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College Football Playoff bracket: Early predictions under 5+7 model as 12-team format begins in 2024 season

The College Football Playoff Board of Managers unanimously approved a change to the 5+7 model as the expanded 12-team field debuts in the 2024 season, awarding automatic bids to the five highest-ranked conference champions with seven at-large bids filling out the field. It was a change necessitated by the implosion of the Pac-12 as a championship-producing conference, as 10 of those members now reside in the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC. 

Finalizing the format provides the opportunity to take part in an exercise that’s all too familiar around this time of year because of the NCAA Tournament. While CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm and other March Madness Bracketologists are crunching the numbers for a 68-team field on the basketball court, we thought it would be fun to fill out a way-too-early projected bracket for the 12-team College Football Playoff field come December. 

Going through this process requires a few points of clarification in the wake of implementation of the 5+7 model.

  • The four highest-ranked conference champions will get the top four seeds (in order) in the bracket and receive a first-round bye. Those teams may be ranked behind other at-large teams in the final selection committee rankings; but if a team is, for example, the third-highest ranked conference champion, it will jump straight to No. 3. 
  • After that, the fifth-highest-ranked conference champion is not guaranteed anything other than a spot in the field. If the fifth-highest-ranked conference champion is ranked behind the seven at-large selections, it will be the No. 12 seed. 
  • Higher seeds in the first round host playoff games, either at their home stadium or another location of their designation. After the first round, the six games that make up the quarterfinals and semifinals will be hosted by the traditional New Year’s Six bowl games (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Peach and Cotton).  
  • Notre Dame, since it is not a conference member, will not be eligible for a top-four seed regardless of ranking. The highest seed Notre Dame can have in the current format is the No. 5 seed. The Fighting Irish not only agreed to this but had an intimate role — via athletic director Jack Swarbrick — in crafting the 12-team playoff format dating all the way back to the initial proposal in the summer of 2021. 

Now, let’s jump into some December Madness by predicting how the 12-team field might look at the end of the 2024 college football season. 

2024 CFP bracket prediction

(12) Liberty at (5) Oregon 
Winner advances to play (4) Utah 

(11) Ole Miss at (6) Texas 
Winner advances to play (3) Clemson 

(10) Notre Dame at (7) Michigan 
Winner advances to play (2) Ohio State

(9) Penn State at (8) Alabama 
Winner advances to play (1) Georgia 

Breaking down predicted 12-team CFP field

1. Georgia (SEC champion): Pre-spring practice ratings of the top teams in college football have Georgia at No. 1, and then there’s a gap before you get to the more interesting discussions about teams Nos. 2-4. Quarterback Carson Beck returns after leading the Bulldogs offense to stellar and often overlooked results in 2023, and after missing the playoff due in part to some rough injury luck, there will be no motivational issues in the 2024 season.  

2. Ohio State (Big Ten champion): The Buckeyes are one of the most loaded teams in the sport heading into 2024. They’ve pulled in some of the most coveted players from the transfer portal and have Chip Kelly leaving his post as UCLA coach to take on the offensive coordinator role. This commitment to roster retention, transfer portal additions and top-notch staff hires represents a response to seeing Michigan roll off three straight Big Ten titles and now a national championship. Ryan Day and Ohio State are all in on taking back the throne in 2024, starting with assembling the best roster in the conference. 

3. Clemson (ACC champion): One of the big questions fans need answered in the 12-team format is how conference champions might jump up from lower spots in the overall rankings to claim a top four seed. I’ve got the Tigers close to the top 12 in my way-too-early rankings, but among projected conference champions they are the third-highest team and therefore get to turn what might be a No. 12 ranking into the No. 3 seed in the bracket. Clemson hit on a few game-changers in the 2023 recruiting cycle that have the Tigers’ defense looking like the best in the ACC. With Year 2 of the Cade Klubnik-Garrett Riley relationship ahead, I’m expecting some steps forward on offense as well.  

