College Football Playoff Expanding To 12: It Will All Be Fine. Really.

College Football Playoff expanded to 12 teams. This is why it’s a good thing.

The College Football Playoff will expand to 12 teams in the near future. It’s going to be a positive thing for college football. Really.


Contact/Follow @ColFootballNews & @PeteFiutak

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Sorry if this take sucks, it’s not my fault …

By around 2024 it’s going to be the 13th-best take in a 12-take world.

College football is giving us more meaningful football, and some don’t want it

Really, was that so hard?

The College Football Playoff Board of Managers have approved a 12-team expanded College Football Playoff that could start as early as 2024, but will most likely kick in around 2026 – contract issues, logistics, and a slew of other parts of the puzzle have to be put together to make this happen earlier than later.

When this is a go, the CFP will be made up of the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large teams. The first round will be played on the college campuses, and then it gets turned over to the bowl locations.

Yes, it’s for the money – as are all major sports – and yes, it’s about catering to the expanded monster conferences. The college presidents and athletic directors finally figured out there’s a nice, warm treasure bath waiting with lots of bubbles.

Of course, like everything, there will be those who shake their fists and get all weird because something fun might change and be more fun, but outside of “because,” they don’t have any real argument.

Expansion is a good thing. Really.

Start with this – there’s going to be a way for teams to play their way into the College Football Playoff.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you win all your games in the Power Five and you’re in, but that’s not a given, and that’s not the right way to look at it.

There will be debates in the future about who that 12th team should be, but that’s fine. We won’t have to get into it about the fifth, sixth, and seventh best teams – at least the theoretical ones determined on a belief.

2020 Texas A&M had to play Alabama. Notre Dame didn’t, but it beat Clemson once before getting throttled in the ACC Championship rematch. Both the Aggies and Irish deserved to be in the CFP, but one had to be left out. That was a silly debate that should’ve been unnecessary.

Cincinnati and Oklahoma State and Utah all should’ve had a shot in some sort of a playoff system after the 2021 season. TCU should’ve been in the playoff after the 2014 campaign – and Baylor should have, too – but not everyone could squeeze into the four team format.

Was it fair that some teams – 2021 Georgia, 2017 Alabama, 2016 Ohio State – got to the College Football Playoff without being good enough to win their respective conference championships? Not really, but that won’t matter with an expanded CFP – they can get in, but that doesn’t mean teams that earned it will be left out. That leads to the best part about all of this.

The importance of the panel of judges is lessened.

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This is the part I truly don’t understand from the anti-expansion types. Why do you want any aspect of the championship determined by an opinion?

The College Football Playoff committee is fine, but these are important people with lives, and things to do, and families that love them. They know the sport, but they don’t know the entire landscape of college football from the rooter to the tooter.

Expand the playoff, win your conference championship with a good record in a great league, and you’re good. There – take it out of the hands of the judges. You control your own fate.

That’s going to make the season more fun.

Think about it. How much more awesome would the Baylor goal line stop against Oklahoma State have been in the Big 12 Championship if that was for a playoff spot?

How much more fun would the Pac-12 Championship have been if the Utah fan base got to have an even bigger party?

And what about the ACC Championship? It’s possible someone outside of friends and family would’ve watched Pitt vs Wake Forest last year.

More fan bases will be involved, more teams will have something big to shoot for, and there’s going to be more interest in college football overall.

Does that mean a Boise State or a No. 3 Big Ten team will take down Alabama in the playoff? Probably not, but that’s not the point.

Did UCF really think it could’ve or would’ve won the national title in 2017 or 2018? I don’t know, and neither did those Knight teams that just wanted a shot.

It sucks more for a team to not get a chance because the judges went in a different direction than it does to get trucked by the Tide. All everyone wants is the opportunity, and now it’s coming.

No, College Football Playoff expansion deniers, this won’t lessen the importance of the regular season. It’s going to be much, much harder than it seems to get into the CFP – this isn’t the NCAA Tournament or the NHL or NBA playoffs.

No, this won’t make for a worse playoff. You can’t get hot from three for a weekend and end up close to the Final Four.

Ask yourself this – where has there been any sort of a flukish loss in the CFP so far? Of course there will be some sort of a crazy upset somewhere when this expands, but if you can win two or more games in this tournament, you’re for real.

