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Heel Tough Blog: What Expanded Playoff Means for UNC Football

Earlier today, the Board of Managers that run the College Football Playoff unanimously voted to expand the format from four teams, to 12, starting as late as 2026, or as soon as 2024. The 12-team model that was approved dates back to the first model made open to the public, which includes the six highest ranked conference champions, along with six other at-large teams. Teams ranked 1-4 will receive byes in the new format, as teams 5-12 will play games on the campus of schools ranked 5-8. From there, the quarterfinals, and semifinals will be played on bowl sites, likely consisting of the current New Year’s Six bowl sites, while the national championship game will continue to be played on a neutral site. There has been a movement for expansion for some time, as the semifinal contests are general blowouts, and generally, the same teams qualify every year, under a 12-team format, there’s more of a chance of upsets, along with a more diverse field from a year to year basis. Also, make no mistake, revenue or the loss of revenue drove this decision as well. With the Big 10 just signing a billion-dollar TV deal that expands over three networks, expect the Playoff to drive a contract that resembles what you see in the NCAA Tournament, which is annually a billion-dollar contract through Turner Sports. Next week the 10 FBS commissioners, along with Jack Swarbrick from Notre Dame will meet to start discussions about implementing the 12-team format, as soon as 2024.

So how does this all affect UNC? Well for starters an expanded playoff format would allow teams that either lost their conference title game or didn’t even make their conference title game to compete for a national championship. Carolina’s last ACC title came all the way back in 1980, way before the ACC adopted playing a conference title game to determine its conference champion. Back when Carolina made the Orange Bow 2021l, they were ranked 13th in the College Football Playoff rankings and would have just missed the Playoff. In 2015, Carolina went 11-1 in the regular season, and after losing to Clemson in the ACC Championship game, the Tar Heels were ranked 10th in the Playoff rankings, and under the new 12-team format would’ve competed for the national championship, as opposed to playing in a random bowl game. Those are two separate occasions that Carolina has been on the national scene, something they are hoping to be a part of on a consistent basis under Mack Brown. The expanded playoff allows for teams like North Carolina in the ACC to have legitimate dreams of playing for a national title, as teams not named Clemson would likely have to go undefeated to have a seat at the table in the current format.

The other issue that dominated the off-season in the college football world was the next wave of conference realignment, after USC and UCLA, longtime Pac-12 members, agreed to join the Big 10 starting next season. That move came after the last off-season when Oklahoma and Texas agreed to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, sending shockwaves across the landscape of college athletics. Expanding the Playoff likely won’t stop conference realignment, but this does give a conference like the ACC that can be more attractive to schools looking for a home.

When Mack Brown was rehired back in 2018 he sold Tar Heel fans on a vision of competing on the national level, like the program was under him in the 1990s, before Brown left for Texas. Since then, Carolina is just 22-17, but they have appeared in a New Year’s Six bowl game, they entered last season as a preseason top 10, and are recruiting on a level that mirrors the way they recruited the first time Mack Brown was in Chapel Hill. North Carolina will always be a basketball school, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be a consistent top 25 program in football as well, as many college football analysts have always deemed UNC as a sleeping giant in the sport. Today’s decision to expand the College Football Playoff should give Tar Heel fans hope that one day their dream of seeing the Tar Heels compete for a national championship on the gridiron, may one day become a reality.


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