Is it too late to expand the College Football Playoff to 12 teams for the 2023 season?
As we’re now halfway through the final season of the four-team format, it’s becoming very clear that the playoff is expanding a year too late. There are at least 10 teams who look capable of winning the national title through the first seven weeks of the season. If there were a 12-team playoff this season, here’s what the field would look like at the moment, in our opinion. The four quarterfinal games would be exceptional.
1. Michigan Wolverines (7-0)
The Wolverines have been the most dominant team in college football so far this season and are likely to be atop the first set of College Football Playoff rankings on Oct. 31. Michigan beat Indiana 52-7 on Saturday and have outscored its first four Big Ten opponents by 149 points while no one has scored more than 10 against UM all season. This could be the year Michigan breaks through to the national title game after back-to-back semifinal losses.
2. Georgia Bulldogs (7-0)
The two-time defending national champions beat Vanderbilt 37-20 on Saturday, though all-world TE Brock Bowers suffered what appeared to be an ankle sprain in the first half and didn’t return to the game. Georgia has looked more impressive over the last two weeks after its early wins over South Carolina and Auburn and heads into its off week ahead of its annual rivalry game with Florida. It’s hard to see where Georgia will lose during the regular season.
3. Washington Huskies (6-0)
The Huskies have a daunting road ahead of them in November. But we’re here to appreciate what Washington has done so far this season. Michael Penix Jr. threw four touchdowns in the team’s thrilling win over Oregon on Saturday and is the favorite for the Heisman Trophy as long as Washington keeps winning. Penix and Rome Odunze are the best QB-WR combination in college football and Washington’s defense is making plays.
4. Florida State Seminoles (6-0)
The Seminoles’ wins over LSU and Clemson would be enough to get them the final first-round bye in our mock playoff format. FSU blew out Syracuse on Saturday as Jordan Travis had a passing touchdown and two rushing touchdowns and Keon Coleman had nine catches for 140 yards. Coleman has been a phenomenal addition to the offense after his transfer from Michigan State and the FSU defense has stepped up over the past two weeks.
5. Oklahoma Sooners (6-0)
The Sooners were off on Saturday after their big win over Texas in Week 6. Having QB Dillon Gabriel healthy has been a big boost to the offense while the defense has made one of the biggest improvements of any unit in college football. After allowing 30 points per game a season ago, Oklahoma is giving up just 14 points per game so far this season. Texas was the first team to score more than 20 against the Sooners in 2023.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0)
The Buckeyes got their most dominant win of the season over a Power Five opponent on Saturday with an easy 41-7 win over Purdue. Ohio State was down to Dallan Hayden at running back with TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams out with injury and Chip Trayanum having to leave the game after a big hit. But the Ohio State defense is for real and Kyle McCord and the offense keep improving week after week.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-0)
We’ll know a lot more about the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes in Week 8 after they face off. Saturday was a tuneup for Penn State in an easy win over UMass. The Penn State defense is stifling and there are still a few questions about the explosiveness of the passing game. Drew Allar threw three touchdowns and was 16-of-23 on Saturday but averaged just seven yards an attempt. PSU is going to need to break a big play or two against the Buckeyes.
8. Texas Longhorns (5-1)
The Longhorns and Sooners could be on a collision course to meet again in the Big 12 title game. Texas doesn’t have any ranked opponents remaining on the schedule and was also off on Saturday, like Oklahoma. UT picked the wrong time to have its worst game of the season in Week 6 but had been very impressive over the first five weeks. This is still a team very capable of an 11-1 regular season.
9. Oregon Ducks (5-1)
How enjoyable would Oregon vs. Texas be as a first-round playoff game? The Ducks showed they’re still firmly in a thick Pac-12 mix with their performance on Saturday against Washington. Dan Lanning’s late fourth-down call was the right one, even if it didn’t work out. Washington was very likely going to get a chance for a game-tying touchdown with fewer seconds remaining if the Ducks punted.
10. Alabama Crimson Tide (6-1)
The Crimson Tide aren’t winning pretty, but they’re the clear frontrunners in the SEC West at the moment. Jalen Milroe was very good when he needed to be to seal a 24-21 win over Arkansas on Saturday and seems to be improving with each week as a starter. The defense is legit and is making it possible for Milroe to grow into the job. But it’s also worth wondering if Alabama will have enough firepower if it gets into a shootout with LSU.
11. North Carolina (6-0)
We saw Saturday night how important Devontez Walker can be to the UNC offense as he caught three TDs in the Tar Heels' win over Miami. UNC has scored at least 30 points in each of its first six games, but the key to its success so far has been a defense that's significantly improved. Miami was UNC's first ranked opponent of the season; the playoff committee would ding the Tar Heels' early strength of schedule. But this is a very good team that got better with Walker's addition.