In the near future, every team will know in the offseason that the College Football Playoff is a real possibility, and not just a silly slogan put on a t-shirt.

Every fan base whose team is having a good season will be more engaged.

December will be more fun, the College Football Playoff will be more fun, and the sport will be more fun.

The College Football Playoff is expanding. It’s going to be okay.

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College Football Playoff to expand to 12 teams in 2026

Big changes are coming to College Football!!

Yesterday we reported on the possibility of the College Football Playoff expanding from the current four-team model to a 12-team format. The model we reported on yesterday will be the official setup once the new 12-team playoff goes into effect. Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated reported on the new structure.

 “In the model, the six highest-ranked conference champions receive an automatic berth while the next six highest-ranked teams get at-large bids into the field. The four highest-ranked conference champions get a first-round bye. First rounds are played on campus while quarterfinals and semifinals are hosted by a rotation of six bowls.”

There had initially been talk of expanding as early as 2024, but now 2026 will be the new target date. The 2024 date caused multiple problems for the CFP managers and its partners, as the number of games would triple with only about two years of lead time to figure out the logistics. There would also be the issue of TV rights, as ESPN holds those rights for the ’24 and ’25 playoffs. How would those rights deals be effected after expansion?

If you’re wondering about my thoughts on this expansion, I’ve attached an article from our colleague Nick Shepkowski as Fighting Irish Wire that will explain my thoughts. But, in short, I can’t stand it. A four-team playoff meant something, and now with 12-teams and automatic qualifiers, it just feels like an extension of professional sports. I always liked that college football did things differently, but with the amount of money from TV networks and sponsors, it’s easy to see why they embraced expansion. That doesn’t mean I endorse the idea but sports at the professional and collegiate record are finding new ways to bring in big money. College football is big business and the playoff is no exception.

The definitive, final, ‘show me the money’ top 25 future Big Ten expansion candidates

If the Big Ten expands again in the future, this is the list of teams and the rankings that Big Ten brass should operate from.

Enough talk about who fits in academically with the Big Ten through their Association of American Universities ranking. Let’s get down to brass tax. Who can Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren add that increases everyone’s bottom line?

Let’s end the charade. That’s what all of this expansion business is about anyways. Warren and others can act like it’s about respected research universities, but this is about dollars and cents. It’s why he convinced Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff that they were on the same team, and then turned around and poached his league’s two biggest assets.

For the most part, this isn’t about regional fits anymore. USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten in 2024 shows us that. Now, adding a dance partner or two for the Trojans and Bruins makes sense, but only if it enhances the league members’ per-school payouts.

So, what should the top 25 big board of future Big Ten expansion candidates look like? Feel free to reference this list as needed Mr. Warren. It’s the “Show Me the Money” rankings. If your school isn’t on this list, sorry, you’re not joining the Big Ten conference now or in the future.

For our friends over in Ames, Iowa, save your time. Iowa State isn’t joining the Big Ten and, in fact, they’re not in the top 25 pool of candidates either. This is about TV ratings and expanding market shares. The Cyclones don’t add anything that the Big Ten doesn’t already have with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Every program is fair game so long as they aren’t already in the Big Ten or SEC.Without further ado, here’s the official, no-need-to-look-anywhere else top 25 future Big Ten expansion candidates.

‘It’s a sign of the times’: Kirk Ferentz shares thoughts on the Big Ten’s USC, UCLA additions

Iowa Hawkeyes head football coach Kirk Ferentz said “it’s a sign of the times” that the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins are joining the Big Ten.

As Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz was meeting with the media discussing the brand new Iowa Swarm Collective, the topic of Big Ten expansion naturally came up.

With Hawk Central and other Iowa reporters in attendance, Ferentz dove into his thoughts on the Big Ten adding both the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins beginning with the 2024-25 college athletics season.

“Yeah, it’s a sign of the times. Just it’s one more reminder that tradition, the sense or concept of tradition is kind of getting minimalized I think in college athletics. Pretty much everything’s driven by TV. There are a lot of things I can’t tell you after 23 years. How the NCAA works, all that stuff. One thing I have observed is if TV wants something, it’s probably going to happen. I’m not saying TV encouraged this. I’m just suggesting that there’s some certainly, I’m sure that’s part on the minds of the people who joined the conference, but it puts us in a better, stronger position,” Ferentz said.

