How an 80-team, 8-division college football ‘Super League’ would’ve looked last season



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A college football “Super League”? It may not be as far-fetched — or far away — as once thought. But what would it look like if it materialized?

Using the basic outline discussed by the 20-member group touting a plan to someday revamp college football’s top level, we decided to see how such a setup would have played out if it was already implemented, using the 2023 season as a test case.

We organized the former Power 5 schools, plus independent Notre Dame and soon-to-be ACC member SMU, into seven 10-team divisions for the permanent 70 teams envisioned within College Sports Tomorrow’s plan. For the eighth 10-team division that would be subject to promotion and relegation, we took the Group of 5 leagues’ 2022 conference championship game participants and “promoted” them for 2023.

The 10-team division size constraint required us to take some liberties, so be prepared for some unique and maybe awkward fits. But it also allowed us to bring back some old rivalries. (Welcome back, Southwest Conference and Big East!)

We used teams’ 2023 regular season records, before conference championship games were played, to seed them for the proposed 16-team playoff. The eight division winners took the top eight seeds, and the eight wild cards took the remaining seeds. Where there was ambiguity, we defaulted to the penultimate 2023 College Football Playoff rankings (which is why Georgia is the No. 1 seed and Michigan is No. 2).

Below is the result of our hypothetical 2023 college football super league.

ACC

Team Overall 2023 Conference

12-0

8-0 (ACC)

9-3

6-2 (ACC)

8-4

4-4 (ACC)

8-4

4-4 (ACC)

7-5

4-4 (ACC)

7-5

4-5 (Big Ten)

6-6

5-3 (ACC)

5-7

3-5 (SEC)

3-9

2-6 (ACC)

4-8

1-7 (ACC)

We kept eight current ACC teams in this division, brought back former member Maryland and added South Carolina, which was a charter member of the ACC until departing in 1971 to become independent. Florida State gets the rightful playoff berth it was denied by the College Football Playoff selection committee, but no wild cards emerge from this group.

Big East

Team Overall 2023 Conference

10-2

7-1 (ACC)

9-3

8-4

6-3 (Big 12)

7-5

3-5 (ACC)

6-6

5-3 (ACC)

6-6

3-5 (ACC)

6-6

3-6 (Big Ten)

6-6

2-6 (ACC)

3-9

2-6 (ACC)

3-9

1-8 (Big 12)

Notre Dame has fiercely held onto independent status amid the current wave of realignment changes, but to be a part of this Super League vision, the Fighting Irish would have to play within a division. We place them in the revived Big East, where they were basketball members from 1995 to 2013. They join a host of former Big East members that return, and ’23 ACC runner-up Louisville takes the automatic playoff berth.

Big Ten

Team Overall 2023 Conference

12-0

9-0 (Big Ten)

11-1

8-1 (Big Ten)

10-2

7-2 (Big Ten)

10-2

7-2 (Big Ten)

7-5

5-4 (Big Ten)

5-7

3-6 (Big Ten)

5-7

3-6 (Big Ten)

4-8

3-6 (Big Ten)

4-8

2-7 (Big Ten)

3-9

1-8 (Big Ten)

Reconstituting the Big Ten posed a dilemma: return to the original 10 members (without Penn State) or boot one of them in favor of the Nittany Lions? Knowing that college football’s decision-makers usually side with money over history, Penn State gets to stay while Northwestern, unfortunately, is the odd team out. The conference is loaded, with four teams making the 2023 field.

Frequent Flyer Division

Team Overall 2023 Conference

10-2

6-2 (SEC)

8-4

6-3 (Big 12)

8-4

5-4 (Big 12)

8-4

5-4 (Pac-12)

7-5

6-3 (Big 12)

7-5

5-4 (Big Ten)

6-6

3-6 (Big 12)

5-7

3-6 (Big Ten)

5-7

2-7 (Big 12)

4-8

1-8 (Pac-12)

It wouldn’t be college football without a division that possesses awkward geography. Behold the FFD — I couldn’t come up with a better name — which has six former Big 8 members but includes schools that were left out of other geographically appropriate divisions: BYU, Utah and UCF. Missouri wins the league while racking up plenty of miles.

Pac-10

Team Overall 2023 Conference

12-0

9-0 (Pac-12)

11-1

8-1 (Pac-12)

9-3

7-2 (Pac-12)

8-4

5-4 (Pac-12)

7-5

5-4 (Pac-12)

7-5

4-5 (Pac-12)

6-6

4-5 (Pac-12)

5-7

2-7 (Pac-12)

3-9

2-7 (Pac-12)

3-9

2-7 (Pac-12)

Remember that storied western college football conference that was a lot of fun and produced one of the two teams to play for the national championship last year? We put it back together, although in a smaller version, the old Pac-10. Washington takes the automatic berth and the No. 3 seed, while Oregon earns a spot as the highest-ranked wild card team.

