Possible College Football Playoff Formats For 2020

The SEC announced its schedule yesterday, with their first week of games still slated to start on September 26. The ACC is primed to begin play on September 12. The Big 12 marks the third Power-5 conference still intending to play in what will be a wild and wacky college football season, should we make it all the way through. In total, 6 of 1`0 FBS conferences are currently planning to play, while the Big 10, Pac-12, Mountain West, and MAC have all cancelled towards fall football. Though they hope to play a spring season, it looks somewhat improbable that the situation will be clearly better just 5-6 months from now. While some vaccines have reached Phase 3 of testing, the timeline still seems crunched if that is indeed what these conferences await. It’s too early to tell whether their intended spring season will pan out; for now, the focus is on the six conferences still seeking to play. And while each conference at this point seems to be moving forward with a conference-only (or close to) schedule, there’s a major question to be answered. How will the College Football Playoff look? Will we see a temporary one-year expansion? Will the committee simply have to say which conference’s match-ups they value more? Will a Group-of-5 team get a chance. Here’s a few possibilities to consider.

3 Conference Champions and a Wild Card

At the moment, barring any further announcement from the CFP, this seems like the most likely option. The Big 12, ACC, and SEC champions will all get an automatic berth, while a wild card berth will go to one non-champion. While this leaves the door open for a Group of 5 participant, the likelihood would be that this berth goes to one of the Power-5 conferences’ runners-up. It also leaves open the possibility of one diviison – namely the SEC West – getting two playoff teams. The ACC, at least for this season, has eliminated the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions, leaving them with just a 15-team conference, meaning the top two teams will clash for the title. The same can be said for the Big 12, while the SEC has maintained their two 7-team divisions. As has been the case for a while now, the SEC West remains the considerably stronger division of the two, and they have had a non division champion make the CFP. Could we get LSU and Alabama into the Playoff?

In this format, the Group of 5 is a clear loser. Even with a reduced playing field, they have next to no chance at attaining a postseason berth in this set-up. Even an undefeated run from a team like Memphis or Appalachian State would carry very little weight with zero, or maybe one, power-5 opponents. A Power-5 team with an appearance in the conference championship will almost certainly get that fourth and final bid.

Winners from this format, in my mind, are Notre Dame and Georgia. These are two teams that are currently favored to be in their conference championship, but not win. Had every Power-5 conference been in action this fall, this would almost disqualify them from playoff consideration. However, in this format, an appearance and competitive showing in the conference championship game could gift them that final slot. I didn’t list a Big 12 team, because I believe it is unlikely that a 10-team conference will be given two playoff spots, while one from the 14-team SEC and 15-team ACC are chosen. Also, there isn’t a clear 2nd-best team in the Big 12 at this moment. Texas is generally considered Oklahoma’s biggest challenger, but that could just be preseason “Hook Em” Texas bluster. Oklahoma State and Iowa State figure to be competitive, while Baylor looks to recapture the magic that almost had them in the Playoff a year ago. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is a unanimous favorite to be in the ACC Championship with Clemson, while Georgia also figures to have a very good chance at representing the SEC East for a fourth straight season in the SEC title clash. This format gives the Irish and the Bulldogs a far brigher outlook when it comes to playoff possibilites.

4 Conference Champions

An interesting and improbable idea. This idea made a few headlines when South Florida coach Jeff Scott floated out this tweet:

Could the Committee consider the AAC a “power-4 conference” for one season, giving a Group-of-5 team an automatic bid into the Playoff. This seems naturally unfair to Power-5 teams playing much more grueling schedules. The AAC certainly has some talent at the top in Memphis, Cincinnati, and UCF, but it’s simply not the same as having LSU, Alabama, Auburn, and Florida (such is the schedule of Texas A&M). This elevates the AAC to a status that it doesn’t seem to quite merit at this point, and while it would be a fun underdog story, such darkhorse tales tend to not fare as well in football, particularly at the collegiate level. Think about this way: Would you rather see Alabama or Clemson taking Notre Dame or Georiga in the Playoff, or would you be more likely to tune in to see one of the afoementioned powerhouses take on Memphis. Seems unlikely, no matter how good they are.

The AAC is a major winner in this format, while Conference USA and the Sunbelt Conference are left completely out to dry. Mainly, I think of Appalachian State, who may be one of the best group-of-5 teams this year, being given no chance at a Playoff berth, while the AAC is somewhat arbitrarily granted Power-4 status and a Playoff berth. And while the last system was a postitive, Notre Dame and Georgia will also frown upon this format, as their playoff hopes will now square on them beating favored opponents and national championship favorites in their conference championships.