Again, as Ferentz stood and discussed what this new Iowa Swarm Collective would mean for his program going forward, the conversation circled back into USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten.

“It’s really not a matter of do we like this or did we want this? It’s just a matter of that’s a reality of college football, college athletics. Just like it’s a reality that USC and UCLA are going to be in the Big Ten in two years, so whether you like that, whatever your opinion may be, the bigger picture is it’s going to be. It’s just part of the times that we’re navigating through right now,” Ferentz said of Iowa Swarm Collective and USC and UCLA joining the league.

Iowa head men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery was in attendance for the Iowa Swarm Collective announcement as well and shared his thoughts on USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten.

“Obviously, a credit to Kevin Warren for getting two of the most prestigious programs in the country to come to our league. I think anything that benefits the league is a good thing,” McCaffery said of the pair joining.

He didn’t seem too concerned with future setups of the Big Ten Tournament either.

“You know, I think there’s always a solution you can find for any situation like that. You know, we can make it work, scheduling wise,” McCaffery said.

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Big 12 and Pac-12 Realignment Merger Isn’t Happening. Now What? Daily Cavalcade

What’s next for the Big 12 and Pac-12 after they decided not merge and combine forces?

The Big 12 and Pac-12 won’t merge forces to combat all that’s happening in the realignment and expansion world. Now what for these two conferences?


Daily Cavalcade of Whimsy

Contact/Follow @ColFootballNews & @PeteFiutak

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Sorry if this take sucks, it’s not my fault …

My best points were lifted by the Big Ten and now the Big 12 is open for business with my mid-level opinions.

2022 CFN College Football Preview of Every Team

May you all have a day full of the swagger the Big 12 is walking with right now

It was revealed on Monday night that the Pac-12 and Big 12 won’t be sharing their toys with one another.

The friendship probably would’ve been an overall plus for both, but goes against the current cutthroat expansion and realignment climate – they both think they can do more on their own, at least the Big 12 does.

The harsh reality is that the Pac-12 and Big 12 could combine forces, add other schools, resources, Megan Thee Stallion, and Season 5 of Stranger Things and still not come close to getting the attention paid to the Big Ten and SEC, but that’s not fair. These two can – and will – do just fine for themselves depending on what happens next.

Why couldn’t the Big 12 and Pac-12 form an alliance – a real one, and not the fake détente the Pac-12 had with the Big Ten and ACC?

Here’s the problem – or the positive, depending on which side you’re on – now that these two will likely try to poach the other’s territory: the Big 12 is in a position of power.

Which Big 12 schools make sense for the Pac-12?

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From an academic prestige standpoint – Tier 1 research status is the baseline, but the big conferences really want those with an AAU membership – along with potential markets and overall branding, Kansas makes a whole lot of sense, and that’s even a stretch. That’s about it, and there’s a reason.

Of course the Big 12 has solid academic institutions, far better football fan bases who actually watch and care about the sport, and decent enough markets to consider, but when it comes to branding and fit, do any of its members on their own change the Pac-12 dynamic? Not really.

Replacing USC with, say, TCU won’t move the needle enough to matter for the Pac-12.

And on the flip side, which Pac-12 schools make sense for the Big 12?

All of them, because the league already has its solid base in place without the Pac-12’s fear of being poached by the Big Ten.

Remember, this is about markets, and footprints, and expanding and improving the brand.

Are Oregon State and Washington State two superstar options in the expansion discussion? No, but both of them would open up new areas for the Big 12.

Does anyone in San Francisco care about Cal or Stanford football? Not really – I’m being nice about this – but the Bay Area is a massive market with a whole lot of alumni from other schools. The academic side of things matters with the presidents, alumni, and donor bases – Cal and Stanford work in a Rutgers-to-Big-Ten sort of way. No way those two go to the Big 12, but the Big Ten?

Remember, the Pac-12 has the University OF Oregon. The University OF Washington. The University OF Arizona. The University OF Utah. The University OF California. The University OF Colorado. There’s a prestige in having a state’s flagship school.

