Wisconsin Football: What if the CFP was 12 teams from the start?

The Wisconsin football team has yet to make a College Football Playoff appearance in the seven years of its existence. They have been close on multiple occasions, especially in 2017 when they entered the Big Ten Championship game undefeated, but fell to Ohio State, who had two losses, keeping the Big Ten out of the CFP altogether.

Stadium’s Brett McMurphy is reporting that there is a proposal that would expand the CFP to 12 teams. McMurphy seems very confident that the proposal will pass and we could expect to see changes as early as the 2023 football season.

McMurphy goes on to outline how the 12-team playoff would work. The top four seeds would get a bye while five through 12 play each other. There is a catch, though, that really benefits teams that are in a conference. Only conference champions are eligible for a bye, which independent teams, like Notre Dame, cannot get a bye.

This puts even more of an emphasis on teams winning their conferences, something Wisconsin football hasn’t done since 2012.

The Badgers have, however, been in the discussion for an at-large bid to the CFP a couple of times, but it was never too serious outside of the 2017 season. It’s never truly felt like the Badgers have had a shot at getting into the CFP.

So that begs the question; what if the College Football Playoff was 12 teams to start? In what seasons would they have been in the playoff after finishing in the top 12 of the final CFP rankings?

2016 season: 8-seed

The 2016 season, the third year of the CFP was the first time the Wisconsin football team finished in the top 12 of the CFP rankings. In 2016, the Badgers finished 10-3 with victories over #5 LSU (at Lambeau Field), #8 Michigan St., and #7 Nebraska. They lost to Penn St. in the Big Ten Championship Game after leading at the half.

After the loss, the Badgers finished 8th in the CFP rankings, behind Penn St. (#5) and Michigan (#6). Even if Wisconsin would have defeated Penn St., I’m not sure it would have been enough to get in. Ohio St. ended up getting in with just one loss, but that loss was to Penn St., which cost the Buckeyes and chance to get into the Big Ten Championship Game.

2017 season: 6-seed

The very next year, the Badgers entered the Big Ten Championship Game with a perfect 12-0 record. They ended up losing to Ohio St. by six, unable to get that monkey off of their backs. With the loss, Wisconsin finished 6th in the CFP rankings. Ohio St. finished just a spot ahead of them, keeping the Big Ten out of the CFP altogether.

That season was the closes the Badgers ever got to the Playoff, but it would have been the second year in a row that the Wisconsin football team would have qualified for a spot in the CFP.

2019 season: 8 seed

After a tough 2018 season, the Wisconsin football team bounced back in a big way in 2019. The Jack Coan and Jonathan Taylor-led Badgers finished the season with a 10-3 record and a one-point Rose Bowl loss to Oregon.

They appeared in the Big Ten Championship game for the 6th time, facing Ohio St. yet again. They were up at the half, but the Buckeyes turned it on and blew Wisconsin away in the second half, giving the Badgers their second loss of the season.

They finished 8th in the final CFP rankings, which would have given the Badgers their third appearance in the CFP if it were 12 teams.

If (and when) the NCAA expands the CFP to 12 teams, it will give teams like Wisconsin a legitimate chance to compete for a national championship. The NCAA is doing the right thing by expanding, and Wisconsin football fans should be excited by this development.