“The Best Four”

The Playoff committee couold simply stick with their current system, which, hypothetically, selects the best four teams every single season. While this often brings in Power-5 champions, there’s been a few notable examples of non-champions cracking the four team field. The reason I view this as unlikely, is that the committee will have to essentially publically state with their selections that they value the other conference. Yes, Oklahoma has historically and recently been a very good team that looks like world-beaters inside the Big 12, only to faint on the big stage. Will the Playoff Committee naturally assume the Big 12 is again an inferior conference, thus looking for extra SEC teams ti fill out the bracket. The SEC has been the only conference to get two playoff berths in one season, and so this system likely benefits them far more than other conference. With a conference-only schedule, it seems very likely that should a second berth come from one conference, it would be an SEC Team.

In my mind, the biggest winner of this scenario is LSU. I think the Tigers enter this season as likely the 2nd-best team in the SEC to Alabama. However, may formats would disqualify a 9-1 LSU team from the Playoff; however, if Ed Orgeron’s squad looks convincing in their nine wins, they could be deemed one of the ‘best four’ teams here without making their conference championship.

The biggest loser of this situation would possibly be Oklahoma. While the Committee is never supposed to take past years into consideration, it’s getting hard to ignore the eggs that the Sooners lay on the big stage. Will they be wholly convinced that an Oklahoma team, possibly with 1 loss, is one of the best four teams. I wouldn’t count on it right now.

An Expanded Format

An expanded format may be unlikely to think about, but it could be a way to smooth out the inevitable wrinkles that will come with trying to select a playoff field. An 8-team playoff that guaranteed a berth to both participants in each conference championship game, plus two wild card berths, with one reserved for the best Group of 5 champion, has some interesting merit. It really ensures that we get the best teams – with a Group of 5 underdog – and the possibility for a deserving team that didn’t quite make a conference title game. This format would be hardpressed to exclude a deserving team, but there are some drawbacks. For one, it pretty much devalues the conference championship game, which becomes a ceremonial trophy with only an effect on seeding. For a team like Notre Dame, who doesn’t really have a vested interest in winning conference titles as a program, if they were to reach the ACC Championship against Clemson, would they be willing to start their stars in a game that had little affect on their future chances?

Some other interesting formats include a 5-team playoff that includes 3 Power-5 champions, one Group-of-5 champion, and a wild card. This way, the conference champions get a bye, while likely the Group of 5 representative takes on the wild card in a playoff-opening quarterfinal clash. This puts value on winning your conference title, but opens up a path to the playoffs without doing so – a key factor for teams like Notre Dame, Georgia, and LSU (assuming Alabama as the favorite this season).

In all likelihood, the Playoff will have to have either a guaranteed spot for a Group of 5 school, or simply maintain their “best teams” vernacular. Any system that only allows Power-5 champions or conference championship participants would be admitting to the obvious – that no Group of 5 team will ever get a playoff berth under the current system. While it’s true, the Committee won’t want to make a format that directly excludes them either.

The Committee has its biggest challenge ahead in 2020 – from comparing conference strengths, to determing a fair format, and everything else, they face some very tough decisions this coming season. Can they minimize the drawbacks and give us a CFP worth watching?

Corona Causes Major CFP Evaluation Questions

Due to the coronavirus, the college football season, and especially the College Football Playoff, has a lot of questions surrounding the possibilities of playing. The BIG 10 and the PAC 12 have already announced they will be playing conference only games for the 2020 season, and the other power five conferences, the SEC, the ACC, and the BIG 12, are all expected to follow the conference only games model. The Group of Five conferences have not made decisions on their schedules for 2020. This will be an exceptionally hard year for the committee to decide who will get into the Playoff because there will be no common opponents, and the Group of Five will also be even more unlikely to get a bid into the playoff with no power five contests. The CFP directory has announced they will be flexible and ready for any situation that results in a season.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence celebrates a touchdown against Ohio State.

The question on a lot of minds right now is what does a conference-only schedule mean for the Playoff? The committee will have to adjust the way they review teams – that is the only option. In past years, common opponents and strength of schedule were weighed heavily; this year, these categories will not have the same effect. I believe that this year will mostly be an eye test. The committee will have to watch the top teams, and I believe they will have to rank them based off of which teams are dominating. I also believe this will be a “what have you done for me lately” situation. Although the committee is not supposed to take prior years into account, these are human voters and prone to biases. \

This also raises even more questions. First is how do you rank conferences? For example, say we have a situation similar to 2019 where Ohio State, Clemson, and LSU are undefeated. Hypothetically, you have an undefeated Oregon and an undefeated Oklahoma, and both are conference champions. How will the committee rank the PAC 12 versus the BIG 12? This situation, which would be highly unlikely, but could arise, would come down to margin of victory. However, the BIG 12 is stronger then the PAC 12, so if Oregon has a better margin of victory, but Oklahoma is in a tougher conference, does Oklahoma get in?

