Ready or not, the 12-team Playoff is here.

The start of the 12-team Playoff era means that the entire conversation about being in contention will shift. A more inclusive field doesn’t necessarily guarantee that we’re about to see more variety with national champs. For this discussion, we’re not focused on who’ll win a national championship; we’re just focused on who’ll play for one.

The goal for this series is to predict the first 12-team Playoff with 100% accuracy. It’s never been done before. I’d like to think I can become the first person in human history to do that.

Every day of this series, I’ll unveil 1 of my 12-team Playoff picks, starting with the No. 12 seed and working all the way down to the No. 1 seed. Remember these parameters with the seeding of the 12-team Playoff:

  • ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC champs get an automatic bid
  • The top-ranked Group of 5 conference champ also gets an automatic bid
  • The 7 remaining teams are selected and receive at-large bids
  • The 4 highest-ranked conference champs are seeded 1-4 with a first-round bye

Need any other clarifications? I think we’re good.

So far, here are the teams I have in the field:

Let’s continue with the No. 4 seed … Oklahoma State.

Why the Playoff path exists

Don’t overthink this. Instead, just keep a few of these things in mind.

One is that the path to the No. 4 seed means you’re winning a conference title. In all likelihood, that won’t be a Group of 5 conference champ. In other words, the 4-seed will likely go to the winner of the Big 12, ACC, Big Ten or SEC. You will see 4-seeds with 2 or 3 losses that get that coveted first-round bye.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Big 12 no longer has Oklahoma or Texas, AKA the 2 teams that won 15 of the 23 Big 12 Championships that have ever been played. Including Nebraska and Texas A&M, 18 of the 23 Big 12 Championships were won by teams no longer in the conference.

The Big 12 no longer has those teams, but it still has a 10-win Oklahoma State squad that ranks No. 3 in America in percentage of returning production. Oh, and Ollie Gordon II returns as the top running back in the nation. He’s likely facing suspension for his arrest for suspicion of DUI, but Oklahoma State doesn’t have a conference game until Week 4 against Utah.

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Oklahoma State going 7-2 against the new-look Big 12 feels perfectly realistic, especially considering that’s exactly what last year’s squad did. Even if the Cowboys have another early-season dud like last year’s South Alabama blunder — that trip to Tulsa just reeks of a letdown spot — they could still find a way to get to the Big 12 Championship with a first-round bye at stake.

I say that as someone who isn’t necessarily sold on 7th-year quarterback Alan Bowman. But he’s surrounded by proven weapons on a team that returns 20 starters after it didn’t have anyone selected in the 2024 NFL Draft. That’s similar to post-2022 Washington.

Does that mean the Cowboys will follow that path en route to a national runner-up season? No, but in a time when there are old, veteran teams who can take advantage of that free 2020 year of eligibility, Oklahoma State is poised to capitalize.

The potential roadblock

The oddsmakers surprisingly have Oklahoma State’s regular season over/under at 8 wins (-120 via DraftKings Sportsbook). That’s with a nonconference slate that doesn’t include an FBS bowl team and with a Big 12 schedule that ends with 6 teams that won 7 games or less in 2023.

So where’s the roadblock? Those first 3 Big 12 games:

  • vs. Utah
  • at Kansas State
  • vs. West Virginia

All 3 of those teams return proven starting quarterbacks for teams that won 8-9 games last year, which could be a struggle for a defense that ranked a horrendous No. 126 in passing yards allowed/game in 2023. If Oklahoma State goes 1-2 in that stretch, it could be on the wrong end of the potential tiebreaker to earn a Big 12 Championship berth. And that’s assuming they win all 6 of their final games, including 4 on the road.

Related: Who will win it all in 2024? SDS has the latest betting odds for who’ll win the next national championship!

One would think that an experienced team like Oklahoma State, which should have tremendous leadership at the all-important position groups of offensive line (Dalton Cooper and Joe Michalski) and linebacker (Collin Oliver and Nick Martin), should be able to get to 2-1 in that early-season Big 12 stretch with perhaps a loss to give in the back half of the regular season schedule.

But in a conference that’s got “chaos” written all over it, don’t assume anything.

Odds that they win a Playoff game

Is 28% too low for a 4-seed? Not necessarily.

Remember that Oklahoma State’s 4-seed — that’s at 10-3 with a win against Utah in the Big 12 Championship — will get the winner of the 5 vs. 12 matchup. In my prediction, that means a neutral-site game with former Big 12 foe Texas is on tap. While it’s not fair to assume that the 2023 Big 12 Championship will play out again, it’s also a bit ambitious to assume that the Cowboys have done enough this offseason to completely flip that lopsided result.

Yes, Texas could struggle to defend the run more without T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy, which would bode well for Gordon. That still doesn’t answer the question of how Oklahoma State will find an answer for Quinn Ewers, who did whatever he wanted in that matchup last year. That game was over well before halftime.

If that played out and Oklahoma State did indeed get Texas, I’d expect Mike Gundy’s squad to be a double-digit ‘dog. Of course, that still beats the alternative of being left out of the field altogether, which Oklahoma State was throughout the 4-team Playoff era.

Last I checked, 28% beats 0%.

Predicting the Playoff will continue on Sunday with No. 3 … Florida State.