College football is changing, folks.
That's the most obvious statement in the world, but I don't know if we're fully prepared for exactly how much things are going to change on us this year. The sport that we have all loved is going to be dramatically different this year. It will continue to twist and turn and shape and evolve in 2025 and beyond, but 2024 is going to has a shock value to it that we're (the collective college football fanbase) sort of isn't talking about.
An Expanded Playoff
This is arguably the change that people are looking forward to the the most. An expanded (allegedly) means more access and more potential for anyone to get into the National Championship game. Even though Georgia won the title a year ago and Michigan won the title earlier this month, seeing new names like TCU and Washington in the National Championship game was fun an exciting. Those new names combined with 12 teams in the playoff have instilled hope for everyone in the future.
But have we missed some of the fine print?
It was May of 2023 when the first announcement of the 12-team playoff was released. The agreement? 6 auto-bids to 6 conference champions.
Well a lot has changed since May. The PAC-12 is dead. Texas and Oklahoma have played their final football games as Big 12 members. And Manifest Destiny has finally been fulfilled as the Big Ten officially extends from sea-to-sea. The Bay Area is ACC Country. Utah is a Big 12 state. And Florida State is suing their conference to try to get out of it.
It's a different world than it was last May.
In November, Yahoo Sports reported that the CFP was prepared to move forward with a 5+7 model in the wake of all of the changes.
You know who hasn't confirmed that model yet? The CFP. We assume that's going to happen - and it probably will for 2024-2025, but TV contracts expire in 2025 anyways and more change will be coming.
But nobody has confirmed that 5+7 is the model. Which means that, until it is confirmed, it might not actually happen.
Which brings us to the next major change....
A Big Two Era
BYU finally made it to the Power Five club when they were invited to the Big 12. The Cougars survived another round when the PAC-12 died and the Big 12 picked up PAC-12 schools. Now BYU is a Power Four school. That's awesome news for the Cougars.
Except the game has officially changed. The structure now is more like a Big Two, A Solid Third, A Wildly Uncertain Fourth, and the Group of Five. So go on a walk with me...
vs. Weber State
vs. Eastern Michigan
vs. Washington State
at Penn State
That's what Washington's 2024 schedule looks like. They play the defending national champion, they play USC, they play on the road at Iowa, Oregon and Penn State. Plus a rivalry game against Washington State, and a sneaky-tough road game against Rutgers. That schedule is brutal.
Imagine a world where that Washington team goes 8-4.
Now let's cruise to Arizona's schedule next year.
vs. New Mexico
at Kansas State
vs. Arizona State
vs. Texas Tech
vs. West Virginia
By any objective measurement, that schedule is considerably less difficult than Washington's. So let's pretend there is a world where a surging U of A team goes 10-2 and gets to the Big 12 Championship game and picks up an 11th win against a Oklahoma State.
Conventional wisdom - and the assumption that all of us have - is that Arizona would win the Big 12's auto-bid and get into the playoff.
But we live in a world where an undefeated Florida State team didn't get into a four-team playoff over Alabama THIS year...
Why are we so sure that the Big Ten and the SEC - with even more competition - will even agree to auto-bids at all?
Sure, there aren't auto-bids this year, but the SEC already proved that the CFP will value 'best teams' over 'undefeated conference champions' for the playoff. If you're the Big Ten and the SEC looking at the strength of schedules, why do you want any auto-bids in the new playoff?
If Tennessee were to go 8-4 with losses to Georgia, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Florida... do you think the committee would at least entertain the idea of that being a "better team" than the 11-2, Big 12 champion Arizona team we talked about?
I think they would, but even more concerning, I think the Big Ten and SEC schools will think they would as well. And until auto-bids are firmly set in stone, I'm going to be wary that the Big Two try to flex their muscles and keep auto-bids off the table.
In this USA Today Way-Too-Early Top 25, seven of the Top 12 teams are in the SEC, three are in the Big Ten, one is Notre Dame, and the other one is Clemson.
It's January and super early, but if the Big 2 really believe they have 10 out of the top 12 right now, why do they want to guarantee a spot for the Big 12? Or the ACC? Or any other G5 league? Why wouldn't they just flex their muscles and say, 'let's take the top 12 schools and if you don't like it, CFP, then we'll walk away and form our own playoff.'
That kind of radical change is probably not going to happen in 2024, but that's that the kind of power the Big 2 have.
The narrative is going be how much better the Big 2 are than everyone else. The narrative will be about the difficult of a Big 2 schedule. There will be discussions about the Big 12 having more in common with the Mountain West than with the SEC.
I don't agree with that take, but there will definitely be national talking heads who make that take.
Until some of these assumptions are put into writing, the Big 2's power could really put a damper on an extended playoff and the excitement of the "Power Four."
We're Not Done With Realignment
There is also a misconception that Florida State is unhappy in the ACC because they got left out of the playoff this year, and that's why they're looking to leave the conference.
It's true that Florida State is unhappy they were left out of the playoff, but the playoff isn't why they are looking to leave the conference. They were looking to leave the ACC long before the selection committee made their decision in December.
So, why are they looking to leave the ACC?
Because they see exactly what was discussed above - the Big 2 will call all the shots, and the Seminoles would like to call some shots too.
More realignment is coming. The Big 12 will be there to pick up ACC leftovers and it will almost certainly embolden the Big 12. But it won't take away any of the power from the Big 2 - it will just suck the remainder of the life from The Wildly Uncertain Fourth.
If and when that happens, there will be a big discussion among all of the college football fans. Is the Big 12 the third of three or is the Big 12 first of the rest?
AP Poll voters, ESPN talking heads, College Football Playoff committees, Recruiting rankings, and oddsmakers in Las Vegas are going to be the people who decide the answer to that question and I'm not sure if we're fully prepared for what the answer might be.
If the Big 2 add Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and Notre Dame to the mix, we're really not going to like the answer.
There Are Also A Lot Of Other Things Happening Too!
Lest you think realignment and playoff auto-bids are the only changes, there are still a lot of other things happening that will have a dramatic change on the game. The Transfer Portal still exists. NIL still exists. Immediate eligibility no matter how many times someone transfers will be new in 2024. More agents are popping into the NCAA game. A growing number of ADs and Conference Commissioners are pushing for additional legislation on whether players are employees or not. Some players are even talking about unionizing.
Whichever of those things come to fruition remains to be seen, but those are the actors listed in the playbill of the 2024 season.
This is the first year of the biggest shift college football has ever seen. So let's start preparing ourselves today instead of when it happens.
So BYU Football, Eh?
BYU football in the Big 12 Conference is going to be fun as hell. Recruiting will continue to improve. The on-field product will continue to get better. The Big 12 is infinitely more stable and secure than independence was, and even infinitely more stable and secure than the Mountain West Conference was before that.
BYU football is in the best place that it has ever been in and things will continue to get better for our Cougars.
But changes, boy, they are a-comin. Even BYU fans should brace themselves for them.