College football teams seeded No. 5 or lower would win a 12-team playoff once every six years, and Georgia and most other teams would stand about the same chance as winning a national title under any format.

That’s according to the calculations of Loren Maxwell, a computer rankings expert.

It’s a moot point for now, as Football Bowl Subdivision commissioners revealed last week that the four-team playoff will remain through 2025. But Maxwell’s math model offers a glimpse of what might happen if expansion occurs.

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Only a football program as dominant as Alabama’s over the past decade would see a significant reduction in national-title odds, Maxwell concluded. And even Alabama’s chances would go down only about 16%.

Maxwell, who does high school football rankings and projections for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ran millions of simulations using data from the past eight seasons, when a four-team College Football Playoff has been in place. Maxwell ran them for seven formats, from four teams to 24 teams and seeding the teams based on the final rankings from the CFP committee.

“Even of the Cinderella champions, nearly half would be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed, and about three-quarters would be the five through eight seeds. So once about every 20 years a 9-12 seed would pull it off."

- Loren Maxwell, a computer rankings expert

One finding was that a Cinderella team – one seeded outside the top four – would win a 12-team format about 17% of the time, or roughly one in six.

That’s despite low odds for any specific team winning it. According to Maxwell, the left-out team that had the best chance was TCU in 2014. Maxwell gives that TCU team, which beat Ole Miss 48-3 in the Peach Bowl after the CFP snub, only a 13.9% chance of winning as the CFP’s No. 6 seed in a 12-team playoff. But adding 96 teams – eight per season – allows Murphy’s law to kick in. Chances are, one of them eventually would win.

“Even of the Cinderella champions, nearly half would be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed, and about three-quarters would be the five through eight seeds,” Maxwell said. “So once about every 20 years a 9-12 seed would pull it off.”

Other schools that stood to benefit the most with a 12-team playoff were Wisconsin, Baylor, Penn State and Ole Miss. Each would’ve made three or four 12-team playoff brackets (if the top-12 teams were chosen), and each would’ve had between a 6% and 9% chance of winning one title given their three or four tries.

UGA would’ve made a 12-team playoff five of the past eight seasons, including three times when seeded 5-12.

As a 5-12 seed, Georgia would’ve had a 3.5% chance of winning in 2018, a 3.3% chance in 2019 and a 2.5% chance in 2020, according to Maxwell.

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“If only considering their chances to win a national title, Georgia would have benefited from the three additional invitations to the playoffs, but that would have been offset by having to play an additional game in 2017 and 2021,” Maxwell said. “Overall, those two factors would essentially cancel each other out so that Georgia’s odds for a national title over the past eight years would have been about the same under either scenario.”

The only teams projected to fare significantly worse when moving away from a four-team playoff were Alabama and Clemson, the ones that appeared in more than four playoffs. Alabama made seven of the eight, while Clemson made six of the eight.

“That’s because an expanded field would not have resulted in any additional invitations for those two schools but would have forced them to play an additional game in some years,” Maxwell said.

Alabama has won three national titles in the eight four-team playoffs. Maxwell projects that Alabama would be expected to win 2.81 titles over those eight. In a 12-team playoff, Alabama would be expected to win 2.35 titles, a 16% reduction. In a 16-team playoff, the projection dropped to 2.19.

Clemson would go from 1.54 projected national titles in a four-team playoff (the Tigers won two) to 1.34 projected chances in a 12-team format, a 13% drop.

For teams making the playoffs no more than half the time (Oklahoma and Ohio State were in the CFP four of the past eight seasons), chances remain essentially the same under any format, Maxwell’s research shows.

Georgia’s projected national titles range from 0.66 championship to 0.74 – virtually the same in any of the seven formats.

That’s based on the past eight years only. There’s no promise that Georgia, Alabama or any team will have the same odds going forward.

The only thing for certain is that expanding the playoffs to 12 teams would increase the number of schools that experience the playoffs.

Over the past eight seasons, 13 schools made the playoffs. But there have been 37 different schools to finish in the top 12 of the CFP rankings. Georgia Tech was one of them. The Yellow Jackets were rated the No. 12 team in the CFP standings in 2014.

Teams that would’ve benefited the most the past eight seasons with a 12-team playoff, in addition to TCU, would’ve been Wisconsin, Baylor, Penn State and Ole Miss. Each would’ve made three 12-team playoff brackets if the top-12 teams were chosen, and each would’ve had between a 6% and 9% chance of winning with all their opportunities combined.

“Ultimately, an expanded playoff represents an additional obstacle for those rare programs as dominant as Alabama has been recently,” Maxwell said. “Those types of programs are going to get an invite regardless of what the field is set at, so an expansion is only another game they could potentially lose. But that’s the top 1% of college football. All other programs would realize more invitations overall even if that extra game reduces their chances in the years they happen to be a top-four team. And for many programs, expanding to 12 is probably the only realistic way they’ll ever get an invite.”

  Projected national titles (by number of seeds) Projected invitations (by number of seeds)
Titles Program 4 6 8 12 16 20 24 4 6 8 12 16 20 24
3Alabama2.812.752.332.352.192.202.217777888
2Clemson1.541.531.361.341.221.221.246666688
1Ohio State0.910.901.060.980.950.960.974788888
1Georgia0.740.580.670.670.670.650.662455666
1Louisiana State0.580.570.520.540.510.530.531112256
 Oklahoma0.450.400.410.420.400.390.394456777
 Oregon0.330.290.230.240.220.210.211222444
 Texas Christian-0.150.170.150.200.200.19-112333
 Michigan0.140.200.160.140.160.150.161233555
 Notre Dame0.110.120.150.120.140.140.142344666
 Wisconsin-0.090.130.090.120.120.13-133344
 Michigan State0.090.040.110.110.110.110.121123444
 Washington0.130.090.110.120.110.110.101113333
 Baylor-0.030.100.060.090.090.10-133344
 Penn State-0.020.020.080.110.110.09-114444
 Auburn--0.070.060.080.080.08--12344
 Stanford-0.070.080.060.070.070.08-111233
 Cincinnati0.100.070.080.080.080.070.071112223
 Mississippi--0.020.070.090.090.07--13333
 Texas A & M-0.050.060.050.060.070.07-111122
 Oklahoma State---0.050.070.070.06---2345
 Florida State0.070.030.030.060.060.060.051113333
 Florida--0.050.040.050.050.05--13355
 Central Florida--0.010.040.050.050.04--12222
 Mississippi State--0.020.010.020.020.02--11123
 Southern California--0.010.020.030.030.02--12335
 Iowa State-0.030.030.020.020.020.02-222223
 Northwestern----0.020.010.01----224
 UCLA----0.010.010.01----111
 Indiana---0.010.010.010.01---1111
 Georgia Tech---0.010.010.010.01---1111
 Houston-----0.010.01-----22
 Utah---0.000.000.000.01---2246
 Tennessee------0.01------2
 Navy------0.01------2
 Missouri----0.010.000.00----112
 Miami (Fla.)---0.000.010.010.00---1122
 Iowa----0.010.000.00----333
 Arkansas------0.00------1
 Kansas State---0.000.010.010.00---1111
 Pittsburgh---0.000.010.010.00---1112
 Kentucky----0.010.000.00----112
 Arizona---0.000.010.010.00---1111
 North Carolina---0.000.010.010.00---1222
 West Virginia----0.010.000.00----222
 Colorado---0.000.000.000.00---1111
 Arizona State----0.010.000.00----111
 Virginia Tech------0.00------2
 Syracuse-----0.000.00-----11
 Texas----0.000.000.00----122
 Louisville----0.000.000.00----112
 North Carolina State-----0.000.00-----13
 Washington State----0.000.000.00----122
 Wake Forest-----0.000.00-----11
 Brigham Young----0.000.000.00----122
 Memphis-----0.000.00-----22
 Western Michigan----0.000.000.00----111
 Fresno State------0.00------1
 Minnesota-----0.000.00-----11
 Louisiana-Lafayette-----0.000.00-----12
 Boise State-----0.000.00-----22
 Coastal Carolina---0.000.000.000.00---1111
 Temple------0.00------2
 San Diego State------0.00------1
 San Jose State------0.00------1
 Appalachian State-----0.000.00-----11
 Tulsa------0.00------1
 Virginia------0.00------1