CFP talks stall, dimming hopes of expansion before 2026

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – College Football Playoff expansion talks remain stalled and the possibility of implementing a new format by the 2024 season dimmed Monday after three days of meetings failed to produce an agreement.

“We have entrenched issues that are no closer to being resolved,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.

While Bowlsby said it looked increasingly unlikely that an expanded playoff would come before the end of the current CFP contract that expires in 2026, it was not ruled out altogether.

“We’re going into overtime,” Executive Director Bill Hancock said, hours before No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia played for the College Football Playoff national championship.

Everybody involved supports expansion, but they are hung up on the how and when.

Hancock said the management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, are still stuck on the same lingering issues: Whether conferences should have automatic qualification into an expanded field, and which ones; how bowls will be used as sites in a new system; and athlete health and welfare issues related to more games.

Mississippi State President Mark Keenum, who heads the Board of Managers that has final say over the College Football Playoff, said he remains optimistic an agreement can be reached in time to add playoff spots by the 2024 season.

“I think we’ll get there,” Keenum said.

A proposal for a 12-team playoff has been on the table since June. That proposal calls for the six highest ranked conference champions, regardless of conference, to be in the playoff field along with the next six highest ranked teams.

There was hope initially an agreement could be reached soon enough to have it implemented for the 2024 season, two years before the current CFP contract with ESPN expires.

“I think it was received favorably. Since then we’ve spent time on it, some don’t like it now,” Bowlsby said.

Expansion before end of the contract has been estimated to be worth an extra $450 million dollars for the conferences to split.

Bowlsby was part of a four-person subcommittee, along with Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick that spent two years working on the 12-team plan.

That came after the Pac-12 and Big Ten began calling for expansion of the playoff in 2018.

Unanimous consensus among the management committee members is needed to alter to the current deal. Bowlsby said a vote was taken this weekend among the management committee members, but declined to reveal the results.

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren has said he supports a 12-team format that provides automatic bids for the Power Five conference champions. American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco has said he is adamantly opposed to any format that gives Power Five conferences special access.

“Everybody is more concerned about their own silo than everybody else’s,” Bowlsby said.

Sankey said the SEC has already made a huge concession by agreeing to expand from the current four-team format.

“We were never asking for more than four,” Sankey said. “An enormous give has been to engage in the conversation and a willingness to shift. To ask two teams here today to play yet another game, that’s an enormous give and I cannot state that more clearly. And that’s been missed in this.”

The SEC is the only conference to be represented in the playoff during each of its eight seasons. Monday night’s game will mark the second time two SEC teams have played for the national championship. No other conference has had that.

“That give was because we have to have college football supported nationally. It is a national championship,” Sankey said.

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff released a statement not long after the Monday’s meeting, trying to make it clear that his conference was ready to back any of six different expanded playoff models.

The models include the proposal that came from Sankey and Bowlsby’s group in addition to 12 teams with automatic bids for the Power Five conferences, plus the highest ranked Group of Five conference champions, and six at-large bids.

The Pac-12’s statement also said there are three versions of an eight-team model that have been discussed.

“It is clear none of the six most-discussed expansion models has unanimous consent, with most having considerable opposition, and every conference other than the Pac-12 has indicated that they would be against at least one of the proposed models,” the statement said.

Hancock had previously tried to set a deadline of sorts, saying if the commissioners could not come to a consensus on a new format by these meetings, expansion could not happen until after the current deal is complete. The playoff field would remain at four teams until 2026.

But Keenum said the commissioners will get together again in the next few weeks to keep working on a plan that everyone can support.

The meetings in Indianapolis were the seventh time the commissioners have gathered in in-person to discuss expansion since the 12-team format was made public in June.

Bowlsby compared the process since to the movie “Groundhog Day,” where every day repeats for the main character and called it “frustrating.”

Sankey tried to stay pragmatic.

“Not trying to resolve issues is not an option,” he said. “Whether they can be resolved is an open-ended question.”

Sanders’ 4 TDs help Jackson State rout Southern for SWAC title

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JACKSON, Miss. – Shedeur Sanders threw for four touchdowns, including two on three first-quarter turnovers, staking Jackson State to a big early lead on the way to routing Southern 43-24 in Saturday’s Southwest Athletic Conference championship that was Deion Sanders‘ final game as Tigers coach.