12. Air Force (6-0)
Tulane could end up as the frontrunner to be the Group of Five representative in a New Year's Six bowl game by the end of the year, but Air Force has been exceptional so far this season. The Falcons outlasted a very good Wyoming team on Saturday night after outscoring its first five opponents of the season by 26 points per game.
- Nick Bromberg
Washington: The No. 7 Huskies established themselves as the team to beat in the Pac-12 at the midway point of the season with a 36-33 win over No. 8 Oregon. Michael Penix Jr. threw four touchdown passes and should be the clear Heisman favorite as the Huskies beat Oregon for the second straight season. Washington ends the season with four straight ranked opponents but could be 8-0 entering November with games against Arizona State and Stanford up next.
Oregon State: The Oregon State vs. UCLA game was a big one in the Pac-12 race, and the Beavers left no doubt. Jonathan Smith’s team knocked off the Bruins 36-24 to improve to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in Pac-12 play. The Beavers intercepted UCLA freshman Dante Moore three times, all in the first half. The third of those INTs was returned 67 yards for a touchdown, giving the Beavers a 23-10 lead at halftime. UCLA tried to make things interesting in the second half, but the deficit was too much to overcome. The Beavers now enter a bye week before the home stretch of the final season of Pac-12 play. They will have a chance to go out on top.
Missouri: Missouri rebounded from last week’s loss to LSU with a big road win over Kentucky. It was a close game most of the way. The Tigers trailed 21-20 entering the fourth quarter before they closed the run on a 17-0 scoring spurt to get out of Lexington with a 38-21 win. With the win, Missouri is now 6-1 overall and 2-1 in SEC play. It won’t be easy, but there’s a path to the SEC title game ahead with division games against South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida all in the coming weeks. Missouri hasn’t topped six wins during Eli Drinkwitz’s tenure, so getting to 6-1 at this point in the season is a step forward for the program.
Stanford WR Elic Ayomanor: Stanford pulled off a remarkable comeback to shock Colorado 46-43 in double-overtime and it wouldn’t have been possible without an outstanding performance from Elic Ayomanor. Ayomanor had a ridiculous 13 catches for 294 yards and three touchdowns to help the Cardinal overcome a 29-0 halftime deficit. Entering Friday night’s game, Ayomanor had 15 catches for 207 yards and a TD in Stanford’s previous five games. Ayomanor had TDs of 97 and 60 yards in the third quarter and then made a ridiculous play over Colorado’s Travis Hunter to send the game to double-overtime.
— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) October 14, 2023
Dana Holgorsen: Dana Holgorsen probably experienced the entire spectrum of emotions in about five minutes. Holgorsen spent eight seasons at West Virginia before leaving to take the Houston job. And with UH now in the Big 12, Holgorsen finally got to coach against his former school. It was a wild game that Houston won on a Hail Mary as time expired. Donovan Smith found Stephon Johnson from 49 yards out as time expired to give UH a wild 41-39 win. It shouldn’t have come down to that. UH had a 35-24 lead, but WVU scored twice in the span of 3:30 late in the fourth quarter, including a fourth-down, 50-yard TD to go ahead 39-35 with just 12 seconds left in regulation. That could have doomed Holgorsen's Cougars, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on WVU after the TD gave Houston good field position. The Cougars took advantage.
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) October 13, 2023
Air Force: Air Force won a 34-27 thriller over Wyoming to stay undefeated and take control of first place in the Mountain West. The Falcons were down 14-0 early and 21-17 at halftime, but they mounted a comeback and went ahead 27-21 early in the fourth. Wyoming would respond with what looked to be a go-ahead touchdown, except Air Force blocked the extra point to keep the score at 27-27. That set the stage for Air Force’s John Lee Eldridge III to win the game with a 58-yard touchdown run. Now 6-0, don’t be surprised if the Falcons are ranked next week. This is a team that belongs in the conversation for a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) October 15, 2023
James Madison: JMU just keeps winning. The Dukes are 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Sun Belt play thanks to a dominant 41-13 win over Georgia Southern on Saturday. Before beating the Eagles, JMU beat Troy and South Alabama — the two participants in last year’s Sun Belt title game. JMU looks like the SBC’s best team, but the Dukes are still ineligible for postseason play because of the NCAA’s rules about teams transitioning from the FCS to FBS. It’s a shame, because JMU has been one of the best Group of Five teams in the country to this point in the season.
Utah DB Sione Vaki: Colorado’s Travis Hunter isn’t the only Pac-12 player excelling on both sides of the ball as Utah safety Sione Vaki had a huge game vs. Cal. Vaki was used in a variety of ways on offense, including as a wildcat QB and in the backfield with RB Ja’Quinden Jackson. It worked beautifully as Vaki rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in the 34-14 win. That included a 72-yard touchdown. Vaki also had four tackles on defense and is now tied for the team lead.
