You couldn’t ask for more if you were Tennessee football. The College Football Playoff was always going to expand to 12 teams by 2026, but that’s been moved up two years.
On Thursday morning, the CFP itself confirmed it would expand to 12 teams by 2024 after reaching an agreement with the Rose Bowl. That’s the best year for the Vols to cash in.
Unless there’s a wild offseason in the transfer portal, Tennessee football is not likely to repeat its 2022 success next year. A tougher schedule and attrition are the reasons for that.
As a result, an expanded playoff in 2023 wouldn’t matter. It’s hard to see the Vols in the running for even a 12-team playoff next year, as it’ll be somewhat of another transition year for them.
However, as they enter 2024, Nico Iamaleava will be in his second year in the system at quarterback, Tayven Jackson, if he stays, will be in his third year. Josh Heupel will have likely brought in a lot more talent too.
Meanwhile, given the attrition that’s coming, there will be lots of players returning in 2024 from the 2023 team, so experience and chemistry will be a factor. That’s what helped this team for most of the year.
The schedule may not have a Power Five non-conference foe since they last-minute canceled on the Oklahoma Sooners. They also get the Florida Gators and Alabama Crimson Tide at home again and the Mississippi State Bulldogs as their rotating SEC West foe.
Simply put, everything is in place for Tennessee football to have an elite 2024 season. Meanwhile, the SEC isn’t expanding to add OU and the Texas Longhorns until 2025, which will make everybody’s slate more brutal.
That means the Vols have an increased chance to win the SEC Championship outright in 2024, and if they don’t they will still have plenty of chances to make the playoff. That’s their first year to do it.
Either way, though, it’s an advantage. If the Vols win the SEC outright, they’ll almost certainly get a first-round bye in the playoff, so their first year going would be one in which they have a huge advantage.
Still, all of the factors in play may just mean they repeat what they did in 2022, in which case they’d make the playoff anyway. No matter what, it’s something that favors the Vols.
Of course, this also means the playoff is expanded in 2025, and that’s so far out that we don’t know what will happen, but it’s another season that could help the Vols. SEC expansion will be the main story that year.
For now, though, Josh Heupel’s program should be all in on 2024. This was the year everything fell into place for them to return to the national stage. That’s the year everything falls into place for them to potentially play for a national championship.
As far as the formula, the playoff will involve the top six conference champions and the top six at-large teams. The top four conference champions get a first-round bye, and the other eight teams will play first-round games at the home stadium of the higher seed.
According to the CFP, the higher seed that round could pick another site outside of its home stadium to play. The New Year’s Six bowls will host the quarterfinals and semifinals on a rotational basis, with the national championship at a separate location.