Reports swirled before the game that Sanders would announce his departure from the FCS program after three seasons to become head coach at Colorado. Sanders acknowledged an offer from the school earlier this week and added that he had talked to other FBS programs about vacancies. Colorado’s board of regents called a special meeting for Sunday.

Neither Sanders nor JSU spoke to reporters afterward. A SWAC spokesman said the team had proceeded to go to campus for a team meeting.

In an on-field interview played over JSU’s home field public address system, Sanders referred to JSU’s upcoming Celebration Bowl appearance and said, “We still have one more to go, and we will finish.”

Southern University head coach Eric Dooley spoke about what “Coach Prime” has done for the SWAC after the game and how appreciative he was of Sanders’ efforts.

“I was able to shake his hand and hug Deion and tell him he had a good football team,” said Dooley.

When asked about the rumors floating that Sanders is en route to Colorado, Dooley spoke plainly.

“I don’t get into that,” said Dooley. “It’s his decision. He’s made a huge impact on Jackson State.”

JSU (12-0) quashed any questions about Sanders’ future being a distraction by completing the first unbeaten regular season in school history and claiming its second consecutive SWAC championship. The Tigers’ top-ranked defense set the tone by quickly pouncing on the Jaguars for three turnovers in eight plays in the first quarter.

Aubrey Miller Jr., the SWAC defensive player of the year, led the Tiger defense to an exceptional effort as he totaled one sack and two tackles for loss.

The JSU came in as the top rated defense in the FCS, and they showed exactly why by forcing five turnovers, one of which was a fumble that junior defensive back Antonio Doyle Jr. returned to the Jags’ one yard line.

Shedeur Sanders, the Hall of Fame coach’s son, and the Tigers easily converted the takeaways into a 26-0 lead after 15 minutes, a run boosted by Sy’veon Wilkerson’s 1-yard TD run two plays after Herman Smith III’s 37-yard interception return. Two fumbles created chances for Sanders to hit Shane Hooks for TD passes of 14 and 40 yards and two-point conversions to Kevin Coleman Jr.

Sanders’ 14-yard TD pass to Coleman made it 33-7 at halftime, but Southern (7-5) didn’t quit and even got within 36-24 late in the third quarter on Glendon McDaniel’s 42-yard TD run.

Sanders, the SWAC’s offensive player of the year, completed 31 of 44 passes for 305 yards. Hooks caught five passes for 98 yards and Wilkerson rushed 15 times for 61 yards.

For their efforts, Sanders and Miller were awarded both the offensive and defensive MVP’s of the game.

McDaniel was 15 of 34 passing for 220 yards and a TD for Southern.

“I thought Glendon did some great things,” Dooley said.

The two teams slugged it out on the offensive end in terms of total yardage. Jackson State racked up 445 total yards to Southern’s 412.

The Tigers advanced to the Celebration Bowl, the championship for historically Black college football, on Dec. 17 in Atlanta against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion North Carolina Central.

The Tigers’ victory improved Sanders to 27-5 as coach of the FCS program and came days after he was named SWAC coach of the year for the second consecutive season.

THE TAKEAWAY

Southern: The Jaguars mounted a strong second-half offensive effort behind Glendon McDaniel, but JSU’s initial onslaught on both sides of the ball was too much to handle.

Jackson State: The Tigers put together one of the most dominant seasons in school history with the SWAC’s top defense and offense. Both units proved why as the defense overwhelmed the Jaguars from the start, while

Sanders took advantage of short fields to complete pinpoint throws from clean pockets.

UP NEXT

Jackson State faces North Carolina Central in the Celebration Bowl on Dec. 17 in Atlanta.

No. 1 Georgia romps into playoff with 50-30 SEC win vs LSU

Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK
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ATLANTA – Georgia swatted away the field goal attempt, the ball spinning to a stop at its 4-yard line. The LSU players trudged off the field, thinking the play was over.

Christopher Smith knew better. He suddenly scooped it up and took off the other way, sprinting 96 yards for a touchdown that epitomized the Bulldogs program.

They were a step ahead of LSU on Saturday.

They’ve been a step ahead of everyone for two years now.

With all sorts of turmoil behind them in the rankings, Georgia headed to the College Football Playoff as the clear No. 1, dismantling the No. 11 Tigers 50-30 in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday.

Stetson Bennett‘s threw a season-high four touchdown passes in another stellar postseason performance, while Smith’s heads-up play gave the Bulldogs an early spark.

