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History of the College Football Playoff as last four-team tournament ends in 2024

With the four-team era of the CFP coming to an end, we walk down memory lane and take a look at the history of this format.

National Championship - Oregon v Ohio State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

A new champion will be crowned in the 2024 College Football Playoff National Championship tonight as the No. 2 Washington Huskies will battle the No. 1 Michigan Wolverines at NRG Stadium in Houston. This showdown holds significance as it will mark the final title game of the four-team playoff era as the CFP will expand to 12 teams beginning next season.

The idea for a postseason tournament in FBS had been kicked around for decades and finally came to fruition with the advent of the inaugural College Football Playoff to cap the 2014 season. We were treated to a show in the inaugural semifinal as defending national champion Florida State imploded against Oregon in the Rose Bowl and Ohio State ran through Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes would then handle the Ducks in the title game to become the inaugural champ of the playoff era.

The trend of lackluster semifinal games would take hold in the following years, but we would be treated to a trio of competitive title games. Alabama and Clemson would square off in back-to-back seasons, with the Crimson Tide downing the Tigers in the 2016 title game before Deshaun Watson and Clemson got their revenge with a last-minute touchdown one year later. The 2017 title game was an all-SEC encounter between Bama and Georgia and ended when Tua Tagovailoa hit DeVonta Smith for a game-winning touchdown in overtime. Alabama-Clemson III the following year fell flat as Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers dominated the Tide for their second championship of the playoff era.

The next three years of the CFP title games would be somewhat forgettable with the legendary 2019 LSU team handling Clemson in January of 2020, Alabama clobbering Ohio State to cap the weird COVID season a year later, and another Georgia-Bama matchup ending with the Dawgs on top the year after that. The 2023 title game would be memorable for the fact that UGA evaporated TCU 65-7 in the most lopsided championship game of all time.

By this point, the CFP had drawn tons of criticism for a multitude of reasons from the committee, to a lack of variety, to Group of Five powers like UCF being left out of the dance. It was finally announced in September of 2022 that the CFP would be expanded to 12 teams and later determined that the new format would begin in 2024.

College Football Playoff results

2014

Semifinals

No. 2 Oregon 59, No. 3 Florida State 20 (Rose Bowl)
No. 4 Ohio State 42, No. 1 Alabama 35 (Sugar Bowl)

National Championship

No. 4 Ohio State 42, No. 2 Oregon 20 (AT&T Stadium)

2015

Semifinals

No. 1 Clemson 37, No. 4 Oklahoma 17 (Orange Bowl)
No. 2 Alabama 38, No. 3 Michigan State 0 (Cotton Bowl)

National Championship

No. 2 Alabama 45, No. 1 Clemson 40 (State Farm Stadium)

2016

Semifinals

No. 1 Alabama 24, No. 4 Washington 7 (Peach Bowl)
No. 2 Clemson 31, No. 3 Ohio State 0 (Fiesta Bowl)

National Championship

No. 2 Clemson 35, No. 1 Alabama 31 (Raymond James Stadium)

2017

Semifinals

No. 3 Georgia 54, No. 2 Oklahoma 48 (OT) (Rose Bowl)
No. 4 Alabama 24, No. 1 Clemson 6 (Sugar Bowl)

National Championship

No. 4 Alabama 26, No. 3 Georgia 23 (OT) (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

2018

Semifinals

No. 2 Clemson 30, No. 3 Notre Dame 3 (Cotton Bowl)
No. 1 Alabama 45, No. 4 Oklahoma 34 (Orange Bowl)

National Championship

No. 2 Clemson 44, No. 1 Alabama 16 (Levi’s Stadium)

2019

Semifinals

No. 1 LSU 63, No. 4 Oklahoma 28 (Peach Bowl)
No. 3 Clemson 29, No. 2 Ohio State 23 (Fiesta Bowl)

National Championship

No. 1 LSU 42, No. 3 Clemson 25

2020

Semifinals

No. 1 Alabama 31, No. 4 Notre Dame 14 (Rose Bowl at AT&T Stadium)
No. 3 Ohio State 49, No. 2 Clemson 28 (Sugar Bowl)

National Championship

No. 1 Alabama 52, No. 3 Ohio State 24 (Hard Rock Stadium)

2021

Semifinals

No. 1 Alabama 27, No. 4 Cincinnati 6 (Cotton Bowl)
No. 3 Georgia 34, No. 2 Michigan 11 (Orange Bowl)

National Championship

No. 3 Georgia 33, No. 1 Alabama 18 (Lucas Oil Stadium)

2022

Semifinals

No. 3 TCU 51, No. 2 Michigan 45 (Fiesta Bowl)
No. 1 Georgia 42, No. 4 Ohio State 41 (Peach Bowl)

National Championship

No. 1 Georgia 65, No. 3 TCU 7

2023

Semifinals

No. 1 Michigan 27, No. 4 Alabama 20 (OT) (Rose Bowl)
No. 2 Washington 37, No. 3 Texas 31 (Sugar Bowl)

National Championship

TBD