Would expanded playoffs have kept Jedd Fisch with Arizona Football?

Based on the new playoff structure for 2024-25, Jedd Fisch could have led Arizona to the playoffs in his third year with Arizona.

Arizona v Arizona State
Arizona v Arizona State / Bruce Yeung/GettyImages

During his three seasons as Arizona Football head coach, Jedd Fisch led an admittedly remarkable turnaround in Tucson after suffering through a godawful 2021 season. Arizona made its first bowl game since 2017, won its first bowl game since 2015, and finished ranked No. 11 in the final AP Poll.

Now that the College Football Playoff is expanding to 12 teams for the 2024-25 season and beyond, the question has to be asked: could Arizona have made the big dance and would it have kept Fisch from bolting to Washington?

The short answer? No; he always had his eyes on the next best thing.

Aside from that, voters didn't put the proper respect on Arizona's name until after the season had concluded and the Alamo Bowl win was already in the books. The final CFP rankings were released on December 3, 2023, and Arizona checked in at No. 14.

So what would the postseason field have looked like?

Maybe the rankings would have gone differently with the expanded format, but Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon, and Mizzou all would have locked up postseason berths before Arizona. With the available information at the time, the final three spots would likely have been allocated to Liberty as the highest-rated G5 school, Ole Miss, and either Oklahoma or Penn State with the final spot.

1. Michigan (Big Ten winner)
2. Washington (Pac-12 winner)
3. Texas (Big 12 winner)
4. Alabama (SEC winner)
5. Florida State (ACC winner)
6. Liberty (Highest G5 conference champion)
7. Georgia (SEC runner-up)
8. Ohio State (Big Ten runner-up)
9. Oregon (Pac-12 runner-up)
10. Mizzou (SEC #3)
11. Ole Miss (SEC #4)
12. Oklahoma (Big 12 #3) or Penn State (Big Ten #3)

Using the final CFP rankings helps to reflect the way that voters felt about teams right after the regular season and conference championships before bowl or playoff games were played. Arizona was only boosted into the Top 12 after earning national respect in the comeback win against No. 12 Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl.

What does this mean for Fisch?

It's no secret that Fisch had his eyes elsewhere for at least the duration of the 2023 season, but the rumor mill wasn't saying Washington. As a Florida alum, it was widely speculated that if the hire of Billy Napier doesn't work out and his time in Gainesville comes to an end Fisch would be targeting the opening. Nobody in the Arizona community truly expected him to stick around for longer than another two seasons.

However, with hindsight being 20/20, it seems like a move after this season was inevitable no matter what. Even with the expanded format, the 'Cats likely would have fallen just short of the No. 12 spot and not brought the success that Fisch craved. He bailed on everything he built in Tucson for a team fresh off a National Championship berth that has been reduced to bare bones.

So what's the point?

Brent Brennan, Courtney Brennan
USC v Arizona / Chris Coduto/GettyImages

The point is that Arizona simply was planning on having the wrong man in charge. What Fisch did for Arizona Football can not be overstated, and he laid a stellar foundation for the next few seasons. That said, he was never going to be their Kyle Wittingham, Mike Gundy, or Kirk Ferentz. That's what Brent Brennan was hired for.

Fisch built a culture of family, togetherness, and loyalty that was so strong that even he couldn't break it as the architect. Brennan is a part of the Arizona family, and it doesn't seem like he plans on leaving anytime soon. While the team hasn't taken the field under him and his staff yet, all signs point to both the returning stars and incoming talent approving of the new regime. What he did at San Jose State was nothing short of remarkable; it's an extremely difficult place to win. With a better pool of talent and higher-quality resources, the sky seems to be the limit for a rising Wildcats squad.

Besides, it can't hurt that Noah Fifita and Tetairoa McMillan are running it back for at least one more year.

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