It’s a bleak week for the College Football Playoff race. And we ask ourselves: what if it were already 2026?
In all of college football, there isn’t a single game this week where both teams have at least one 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 race.
Would it be better with a 12-team playoff? Well, by that measure, yes. There would be eight games in which both teams cleared the admittedly low bar of one percentage point of playoff leverage. With more playoff spots available, this was bound to increase. But it would also change the episodes of games across the board. So let’s take a look: What would be at stake in Week 4 in a 12-team world?
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% on a win. A loss drops it to 3%.
In a 12-team playoff? No team would have more impact on the playoffs in Week 4 than the Vols. A win or loss against Florida would mean the difference between a 72 percent chance in the 12-team playoffs and a 39 percent chance. That’s huge!
Remember the eight games I mentioned where both teams would have at least a percentage point in playoff leverage? You look at the first of them. Suddenly a team like 3-0 Maryland has a chance in a 12-team playoff if everything goes right. In this case, if the Terps left Michigan Stadium with a win, they would have an 11% chance of making the playoffs, according to Predictor. As opposed to a less than 1% chance today.
Michigan would have multiple levels of leverage at stake: the Wolverines’ playoff odds would swing from 52% for a loss to 82% for a win. But Michigan will also have an eye on one of those byes if things go well the rest of the way. The Wolverines could have as much as a 19% chance of a reunion with a win, while a loss would drop their reunion hopes to just 7%.
That’s no problem for the Trojans against the 3-0 Beavers as FPI gives USC a 69 percent chance of winning. The implications for USC are significant in both setups: The Trojans’ playoff chances with a win would increase to 25% in a four-team format and would drop to 7% if they lost.
While losing would not be quite as devastating in a 12-team format, the difference between winning and losing would be larger: 73% to 44%. As with Michigan, there would be serious bye-plays for USC, especially as a team more likely to win their conference. A win in Oregon State would give the Trojans up to a 48% (!) chance of a bye, while a loss would drop them to 29%.
And what about those beavers? They would have a 7% chance of a playoff spot in a 12-team world if they beat USC this week (under 1% with a loss). It’s better than nothing, and it increases the reward for winning if you’re just a spoiler (from a playoff perspective).
Here’s a game where a playoff contender’s leverage would go down in a 12-team playoff setup. According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, Ohio State currently sees a 70% chance of a spot if they beat the Badgers and a 42% chance if they lose.
In a 12-team playoff, the difference between these numbers would narrow, as a great team like Ohio State would hardly stand a loss: the Buckeyes would go from a 97% playoff chance to a win to an 85% chance. rise a loss. But the game would also have bye-ramifications in the first round, with Ohio State’s chances going from 53% to 38% depending on win or loss.
And the game would have playoff significance for Wisconsin that it doesn’t currently have in the four-team format: The Badgers would have a 20 percent chance of a berth if they beat Ohio State and an 8 percent chance if they lost.
FPI makes Michigan State a 61 percent favorite in this contest, although undefeated Minnesota would be the team with the higher leverage: an 18 percent win-lose swing with a 30 percent chance of reaching the CFP with a win . The game would also matter for the Spartans, even after their loss to Washington, with a leverage of eight percentage points (maximum 11% chance of the CFP with a win).
In our current state, only Minnesota has playoff stakes and barely: a 3% shot with a win.
This game moves from a tight game (Baylor is a 53% favorite) with virtually no playoff impact to a tight game with significant playoff impact for both teams. Neither team would likely make the playoffs in a 12-team format, but a win would give both teams a chance. That would be a 25% chance for Baylor and a 10% chance for Iowa State.