Not dogging the Big 12 schools in any way – the Big 12 has the University OF Kansas and the University OF West Virginia, but it doesn’t have the University of Utah, or the University of Iowa, or the University of Oklahoma, or the University of Texas.

That’s hardly the end of the world when it comes to the business side of expansion, but for a Pac-12 Conference that always had its own niche, it’s an ego hit to not have any “University OF” schools to bring aboard. It’s also a killer that it can’t go grab any monsters to replace what it lost – other than Notre Dame in a dream world, but that’s for a different day.

On the flip side, the Big 12 is far more likely to flip Colorado, Utah, Arizona State, and Arizona than the Pac-12 is at getting, say, Iowa State and Oklahoma State, who make a ton of sense but aren’t going to bail for the Pac-12 brand in the current situation.

Again, the Big 12 has the upper-hand here.

It’s got the improved TV contract likely coming. It landed huge schools with good markets in Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF, and it has an underappreciated gem in this whole process with BYU and its international fan base.

I still say the Big 12 should be all over USF, and beat the Pac-12 to the punch on San Diego State and UNLV, but it’s clearly thinking big. It wants Pac-12 schools and it might just be able to get them.

So now, the Pac-12 has to D up big-time.

It has to come up with something fast to put in front of its remaining member schools to show there’s still life without USC and UCLA.

There has to be proof of a better media deal and more positive things on the horizon. It doesn’t have to be massive, but it has to be something to make it look like there’s a future.

Copy what the Big 12 just did and go get big schools that make sense – and bite the bullet on the whole Tier 1 thing, for now. SDSU, UNLV, and Fresno State or Boise State don’t make up for losing USC and UCLA, but it evens the playing field a bit with the Big 12 after its recent moves.

Again, do something.

So what’s going to happen?

I could be very, very wrong here, and it could all blow up by the time you’re done reading this sentence, but my best guess is that everything chills out for a while.

The next move – if any – will probably be from the Big Ten, but it doesn’t mean everyone won’t be spending the next several weeks and months trying to put deals together.

Remember, the Big 12 was supposedly dead around this time last year – I’m old enough to remember when the American Athletic Conference was supposedly going to poach the Big 12, not the other way around – and no, the Pac-12 probably isn’t the new Southwest Conference, Big East, or WAC.

No, this merger didn’t work, but that’s okay – it’ll be more fun for the rest of us.

This Big 12 vs. Pac-12 business battle is about to get spicy.

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2022 College Football Schedules: All 131 Teams

Conference football expansion: Big Ten and SEC…who won the latest round of expansion?

Did the Big Ten or the SEC do better in the most recent conference expansions?

The Big Ten and the SEC are the new superpowers of college football. But which conference has won the latest round of expansion?

Last summer, the SEC raided Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12, giving them two big pieces in the chess match of conference realignment. In June, the Big Ten landed UCLA and USC. The move out west for the Big Ten gives them a marquee college football program in USC and two universities in the second-largest media market in the country.

The Big Ten now is in the top four media markets, for what it’s worth (and that fact is certainly worth a lot).

But who has won the latest round of college football alignment?

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Former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who played for UConn, said that the Big Ten were the winners here. He made his comments on ESPN on Tuesday morning.

“I think it is USC, UCLA to the Big Ten. Listen the SEC is the king of the castle, they have been for a long time and they deserve that,” Orlovsky said on ESPN on Tuesday morning.

“But the big key is the USC piece. We have no idea what OU is without Lincoln Riley as their head coach. Brett Venables comes over, defensive coordinator at Clemson, very highly thought of. We just don’t know it yet.

“I know what Lincoln (Riley) is as a head coach at OU…and now I’m thinking what he could become as head coach at USC which is significantly more fertile ground when it comes to recruiting athletes. This is a guy who in five seasons with Oklahoma won 85 percent of their games, 85 percent of their games. They won four Big 12 titles and three times went to the College Football Playoff. The talent that is in Southern California that has been kind of moving north to Oregon, he is going to be able to pull (that) back down. Specifically the quarterbacks. And that is a huge part of this equation.”

Also appearing on the ESPN panel was Paul Finebaum, the SEC analyst and college football insider for the network.