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) October 14, 2023
USC: USC had some close calls against mediocre Pac-12 competition. That level of play did not translate to the Trojans’ trip to Notre Dame as they dropped to 6-1 with an ugly 48-20 loss. Caleb Williams threw three first-half interceptions, all of which led to ND touchdowns. He also had a fourth-quarter fumble that was returned for a Notre Dame score. It was an ugly outing for the Trojans, who also allowed a 46-yard deep ball and a 99-yard kickoff return to go for TDs in the second half. USC is going to have to clean things up significantly to get through an upcoming Pac-12 gauntlet that includes games vs. Utah, Washington and Oregon.
Colorado: CU's chances of making a bowl game are pretty faint after an epic collapse against Stanford. Colorado should have cruised to a win after leading 29-0 but lost 46-43 in double overtime after Stanford scored touchdowns on its first five possessions of the second half. A win over the Cardinal would have put Colorado a win away from a bowl game. Instead, Colorado needs two victories to be eligible for the postseason and UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona, Washington State and Utah loom on the remainder of the schedule.
Michigan State: Michigan State had a 24-6 lead over Rutgers entering the fourth quarter before an epic meltdown. Rutgers scored three touchdowns in less than five minutes to flip that 24-6 deficit to a 27-24 lead. That ended up being the final score in a brutal loss for MSU. The downturn started when punter Michael O’Shaughnessy fumbled a snap in his own end zone that Rutgers recovered for a score. After another Rutgers TD, MSU’s special teams struck again as Tyrell Henry failed to field the ensuing kickoff and Rutgers was able to pounce on the loose ball. On the next play, the Scarlet Knights scored the winning TD. It was the fourth consecutive loss for the Spartans and by far the worst one. Next on the schedule for the 2-4 Spartans is Michigan. Yikes.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 14, 2023
Wisconsin: Wisconsin had a chance to seize control of the Big Ten West, but turned in a miserable performance in a 15-6 home loss to Iowa. Iowa had only 37 passing yards but somehow managed to run for 200 yards on the Badgers, who fell behind via an 82-yard TD run from Iowa’s Leshon Williams. It was 7-6 at halftime, but the Badgers were shut out in the second half after an injury to QB Tanner Mordecai. Wisconsin was 2-of-17 on third down, turned it over twice and had a costly turnover on downs in the loss.
Louisville: A lot can change in a week. Louisville had a huge home win over Notre Dame last weekend to improve to 6-0 and jump to No. 14 in the rankings. A trip to 1-4 Pitt followed, and it had all the ingredients for a potential hangover game. That’s just what happened. Pitt looked reinvigorated after a bye week and pulled off the upset, winning 38-21. Louisville, now no longer unbeaten, made so many mistakes. Jack Plummer had a fumble and two interceptions, including a pick-six. UL was also 0-for-4 on fourth down tries and 5-of-13 on third down.
Washington State: Things have gone sideways quickly for No. 19 Washington State. After a 4-0 start, the Cougars have now fallen to 4-2. Last week, WSU lost 25-17 at UCLA. This week was much worse as the Cougars lost 44-6 at home to Arizona. It was an ugly outing as WSU could muster only 234 yards of offense while turning it over three times. On the other side, the defense allowed Arizona freshman QB Noah Fifita to throw for 342 yards in his third start in place of the injured Jayden de Laura. Things won’t get easier for the Cougars as they travel to Eugene to face Oregon next weekend.
Texas A&M: Texas A&M blew a halftime lead for the second straight game. Last week, the Aggies led Alabama at home and lost, 26-20. This week, the Aggies led Tennessee 10-7 on the road and lost, 20-13. Tennessee went ahead 14-10 with a punt return touchdown in the third quarter and never looked back. The Aggies had chances late in the fourth quarter, but were doomed by two late Max Johnson interceptions. It marked Texas A&M’s eighth consecutive road loss. Now 4-3 going into the bye week, hot seat talk is going to intensify for Jimbo Fisher.
South Carolina: South Carolina has a bumpy path to bowl eligibility after a heartbreaking 41-39 loss to Florida at home on Saturday. The Gamecocks, now 2-4, had a 37-27 with 9:11 left in the fourth quarter, but they allowed the Gators to score two touchdowns in the final five minutes to pull out the win. The game-winning touchdown pass was a 21-yard connection from Graham Mertz to Ricky Pearsall with just 47 seconds to play. Mertz torched the Gamecocks for 423 yards and three touchdowns. Before Saturday, Mertz’s season high was 333 yards in the opener vs. Utah. And many of those yards came in garbage time. The Gamecocks’ defense made him look like an All-American.