Monday, April 22, 2024
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As College Football Playoff adjusts 12-team model, how Pac-2 moves forward after pushing back on changes

College Football Playoff leaders agreed to a 5+7 model for the expanded 12-team playoff format on Tuesday, signaling a major change in the postseason landscape with the 2024 season just over six months away. The move grants guaranteed access to college football’s five highest-ranked conference champions with seven spots reserved as “at-large” spots for the next highest-ranked teams. 

Ushering in this new era is the effective dissolution of the Pac-12, which saw its status as a power conference crumble when 10 teams left during the latest wave of conference realignment. Under the previous 6+6 model, which left an extra spot for conference champions to automatically qualify, the Pac-12 likely would have had a playoff representative every year. 

Now, Oregon State and Washington State — who occupy a nominal spot as the “Pac-2” — are once again left on the outside looking in. Those five spots in the 5+7 model will be filled by the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and the highest-ranking non-power conference champion. 

Whatever the case, the door isn’t closed for the Pac-12, no matter what it may look like moving forward. The path did, however, just get significantly more difficult. Here’s what Tuesday’s change means for the “Pac-2,” and how they can keep their hopes alive moving forward. 

Fighting for a schedule

Oregon State and Washington State did an admirable job of securing their immediate future following the Pac-12’s implosion. The two schools entered into a scheduling agreement with the Mountain West to fill out their respective 12-game slate. In this alliance, each Mountain West team will play seven conference games and then one contest against either Oregon State or Washington State. In exchange, the two Pac-12 holdovers are giving the MWC a sum of $14 million. 

Though this will allow the Beavers and the Cougars to play a full schedule, there are a couple drawbacks. The two sides only agreed to the revised schedule for 2024, though there is an option to renew the deal in 2025. On top of that, neither Oregon State nor Washington State are eligible to compete in the Mountain West Championship Game, and there certainly won’t be a Pac-12 Championship Game, so there’s no way for either team to automatically qualify. 

Path to the playoff 

Prior to his exit, former Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff discussed the possibility of adding new schools to get the conference back up to shape. There’s no telling how Teresa Gould, who was elevated from her deputy commissioner role this week to replace Kliavkoff, will approach this challenge. The Pac-12 and Mountain West have also talked about a potential merger which, at the very least, would allow Oregon State and Washington State to compete for a conference title again. 

For now, though, the Beavers and Cougars are going to have to battle for an at-large bid. If they’re going to be treated as non-power teams, as Tuesday’s decisions suggest they will, then getting an at-large bid is easier said than done. 

Only one team outside the former Autonomous Five conferences (excluding Notre Dame, which has a comparable status) has ever made the College Football Playoff; that was Cincinnati in 2021, and it was buoyed by an early season win against a highly ranked Notre Dame team. If we were to apply the current model, including the Pac-12’s exclusion from automatically qualifying, to the 2023 College Football Playoff field, Liberty would have been the only non-power conference team to make the cut. The Flames went 13-0 and won a league title in their first season with Conference USA. 

The other at-large bids would have gone to schools in the SEC, Big Ten and ACC. SMU, which also joins the ACC in 2024, was the only other non-power team ranked. The Mustangs landed at No. 24 in the final release — a far shot from a 12-team field. 

Washington State and Oregon State will have their chance to make an impression in 2024. Each team is preserving its in-state rivalry, with Wazzu playing Washington and Oregon State playing Oregon. Oregon is a likely preseason top-10 team, while Washington is fresh off an appearance in the College Football Playoff National Championship. A win in those games would be a nice statement. 

And while the Mountain West Conference isn’t a perceived power, it does have a strong roster of teams that have made their presence known in top 25 polls recently. Still, to get an at-large spot, Washington State or Oregon State would have to be undefeated and would need some dominoes to fall their way elsewhere. 

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