The Michigan State Spartans just wrapped up an impressive 10-win regular season, one that featured wins against both rivals Michigan and Penn State, as well as a recruiting victory that has MSU with a top-25 class for 2022 so far.
The Spartans are slated to play the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 30, a team that is coming off of an ACC Championship, a first for the school in more than 30 years.
With both schools celebrating successful regular seasons and a New Year’s Six bowl appearance, one would assume that each team’s best players would have something to play for, but that is not the case. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett and Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III are opting out of the Peach Bowl to prepare for next year’s NFL Draft.
There’s nothing wrong with Pickett and Walker opting out, it’s simply just business. Pickett could be the best quarterback in this draft, projected to be drafted ninth overall by the Atlanta Falcons in CBS Sports’ latest mock draft. Depending on Walker’s draft stock, he may be taken in the second round or third round, and looks like one of the best running backs in the class. He could also work his way up during the pre-draft process, and very well may be the the first first running back selected come late April.
One argument for a college football expanded playoff is that fans would see less opt-outs when it comes time to play bowl games. Walker and Pickett are not alone. UTSA’s Sincere McCormick, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and Purdue’s David Bell have all opted out of bowl games to declare for the NFL Draft, among others.
Would adding importance to a program’s postseason result in less opt-outs? We aren’t sure. If I were Walker, I probably still wouldn’t play in Michigan State’s playoff game knowing that I would declare for the 2022 NFL Draft. With the chances of a No. 11 seed competing for a title being so low, players on lower-seeded teams may not care if the game matters, or not.
Either way, it’s worth exploring and fantasizing what a Michigan State postseason could look like.
Under the proposed format that is making its rounds, the top-six conference champions would receive an automatic bid into the College Football Playoff. This year, those are Alabama (SEC), Michigan (Big Ten), Cincinnati (AAC), Baylor (Big 12), Pittsburgh (ACC), and Utah (Pac-12).
The top-four conference champions would start with a bye week and the seeds would follow on from there, with higher seeds getting home field advantage.
Here’s how that would look this year:
Bye weeks: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Cincinnati, No. 4 Baylor
No. 12 Pittsburgh at No. 5 Georgia
No. 11 Utah at No. 6 Notre Dame
No. 10 Michigan State at No. 7 Ohio State
After the first round, Alabama would take on either Ole Miss or Oklahoma State, Michigan would play either Ohio State or Michigan State, Cincinnati would play either Notre Dame or Utah, and Baylor would play Georgia or Pittsburgh.
Some of these games may lack in excitement, such as the Michigan State-Ohio State game. The Buckeyes hurt the Spartans pretty badly in the regular season, winning by a final score of 56-7, and I’m sure fans don’t want to see that again. On that same token, a game that features Notre Dame and Utah would be exciting, assuming Brian Kelly wasn’t leaving the school.
One more variable some may suggest is playing all of these games at neutral fields and make them psuedo-bowl games. The contests would essentially be bowl games, or at least at bowl sites. As of now in the proposal, though the teams ranked No. 5-No. 8 would host teams ranked No. 9-No. 12 in on-campus games in the opening round, and the quarterfinals would then be played at bowl sites.
This format isn’t perfect and it still needs some ironing out. Playing a 12-team playoff would mean some teams end up in conference championships. Translation: some teams would end up with 17 games on the schedule, some with 16. That doesn’t seem fair.
Personally, I’d love to see a situation where the Big 12 dissolves and merges into other conferences, such as Baylor or Oklahoma State to the Big Ten. A 20-team Big Ten could force the conference to gain some competitiveness, and you could organize by the 10 new Big Ten teams and the 10 old ones. Though that means Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers would shuffle into the “new” Big Ten.
The problem with my fantasy is that it won’t happen. Not a chance. With Cincinnati moving to the Big 12 in a couple of years and others including BYU, Central Florida and Houston expected to join the conference, the Big 12 is determined to keep swimming. Even some sort of divisional Big Ten realignment that puts Ohio State and Michigan on one side and Michigan State and Penn State on the other would be neat.
There’s no “easy fix” here, but it seems that a 12-team playoff is almost certain. Either now or in the future.