Backcasting best first-round matchups of theoretical 12-team College Football Playoff in the modern era

The postseason is a time for introspection and retrospectives. With a 12-team playoff format launching in the 2024 season, it begs the question of how past playoffs might have played out. What brackets would have offered the most intriguing matchups? Here are the best theoretical first-round matchups for every season dating back to the start of the Bowl Coalition era in 1992.
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The Future of the 12-Team Playoff

Backcasting through the modern history of college football reveals that a 12-team playoff would have provided a slew of interesting games across time, challenging the common contention that expansion rewards mediocrity. As this exercise shows, even the champions of major conferences could just as easily end up as 12-seeds as hosts in an opening-round game.

Just as we have seen at every other juncture of college football history since the launch of the Bowl Coalition, changing the postseason system inevitably shifts the power dynamic in the sport and leads to increased access for some teams and decreased access for others. That push and pull is part of the mystique that continues to hover over the national championship narrative, more than three decades after the first attempts to turn an inherently subjective parlor game into an objectively constructed storyline.

But as long as humans are involved in deciding who gets to participate int he narrative and who will be relegated to consolation games in the postseason, even a 12-team playoff will continue to produce a mythical national champion. Subjectivity cannot be baked out of the equation. That includes who makes the field and who doesn't—but it also includes where teams are seeded, and thus what kind of matchups we fans are presented with in the opening round.

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