4. Utah (Big 12 champion): The injuries mounted in a massive way for Utah in 2023, which prevented the Utes from returning to the familiar land of Pac-12 title contention. Now, they’re joining the new-look Big 12 with a defense that checks every box and the potential of star quarterback Cam Rising finally returning to the field after missing all of last season brings more optimism. The margins will be slim in an ultra-competitive conference where Kansas State, Arizona and Oklahoma State will be right in the mix, but I’ve got Kyle Whittingham and the Utes making a splash upon their Big 12 arrival.   

5. Oregon (at-large): Dan Lanning has combined strong high school recruiting with key transfer portal additions to build a pair of rosters that allowed him to hit the ground running (21-5 in his first two years) while also building the foundation of a sustained winner. Going from Bo Nix to Dillon Gabriel makes a lot of football sense; the former UCF and Oklahoma quarterback should have a chance to be extremely productive in the Ducks offense. Throw in a defense that’s bringing back key pieces from last year’s group, and the expectations remain competing for championships even through a change in conference.   

6. Texas (at-large): The Longhorns lost loads of production on offense but return two-thirds of their quarterback room with both Quinn Ewers and Arch Manning back in the fold for 2024. Steve Sarkisian also addressed those skill position losses adequately through the transfer portal. Combined with the way Texas has recruited since his arrival three years ago, the Longhorns are going to enter next season with an expectation of repeating much of the success they experienced during the last season’s playoff run. 

7. Michigan (at-large): Sherrone Moore’s imprint on Michigan football will begin with his SMASH theme, something he’s brought from the offensive line room and now extended to the entire program. The Wolverines should still be able to win with physicality at the line of scrimmage again, and running back Donovan Edwards gets his time in the spotlight as the team’s lead back. With Michigan’s success in the player development department over the last couple of years, the Wolverines seem to be a high-floor proposition in the Big Ten this year.  

8. Alabama (at-large): While the losses of high-ceiling projected starters like Caleb Downs, Kadyn Proctor and Isaiah Bond are notable and significant, a majority of Alabama’s defections through the transfer portal happened before Nick Saban’s retirement and Kalen DeBoer’s hiring. The Crimson Tide have been working — and will continue to work — the portal to build out a roster that will still be one of the most talented in the sport. DeBoer has been a winner at multiple levels, so now that he’s got the most talented team he’s ever coached, my expectation is that this a top-three team in the SEC. 

9. Penn State (at-large): There’s a lot to like about Penn State’s chances of being right back in the mix for a 10-win season, starting with quarterback Drew Allar and the one-two running back punch of Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen. James Franklin has two new coordinators taking over this spring with former Kansas OC Andy Kotelnicki on offense and former Indiana coach Tom Allen on defense, but both hires have generated a lot excitement about the Nittany Lions keeping pace as a top-tier team in the expanded Big Ten.  

10. Notre Dame (at-large): Can the addition of both quarterback Riley Leonard and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, who arrives from LSU after Jayden Daniels’ Heisman-winning season, push a high-floor Fighting Irish team over the top in 2024? With 19 wins in his first two full seasons as coach, Marcus Freeman has set a top-15 level expectation that says Notre Dame is going to be in the playoff conversation. Leonard and the offense emerging as game-changers raises the ceiling, opening the door to a top-10 kind of finish and appearance in the inaugural edition of the 12-team playoff.  

11. Ole Miss (at-large): Ole Miss’ offseason approach to the transfer portal, identifying multiple high-level instant impact additions to the roster, suggests they know the window is open in Oxford, Mississippi. The Rebels’ SEC schedule draw is relatively favorable, and there is enough returning from last year’s 11-win team to envision another year of double-digit wins and prominent placement in the postseason. Only this time, in an expanded playoff, those final rankings are going to lead to playoff appearances instead of New Year’s Six bowl games. 

12. Liberty (Conference USA champion): One of the biggest transfer portal pickups in Conference USA this offseason has been Liberty getting a recommitment from Kaidon Salter after the Flames’ star quarterback put his name in the transfer portal in early January. Salter was named the Conference USA MVP by the league’s coaches, and his return gives Liberty a great chance to finish as the fifth-highest-ranked conference champion in the final selection committee rankings. 

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