“I’ve got good players around me. I’m not that bad at football, either,” Bennett said with a smile. “We’ve got a good team.”

Georgia (13-0, No. 1 CFP) also caught a big break when Smith deflected a pass that bounced off an LSU receiver’s helmet and wound up being picked off by the Bulldogs, setting up a score that contributed to a 35-10 lead by halftime.

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels re-injured a sore right ankle late in the second quarter, giving way to Garrett Nussmeier in the second half.

The backup guiding the Tigers (9-4, No. 14 CFP) to three second-half touchdowns, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Georgia accomplished something that not even last season’s national championship squad could could do – win its first SEC title since 2017. The Bulldogs were denied in this game a year ago by Alabama, before bouncing back to beat the Crimson Tide in the title game.

“I don’t want one kid to walk out of our program without an SEC championship ring in their careers,” coach Kirby Smart said. “That could’ve happened. They said enough is enough and got ’em one tonight.”

Georgia heads into the playoff assured of a return trip to Atlanta for a de facto semifinal home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, just 75 miles from its Athens campus.

LSU’s outside hopes of crashing the four-team playoff field were wiped out a week ago by a stunning loss at Texas A&M, one of several upsets that will give the selection committee plenty to think about before its announcement Sunday.

Tennessee and Clemson also ruined their playoff hopes with losses late in the regular season, while No. 4 Southern California is presumably out after getting blown out by Utah in the Pac-12 title game Friday night.

Just as the SEC game was kicking off, No. 3 TCU lost to Kansas State in overtime for the Big 12 championship, further clouding a playoff picture that suddenly looks much more favorable for No. 5 Ohio State and No. 6 Alabama.

No matter who makes the elite field, Georgia is firmly focused on becoming the first repeat national title since Alabama in 2011-12, having won all but one game this season by double-digit margins.

“I’ve tried not to play attention to any of it,” Smart said of all the chaos. “It didn’t matter to me. That’s so far away.”

The Bulldogs showed they are more than just a bunch of talented athletes – this is a smart, well-coached group.

When Nazir Stackhouse burst through the middle of the line to block LSU’s 32-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter, Smith knew what to do.

“That’s a scenario we go over a lot in practice,” he said.

He looked toward the sideline to see if it was OK to grab it.

“You’re not allowed to pick it up unless you can score with it,” Smart said.

Smith took care of the rest.

LSU coach Brian Kelly blamed himself and his staff for allowing the play to happen.

“Obviously, we did a poor job if coaching,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to have our guys alert in that situation. They were not alert.”

LSU quickly tied it up on Daniels’ 53-yard touchdown pass to Kayshon Boutte, only to have Bennett take control from there.

The sixth-year senior, a former walk-on who was offensive MVP of both Georgia playoffs wins a year ago, struck for four TD passes in a less than 15-minute span: 3 yards to Brock Bowers, 22 yards to Ladd McConkey, 14 yards to Darnell Washington and 3 yards to Dillon Bell.

Just like that, Georgia led 35-7.

“I was in a zone,” Bennett said.

It’s been that way for two years now.

THE TAKEAWAY

LSU: Kelly’s debut season turned a bit ugly the last two weeks, but the Tigers are on the right track. “We want to get back here next year. That’s our goal,” Kelly said. “Get back here and win it.”

Georgia: Win or lose in the SEC title game, the Bulldogs were assured of a spot in the playoff. But Smart continues to impress with his ability to keep the team motivated. While there were some huge defensive lapses in the second half, this game was never in doubt.

GOING FOR 2

When Georgia scored its final touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 48-23 lead, Smart surprisingly called for a 2-point conversion.

The Bulldogs converted it with a trick play, but Smart insisted that he wasn’t trying to run up the score.

“The books says you go for 2 there,” he said.

When asked about the play, Kelly stumbled over his words a bit before finally saying, “I don’t get too caught up in what other teams are doing.”

INJURY REPORT

While Daniels went down for LSU, Georgia also lost a couple of players to injuries in the first half.

McConkey landed awkwardly making a catch along the sideline, inflaming a knee issue that’s been bothering him all year. Tight offensive tackle Warren McClendon sustained what appears to be a mild MCL sprain.

Neither returned after halftime.

UP NEXT

LSU: The Tigers get their postseason assignment Sunday, with the Citrus Bowl among the possibilities.

Georgia: The only question is who the Bulldogs will meet in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve, with TCU, Ohio State and SEC rival Alabama all in the mix.