12-Team Playoff: Six Things College Football Bettors Should Watch For

Written By Staff on June 11, 2021
12 team playoff

A 12-team college football playoff appears to be on the way.

Change could come as early as 2023. The favored setup looks to be 12 teams, with four getting first-round byes. Hurdles remain, but most reporting frames the radical shift as a question of when.

With the seismic change coming, TheLinesMo Nuwwarah and Brett Gibbons compared their reactions. Each independently came up with three takeaways then penned a response to those of their counterpart.

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Does A 12-Team Playoff Open The Door For The Group Of 5?

Brett: Perhaps the biggest apparent victors of an expanded 12-team playoff: Group of 5 programs, who have long bemoaned not having a real shot to compete. Teams like Cincinnati gain the opportunity to make a run and capture a legitimate national championship.

However, does it really open the door for them? 

The reality is, an expanded CFP may move the needle on futures odds a bit, but the chance at winning a championship remains long. Cincinnati currently stands as the highest-listed G5 team on DraftKings Sportsbook to win the national championship. Their best available price across sportsbooks is . Even if they would have made the field a season ago, they would have had to upset Georgia, then Alabama. Oddsmakers would consider this, likely keeping Cincinnati’s odds long.

However, there is opportunity for a market in odds to make the CFP, a market that could prove to be fruitful to sharp bettors in the Group of 5.

Mo: I agree, I just don’t see this moving the needle much for these longshot Group of 5 teams. Their odds of winning consecutive games against the best teams in the nation seem pretty similar to their odds of making the top four spots under the old system: close to zero. I think I’d bump their prices down just a tad. But, I still foresee very large numbers sitting by their names on the futures board.

I won’t be sprinting to the window to bet them.

I could see a situation where people use these markets to buy positions they sell off or hedge in the future. But that’s generally just not a great plan to have going in.

A More Balanced Betting Market

Brett: One of the biggest criticisms of college football is that, despite some fireworks during the season, it’s been an incredibly predictable sport. Every championship matchup has involved Alabama, Clemson, or both, except the inaugural game.

Another result of the expanded CFP field is that no longer would bettors have to concern their picks with only conference champions. For example, many bettors may have avoided Georgia in 2020 since their route to the CFP ran through Alabama.

With an expanded field, bettors can still feel confident with Georgia as they have a more clear path to a playoff berth.

Should Alabama face, say, Florida in the SEC title game, Georgia currently wouldn’t get their shot at the playoff in most cases. However, Georgia might match up better with Alabama, giving them a better chance in an expanded playoff of defeating them and making a run.

Mo: I do anticipate some extra betting interest on some of the upper- and middle-tier teams as fans get excited for their chances. However, I ultimately think the same results will likely be occurring, if not with even more of a slant toward the top programs. Once that reality becomes obvious, I’d expect interest in these teams to return to ‘normal’ levels.

Late-Season Games Mean More

Brett: By Week 10, it’s usually apparent who’s taking at least the top-two or even top-three spots. So games like the PAC-12 Championship or Alabama-Auburn mean less with no playoff implications. By the time Week 13 rolls around (or even Championship Week), there may only be one game remaining that matters in this sense.

Perhaps the most evident and straightforward effect of more teams competing for more spots is increased weight to late-season matchups. That means more money bet and a growing industry around college football.

Mo: Totally agree here that most late-season matchups will become more meaningful as more teams remain in the hunt. Where these games received more regional betting interest, fans across the nation should become more engaged with them.

The flip side is that some of the huge games will lose some of their punch in terms of ramifications. However, even if Alabama and Georgia are both all but assured playoff spots before the SEC title game, everyone will still tune in and bet the game. So I agree an overall increase in betting interest should follow whenever the 12-team format becomes a reality.

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Elite Teams Gain The Most From 12-Team Playoff

Mo: While everyone gets excited for ‘the little guy’, I have to say that in terms of actual championship equity, I think the most elite teams receive the biggest boost. Yes, the Boise States and UCFs of the world will get to decide it on the field, which is great. I’d just caution that this gives the Alabamas and the Clemsons more margin for error. Now, they can afford multiple losses and potentially still get into the field with an at-large bid. And once they are lined up across whatever Cinderellas emerge and even teams that previously beat them, we all know they will be double-digit favorites.

Currently, the elite favorites hang around the +300 range to win the title. I think if you see that drop due to a perceived loss of championship equity, it’s a mistake. And it’s something to monitor when you’re hunting for value.

Brett: The expanded model does give a wider berm for error for Alabama and Clemson. In 2019, the Tide faltered for the first time in what seems like forever. They missed the CFP with two losses. It was a breath of fresh air for those not rooting for the Tide, although we still saw Clemson in the National Championship Game. 

An expanded playoff almost guarantees an Alabama or Clemson a berth (in their current iterations). However, it does give them a more challenging route to a championship, having to face more high-caliber teams if they fail to finish top four and earn a playoff bye week.

Upper-Middle Class Hurt The Most

Mo: We know a 12-team playoff boosts the small schools by giving them a fighting (if slim) chance. If I’m right about the big dogs, then who gets hurt the most in terms of championship equity?

I think the answer is upper-middle class — think the Penn States and Auburns. Say they pull an upset over Ohio State or Alabama, respectively, and they have a good enough record that this win boosts them to the conference title. Before, they had potentially cleared a major hurdle in their path to a title. Now, they’d more likely have to beat that team twice.

Furthermore, these teams would normally have had to play two games as underdogs in the playoff. That will still likely be the case, except they have to win at least one extra game against a team on probably about their same level.

Brett: We saw this unfurl in the 2015 CFP. Michigan State pulled off an upset of Ohio State and secured the fourth spot in the playoff. That team was battered by Alabama 38-0. It was immediately apparent the Spartans had no business being there.

However, I can see the other side. Rather than hinder the Penn States and Auburns, I believe the system benefits them potentially the most. Flipping the situation around, say Penn State loses to Ohio State in the regular season. Now, they’d have a chance to get in the playoff and pull an upset in the second meeting.

Looking For Value — Inexperienced QBs And In-Season Plays?

Mo: In the past, when looking over college football futures, one overriding factor always remained at the top of my checklist: what can I expect from the quarterback? Generally, that means looking for experience, since all but the most talented freshmen tend to struggle.

Now, I think a talented team breaking in a new QB could present a value opportunity. If the rest of the roster looks good but the QB stumbles to an early-season loss or two, that won’t be disqualifying. It’ll be more important what the team looks like at the end of the season.

By the same token, any team perceived strong on paper that suffers an unexpected early loss could potentially be bought at a steep discount. It will all depend on how prices adjust relative to how they have in the past. Watch and make sure the price changes reflect an increased ability to overcome these early struggles.

Brett: Everyone loves inexperienced but wildly talented quarterbacks. This season, a personal favorite of mine is Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels. I have to agree here – early-season mistakes from a quarterback just months after his high school graduation shouldn’t be a death sentence. 

For proof, look no farther than Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler last year. The Sooners stumbled out of the gate to a 1-2 record and their CFP hopes were gone. Oklahoma and Rattler finished much stronger, even putting a severe beating on Florida.

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