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Orlavsky also noted that UCLA was 8-4 in 2021 “and there is a lot of conversation around that program that they are heading in the right direction.”

Finebaum agreed with Orlovsky that the Big Ten’s move for the two Los Angeles programs was big. But he cautioned Orlovsky that the recency bias in his argument isn’t watertight.

“You can’t base conference expansion on today, you have to project into the future. And it is also worth remembering that Lincoln Riley replaced a legend in Bob Stoops,” Finebaum said.

“The point being, the fact that USC is going to the Big Ten is really what this is about. UCLA is not an important part of the conversation. The city of Los Angeles is moving to the Big Ten footprint. That is incredibly dramatic and important when you’re a television executive; this is a Fox property and they’re looking at it going ‘When USC wins, they are huge in the city of Los Angeles.’ Which can not be underestimated.”

Beyond the ratings, Finebaum isn’t convinced that the SEC’s move to mainly add Texas is going to be a windfall for the conference or the Longhorns on the playing field.

“Sure, Oklahoma is fantastic and Texas is a brand. But Texas has won I think three conference championships in the last 25 years. Two of those are in the Big 12. We’ve already heard what Dan said (what) Oklahoma has done the past five to six years…(Texas) not been relevant since they (played) Alabama in the 2009 Rose Bowl. Yea, they had Vince Young, they had a run. But they haven’t had anything since then. They’ve been a disaster,” Finebaum said.

“That’s why they’re getting out of the Big 12 and running to the SEC because they’re hoping it will enhance their recruit – which it already has I think with Arch Manning. And it will get them to a level where Texas A&M is right now. There is a lot more to it today. Texas had to make that move. As much as it pains me at the SEC media days, the move two weeks ago was the biggest move of the two.”

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Eight teams that the SEC should pursue if they desire more expansion

Should the SEC continue to look at expansion? Here are eight teams to consider.

Last summer we saw the SEC throw the first punch in college football expansion when they brought the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns into the fold. That move won’t become official until 2025 at the latest.

One year later the Big Ten went after the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins. With the announcement of that move, both the Big Ten and SEC sit at 14 current members and two more future members to join in 2024 or beyond.

Is conference expansion going to end there? Likely not.

Blake Toppmeyer and John Adams made their case for eight such teams should the SEC look to add more schools to the conference.

‘They don’t have any fans’: Iowa Hawkeyes’ QB Spencer Petras jabs new Big Ten additions USC, UCLA

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras welcomes the future additions of USC and UCLA. There’s nothing wrong with sunshine and no fans in November.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras met with the media for the first time since the spring earlier this week. The Hawkeyes’ likely No. 1 signal-caller reflected on his experience at the Manning Passing Academy, discussed what excites him about Iowa’s offense entering 2022 and even broached the topic of college realignment.

Of course, the Big Ten recently made waves by announcing the future additions of USC and UCLA in 2024. As someone that grew up in San Rafael, Calif., Petras is naturally familiar with both and excited about what each will bring to the conference in the future.

One of his only hangups is the fact that he won’t get the chance to play against either during his time in Iowa City. At least as a conference foe anyways.

“I know. It sucks, but, no, I wish they had joined five years ago. It would be cool, but I think it’s good for the conference, I think it’s good for certainly the Big Ten like I said. I think it’s good for California. I’m excited to see how it all plays out,” Petras said.

In what has been a common remark from longtime Big Ten fans, Petras took a little jab at USC and UCLA’s oftentimes underwhelming fan support.

“I think the best part is, I mean, you’ve got to if you’re a Big Ten Midwest team, you’ve got to pray for a couple road games in L.A. in November. I mean, you can’t ask for better, because they don’t have any fans, so it’s not like it’s going to be too loud, tough environment. That’s rude. They have fans, but it’s not the same as it is here and 60, 70 degree weather in November would be pretty cool. Yeah, better than 40 mile per hour winds, you can’t feel your hands. Ball is like soaking wet,” Petras said.

Even as Petras fired a couple of shots at Trojans and Bruins fans, he backtracked it to some degree pretty quickly. Really, it’s all in good fun and part of what makes the additions of USC and UCLA so great.

