How does College Football Playoff work? Rules, dates, more

The key storylines leading up to the 2024 college football season (1:37)

Check out some of the most important storylines and numbers as the 2024 college football season nears. (1:37)

For the first time in a decade, college football has changed the way it determines its champion. In case you've been living off the grid, the field will expand from four to 12 teams in the fall of 2024.

The 13-member selection committee remains in place, and its mission is essentially the same as it's always been, according to the College Football Playoff:

"The selection committee's task will be to select the best teams, rank the teams for inclusion in the playoff and assign the teams to the playoff sites."

Here's everything you need to know about how that will actually work.

Who qualifies for the college football playoff?

The five highest-ranked conference champions and the next seven highest-ranked teams will earn a spot in the 12-team bracket. There is no limit to how many teams from one conference can qualify. The rules also don't guarantee spots for certain conferences. The champions of the Big 12, SEC, ACC and Big Ten will almost certainly routinely qualify, though, along with the highest-ranked champion from the Mountain West, American Athletic Conference, Sun Belt, Mid-American Conference or Conference USA.

There is no minimum ranking requirement for the five highest-ranked conference champions. There could be a conference champion ranked No. 23, for example, that's the fifth highest-ranked league winner and earns a spot in the playoff -- at the expense of the committee's No. 12 team.

How does the seeding work?

The four highest-ranked conference champions will earn the top four seeds and receive a first-round bye. The other eight teams will play in the first round, with the higher seeds hosting the lower seeds either on campus or "at other sites designated by the higher-seeded institution."

That means any team that doesn't earn the luxury of a first-round bye will have to win four straight games to win the national championship. If a team lost in its conference championship game and played in four straight playoff games, it would have played an unprecedented total of 17 games.

Be careful not to confuse the seeding with the selection committee's ranking. The 13-member committee will still issue its weekly top 25, which will be used to determine the highest-ranked conference champs. That means, though, that if Georgia wins the SEC and is ranked No. 1 by the selection committee, and Alabama loses that game and is No. 3 in the CFP ranking -- or even No. 2! -- the Tide will be seeded No. 5 behind three other conference champs and Georgia.

(Read that again, please.)

Any independent like Notre Dame cannot earn a first-round bye because it cannot win a conference title. That also applies to Washington State and Oregon State, which have a temporary scheduling arrangement with the Mountain West and can compete for the national championship but aren't eligible to win the MWC and don't constitute a league of their own, per NCAA and CFP rules.

Once the teams are seeded on Selection Day, the seeds are final. There won't be any reseeding.

What about rematches?

There won't be any modifications made to avoid rematches or games between schools from the same conference.

How does the bracket work?

First round (all home games)

Friday, Dec. 20, and Saturday, Dec. 21

No. 12 seed at No. 5 seed

No. 9 seed at No. 8 seed

No. 11 seed at No. 6 seed

No. 10 seed at No. 7 seed


Tuesday, Dec. 31, and Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2025

No. 4 seed plays the winner of No. 12 vs. No. 5

No. 1 seed plays winner of No. 9 vs. No. 8

No. 3 seed plays winner of No. 11 vs. No. 6

No. 2 seed plays winner No. 10 vs. No. 7


Thursday, Jan. 9, 2025: Capital One Orange Bowl (evening)

Friday, Jan. 10, 2025: Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (evening)

CFP National Championship

Monday, Jan. 20, 2025: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

What do I need to know about the selection committee?

There are six former coaches and players in the group, six sitting athletic directors representing seven conferences (including one from each Power 4 league) and one former sportswriter:

  • Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel (committee chair)

  • Former Nevada coach Chris Ault

  • Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk

  • Former Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe

  • Miami (Ohio) athletic director David Sayler

  • Former sportswriter Kelly Whiteside

  • Former All-American Nebraska lineman Will Shields

  • Former Toledo and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel

  • Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades

  • Virginia athletic director Carla Williams

  • Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek

  • Former Oregon State and Nebraska coach Mike Riley

  • Former Arizona State All-American guard Randall McDaniel

How long are their terms? Committee members serve three-year terms.

When do they meet? The committee members meet every Monday and part of Tuesday morning to determine each of their six weekly rankings, starting on Nov. 5.

What is their protocol? When circumstances indicate that teams are comparable, committee members must consider:

  • Championships won

  • Strength of schedule

  • Head-to-head competition

  • Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)

  • Other relevant factors such as unavailability of key players and coaches that might have affected a team's performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance

These factors are not weighted, and an individual committee member can place a greater value on one factor than the person sitting next to them might.

What is their recusal policy?

If a committee member or an immediate family member is (a) compensated by a school, (b) provides professional services for a school or (c) is on the coaching staff or administrative staff or is a player at a school, that committee member will be recused. Recused members aren't allowed to vote for those teams and are allowed only to answer factual questions about that school. Recused committee members aren't allowed to be in the room during any deliberations about that team's selection or seeding. They also aren't allowed to participate in discussions about what bowl game that team might be assigned to.

How is the voting done?

The voting is done electronically on the members' individual laptops and is done by secret ballot. Nobody knows how anyone else in the room voted unless they choose to share that. Voting generally includes seven rounds of ballots. The voters start with a small pool of teams, rank them and begin with the top-ranked teams placed in the rankings in groups of three or four. They continue to repeat that process until 25 teams have been ranked.

What metrics do they use?

There isn't one metric that earns a team its spot over another. Instead, it's a subjective analysis of a plethora of statistics available to the committee members from a company called SportSource Analytics. Each FBS team has a "team sheet" with its statistics and schedule strength listed, along with its situational record (i.e., 3-1 vs. current CFP Top 25 teams). There are ranks for offense, defense, special teams and efficiencies.

How are teams assigned to bowl games?

The New Year's Six bowl games -- Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta and Peach bowls -- are still a part of the CFP. For the quarterfinal games, the committee will assign the four highest-ranked conference champions to four of those bowls on Selection Day immediately after the bracket has been set. Those teams will be slotted with consideration of historic bowl relationships and seeding.

The No. 1 seed will earn preferential treatment for its bowl slot and will not be put at a geographical disadvantage. Recently, the Sugar Bowl has had a contractual agreement with the SEC and the Big 12, while the Rose maintains a relationship with the Big Ten (or Washington State and Oregon State from what's left of the Pac-12).

The Orange hosts a semifinal this year, along with the Cotton Bowl.

When are the rankings?

The selection committee will release its first of six rankings on Nov. 5. They are released each following Tuesday.

The final ranking will be released on Dec. 8.

When are the College Football Playoff games?

First Round (on campus)

Friday, Dec. 20, 2024: one game (evening)

Saturday, Dec. 21, 2024: three games (early afternoon, late afternoon and evening)


Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2024: Vrbo Fiesta Bowl (evening)

Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2025: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (early afternoon), Rose Bowl Game (late afternoon) and Allstate Sugar Bowl (evening)


Thursday, Jan. 9, 2025: Capital One Orange Bowl (evening)

Friday, Jan. 10, 2025: Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (evening)

CFP National Championship

Monday, Jan. 20, 2025: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta