utah have ever witnessed.

It’s a shame the quarterfinals of the playoff are going to be bowl games. The idea of home or true road games would be incredible until the National Championship. But, hey, baby steps, right? It took 150-plus years to bring on a 12-team playoff. Maybe one day, we will have all of these games played in home venues. One can dream.

Injects life into College Football out west

College football out west has become an afterthought during the four-team Playoff era. No team from the Pac-12 has reached the Playoff since Washington in 2016. However, that could change this weekend if USC beats Utah. Until USC hired Lincoln Riley, the idea of a National Champion emerging from the west coast was almost laughable.

Since 2014, the lack of energy in college football on the west coast has shown in recruiting. Blue chip talent has left Utah, California, and Washington to play in the southeast or the midwest. There are good football players up and down the Mountain and Pacific time zones, but the schools in this footprint must keep them at home. Laying out direct paths to the Playoff should help that cause.

Conference realignment wheels could slow down

The one fear of this 12-team Playoff is that it will eventually become a trial balloon for the Big Ten and SEC to field their own 12-team Playoff. All of the power in this sport resides in those two leagues. Those leagues have the power to call up any university outside of its league, and those schools would jump at the chance to join one of those conferences at this point. So everything is in the SEC and Big Ten’s corner.

But for now, they seem to be OK at 16 teams. So it begs the question, does it slow down any realignment moves within other leagues?

The Big 12 would love to poach teams from the Pac-12. But if you’re the Arizona schools, Oregon, or Utah, is there much incentive to jump to the Big 12, where you know you only have a 10-team league to navigate? And if you win that league, you’re probably in the Playoff.

 

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The 12-team Playoff was a lifeline to the Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC. It brings peace of mind and some stability. OK, you’re not going to make SEC or Big Ten media rights money. But the best teams in these conferences will still have a path to playing on the highest stages of college football. That matters.

Revenue distribution

The Athletic has reported that the revenue distribution in 2024 and 2025 will remain the same. That comes out to $74 million per year for the power leagues. Something to monitor, however, will be the revenue model in 2026.

That’s when a new contract is signed. Does the top-end money shift to the SEC and Big Ten? Still, there will be a lot of money involved in this 12-team Playoff.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s BYU football coverage on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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What The 12-Team College Football Playoff Means For BYU, Utah, Utah State