There is a culture clash at play here between Big Ten lifers and the fans of these programs that the league is adding. That’s in addition to regionality being thrown out the window.

For now, Petras doesn’t have to worry about any upcoming games against either USC or UCLA. Make no mistake about it, though. This won’t be the last time USC or UCLA fans hear a current Big Ten player, coach, analyst or fan point out some of the perceived differences in fan support or ask how these two new additions will handle a cold November day in Big Ten country.

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Paul Finebaum: Notre Dame can tip the balance between the Big Ten and the SEC

Paul Finebaum thinks Notre Dame might tip the balance of power in college football.

The balance of power in college football – and perhaps the greater college sports landscape – might just hang in South Bend, IN. So says Paul Finebaum, who sees Notre Dame determining the arms race between college football’s two superpowers.

With the Big Ten recently adding UCLA and USC as part of their expansion, the conference may have caught up with the SEC in terms of relative strength. The SEC has long been the dominant conference of college sports and in particular college football.

But the addition of UCLA and in particular for football purposes, USC, is a massive boost for the Big Ten.

ESPN analyst Paul Finebaum told RutgersWire on Thursday morning that the Big Ten’s move is seismic. But with Notre Dame now potentially in the mix as an expansion candidate, the Big Ten might be able to pull away from the SEC as the powerhouse conference of college football.

Of course, the SEC and the ACC want Notre Dame too.

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Finebaum thinks where Notre Dame lands tilts the balance of power in college football:

“The recent move – plus the upcoming TV deal – puts the league firmly in the game – leaving everyone else in the dust,” Finebaum told RutgersWire on Thursday about the Big Ten’s expansion.

“This is now a Coke vs. Pepsi battle. Both survive and profit handsomely. But there can only be one No. 1. Where Notre Dame ends up – assuming it makes a move – could very well determine that.”

Notre Dame doesn’t bring a new media market to the Big Ten, given the overlap with the Indiana Hoosiers. But they bring a national fanbase as well as a storied football program, quality men’s and women’s basketball teams and a stable of Olympic sports that are consistently among the best in the nation.

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Were Notre Dame to leave their independent status and join a conference, their presence would, in all likelihood, tip the balance of power in college football to the Big Ten. Finebaum isn’t wrong.

With the addition of USC in 2024, the Big Ten would hold six of the top ten programs historically in the history of college football:

Were Notre Dame to join USC in the Big Ten, the ramifications in college football would be huge from a revenue point of view for the Big Ten but also the product on the field.

For what it is worth,  two SEC powerhouses check-in pretty high in the poll with Alabama (second) and Oklahoma (third).

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Iowa-UCLA tabbed a top-10 ‘must-see’ matchup in new-look Big Ten

The contrast of Iowa and UCLA could not be greater, and that is exactly why their future matchup is a top-10 “must-see” in the new Big Ten.

Field position. Clock management. Defense. Smart plays on offense. Limited turnovers. Punting. These are all things that the Iowa Hawkeyes do well and rely on to slowly constrict teams into victory by submission.

Going for it on fourth down. High-scoring shootouts. Aggressive play calls. Data and analytics. All of these could be relatively synonymous for how Chip Kelly operates the UCLA Bruins.

The stark contrast of these two teams is so vast that it brings an excitement level to it when we eventually see Iowa and UCLA take the field against each other in the next few years now that the Big Ten is expanding and adding UCLA and USC.

Athlon Sports’ Ben Weinrib put this future Big Ten matchup in his top 10 for new matchups fans will get once the move is complete in the 2024 college football season.

Talk about a contrast in styles, Iowa and UCLA should also make for a fascinating matchup. And if the conference’s divisions remain split east-west, these two could face each other quite often. – Weinrib, Athlon Sports.

The difference in these coaching styles and how these teams operate really sums up quite well in one statistic. UCLA nearly doubled up Iowa on their fourth down attempts in 2021. UCLA attempted 31 fourth down conversions while Iowa went for it just 16 times.

To go with that, Iowa punted the ball 82 times last season while UCLA only booted it away 34 times. These two teams playing is going to be similar to watching a run-and-gun, up-tempo basketball team play against a half-court system. Whoever can control the tempo in these future matchups will gain an advantage with their defenses being well-rested and playing their game.

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