Oklahoma football: Expanding playoff could grow likelihood of SEC-Big Ten showdown

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As the Oklahoma football program relocates to a new conference home as part of another seismic movement in conference realignment, the College Football Playoff is also expanding to meet the changing times.

The ink on the decision last year to expand to a 12-teams playoff format in the 2024 season is barely dry, and the CFP committee is already talking about expanding to 14 or 16 teams. The coming 2024 season will see the first installation of the 12-team playoff field, and playoff officials are already looking at and discussing the prospects of changing it once again.

Meeting on Wednesday, the CFP Management Committee announced the change of going to a five-plus-seven model in selecting and seeding the 12 teams that will make up the 2024 playoff field. This is a change from the six-plus-six original format, which called for seeding the six highest-ranked conference champions to received automatic berths in the playoff followed by six at-large teams.

Given the reduction of the Pac-12 to just two teams, the playoff selection process will now include automatic berths to the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC champions and a fifth automatic berth awarded to the highest-ranked team from either the Pac-12 or a Group of Five conference. The next seven spots will be filled by the highest-ranked non-conference champions.

Oklahoma has appeared in four College Football Playoffs as a result of winning the Big 12 crown for six straight years from 2015 to 20. Those chances have been greatly reduced with the Sooners' move to the SEC. OU would have to win the SEC championship to receive one of the top-five seeds, which isn't likely in the immediate future, and the strength of the teams in the SEC and having to successfully navigate through a brutal eight-game conference schedule will make it equally tough for Oklahoma to finish among the country's top-12 teams, even with an expanded playoff field.

If they continue to grow the number of teams that participate in the CFP, however, the Sooners chances of making the playoff field will get better, but the more teams they ultimately let in, the greater the chance that road to college football's top prize becomes more of a showdown between the two top conferences: the SEC and the Big Ten.

Had a 12-team CFP format been in place for the 2023 college football season, Michigan, Washington, Texas and Alabama would have received the top four seeds and first-round byes as Power Five conference champions. Florida State, as champion of the ACC, and Liberty, the highest-ranked of the Group of Five teams would also have received automatic playoff berths.

That would have left six at-large bids to fill out the 2023 playoff field. The six next highest-ranked teams, according to the final CFP rankings, included three SEC teams (Georgia, Missouri and Ole Miss), two Big Ten teams (Ohio State and Penn State) and a Pac-12 team (Oregon). Oklahoma was sitting at No. 12, and that was playing a Big 12 schedule, but because Liberty made the playoffs as the top Group of Five team, the Sooners would have been odd man out and missed the 12-team cutoff.

Of concern if you are an OU football fan, is that the Sooners play four of the SEC teams Alabama, Missouri and Ole Miss plus newcomer Texas) that would have made a 12-team playoff last season in the coming 2024 season, Oklahoma's first in the SEC.

What does all the expansion talk concerning the College Football Playoff mean for the Sooners in view of their move to the most competitive conference in college football? It seems fairly likely that the powers that be in college football are not going to stop at 12 teams. Whether its 12, 14 or 16 playoff teams, Oklahoma is probably going to have to be the no worse than the third- or fourth-best team in the SEC every season to have a chance of making the playoff. Even then, the third- or fourth-best SEC team is going to be a lower-seeded team.

And here is the bigger picture as far as Oklahoma football is concerned. Making the playoffs is one thing, but if the real goal is to win a national championship, which it is every season at OU, the playoff is merely a means to an end. And the fact is, achieving that elusive eighth national title is going to be increasingly more difficult by the Sooners move to the SEC.