SEC

Team Overall 2023 Conference

12-0

8-0 (SEC)

11-1

8-0 (SEC)

10-2

6-2 (SEC)

9-3

6-2 (SEC)

8-4

4-4 (SEC)

7-5

3-5 (SEC)

6-6

3-5 (SEC)

5-7

3-5 (SEC)

5-7

1-7 (SEC)

2-10

0-8 (SEC)

Although many want to be in the SEC, to fit this exercise, we returned to the 10 founding members who still remain in the league. Unsurprisingly, it sends multiple teams to the postseason: Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss.

Southwest

Team Overall 2023 Conference

11-1

8-1 (Big 12)

10-2

8-0 (AAC)

10-2

7-2 (Big 12)

9-3

7-2 (Big 12)

7-5

4-4 (SEC)

6-6

5-4 (Big 12)

5-7

3-6 (Big 12)

4-8

2-7 (Big 12)

4-8

1-7 (SEC)

3-9

2-7 (Big 12)

Long live the defunct Southwest Conference. Eight of the nine SWC teams are back together, missing only Rice, which would compete in the 50-team second division. To fill out the other two spots, we stole from the old Big 8 by taking Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

This division provided two predicaments. By moving SMU — the AAC champion that will join the ACC in 2024 — here, we have two 2023 conference champions in the league. We gave the nod to Texas given the team’s overall talent advantage.

Also, Oklahoma State beat Oklahoma head-to-head, but the teams had identical conference records and Oklahoma had the better overall record and higher CFP ranking. How would the Super League address wild card tiebreakers in that scenario? In the NFL — which seems to be the model this plan follows most closely — overall record reigns, so for this exercise, the Sooners get the nod.

Promotion/Relegation

Team Overall 2023 Conference

11-1

8-0 (AAC)

11-1

8-0 (MAC)

10-2

7-1 (Sun Belt)

9-3

6-2 (MAC)

8-4

7-1 (Sun Belt)

8-4

4-4 (Mountain West)

7-5

6-2 (Mountain West)

7-5

5-3 (Sun Belt)

5-7

4-4 (AAC)

5-7

3-5 (CUSA)

For those of us who love Group of 5 ball, this is an entertaining, competitive division with high stakes. Tulane wins the division and playoff berth. A key question: Would stakeholders allow wild cards from this division, or would those eight playoff spots come from the permanent 70 only? That’s an unknown. Let’s again follow typical college sports power broker behavior and assume only the division winner gets a nod here — an unfortunate break for Toledo. Here’s hoping we’re wrong and wild cards from this division get equal consideration.

Details on how many teams would be subject to relegation are scant, so let’s assume teams with losing records get the boot. That means Navy and North Texas would get sent down. Which two teams get promoted into their spots? The teams with the best 2023 regular season records who aren’t part of this group are Liberty (12-0), James Madison (11-1), Miami-Ohio (10-2), New Mexico State (10-3) and Memphis (9-3). Liberty and JMU get the call up to the big show.

The new playoffs

Here’s how the seeding would have fallen with the above setup, with the eight division winners getting the top eight seeds and the wild cards filling out the field. In the absence of a full tiebreaker structure, we seeded based on the penultimate CFP rankings (before conference championship weekend). Although SMU beat Tulane in the AAC title game, they don’t get a top-eight seed because they’re no longer in the same division as the Green Wave.

First round

(1) Georgia over (16) SMU
(9) Oregon over (8) Tulane
(5) Texas over (12) Penn State
(13) Ole Miss over (4) Florida State
(11) Alabama over (6) Missouri
(3) Washington over (14) Oklahoma
(10) Ohio State over (7) Louisville
(2) Michigan over (15) Iowa

Quarterfinals

We get some juggernaut games here, including a Michigan-Ohio State rematch.

(1) Georgia over (9) Oregon
(5) Texas over (13) Ole Miss
(3) Washington over (11) Alabama
(2) Michigan over (10) Ohio State

Semifinals

We get the actual 2023 national title matchup in one semi … and we’re calling the upset in the other.

(5) Texas over (1) Georgia
(2) Michigan over (3) Washington

National championship

(2) Michigan over (5) Texas

We still end up with the Wolverines hoisting the trophy, with a longer but not completely unfamiliar postseason path to get there, facing three teams they toppled on their way to the actual 2023 title.

(Photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)





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