Another question is that of a team is dominating but has a slip up in one close road game, and then you have another team that is undefeated but has one all close games, which gets in? Another hypothetical situation that could possibly happen: Ohio State loses to Penn State in a close game on the road, but blows out every other team, whereas Oregon is undefeated but most of their wins is close, which team will get in?

What happens if Clemson loses a tight game although Clemson has been a consistent performer in the playoff semifinals and national championship. In a season full of questions, will the Committee look at past seasons? With all of these questions, the biggest factor for the committee’s decisions will be the eye test – the teams that are truly dominating will be ranked the highest. Another unknown is what does the committee decide when teams have quarantined players and drop a game because they lose a key piece. For example, what if Justin Fields, quarterback for Ohio State, is sidelined because of the coronavirus, and Ohio State drops a game to Rutgers (an extreme example) because of it, a game they easily would have won with him? How does that factor into the committee’s decision?

An intriguing option that is being discussed around college football, is the one year expansion to an eight team playoff. I like a lot of college football fans would love to see an eight team playoff. The reason that this is almost necessary for this season is the fact that the committee is not going to have enough information I believe to properly rank these teams. Because of these circumstances, I don’t know if there will be enough evidence to name definitively the best four teams, That is why I believe if they expand to eight teams fir one year, they can duke it out on the gridiron and the committee will not face as much scrutiny, and it will give more power five teams a chance within the confines of these strange circumstances. The Committee announced they are weighing there options, but experts do not expect that they will make a decision until late October, because there first rankings will not be out until the first week of November.

The biggest takeaway I have for teams with CFP aspirations, is that there is even less room for error this year then in past years. Teams need to go out and dominate every night they play and can leave no questions unanswered. The committee will have to base their final decision on how a team looks to determine who the best teams are, so top teams must avoid any slip-ups or close and overtime games against a bad team – nobody can question that this will be a radically different season, and that extends from season openers to the Playoff.

We Simulated A Group of Five College Football Playoff

In our recent simulation, we took a look at the results at an expanded College Football Playoff, which included a Group-of-5 bid, but who is the best small-name program out there? We simulated a CFP – Group-of-5 edition – and pitted the winner against the real CFP field, starting with the semifinal losers and progressing to the champion until they were defeated or triumphed over the field. Teams were selected by the final CFP rankings of that year, and if there were not four teams in those rankings, we went to the AP Poll, utilizing the “Also Receiving Votes” section if necessary. Here were our results:

2014

  1. Boise State
  2. Marshall
  3. Memphis
  4. Colorado State

4. Colorado State def. 1. Boise State 33-31
2. Marshall def. 3. Memphis 28-23

Championship

4. Colorado State def. 2. Marshall 31-23

Against the CFP…
Def. Florida State 34-31 (OT)
LOST to Alabama 44-28\

Summary

Led by the exploits of quarterback Garrett Grayson, Colorado State embarked on a stunning run in our initial year of the Group of 5 simulation. The Rams were 10-2 in 2014 with a bad loss in the Las Vegas Bowl, but in this simulation, they rallied over Boise State with a game-winning field goal at the buzzer, before staving off Marshall in the championship. Grayson tossed seven touchdowns and no picks between the two highly efficient performances. In a stunning effort, the Rams edged out Jameis Winston and the Seminoles, but they fell well short against Alabama, although Grayson threw for another four scores, but the Tide racked up 232 rushing yards between Derrick Henry and TJ Yeldon. Surprising stuff in Year 1, let’s see what 2015 has to offer. 

2015 

  1. Houston
  2. Navy
  3. Temple
  4. Western Kentucky


4. Western Kentucky def. 1. Houston 37-24
3. Temple def. 2. Navy 24-17

Championship

4. Western Kentucky def. 3. Temple 34-20

Against the CFP…

Def. Oklahoma 37-35
LOST to Michigan State 41-33

Summary

Two straight four-seeds? There appears to be very little difference among the top Group of 5 teams, so we’ll see if that trend continues. Western Kentucky bodyslammed both Houston and Temple by two touchdowns to claim the title. The Hilltoppers could score on virtually anyone in 2015, putting up at least 35 points on every defense except Vanderbilt and LSU. Oklahoma’s sieve-like defense posed little challenge, but the Spartans held WKU to enough field goals to edge out the upstart fourth-seed. 

2016

  1. Western Michigan
  2. Temple
  3. Navy
  4. South Florida


4. USF def. 1. Western Michigan 34-31
2. Temple def. 3. Navy 40-20

Championship

2. Temple def. 4. USF 34-30

Against the CFP…

LOST to Washington 42-23

Summary

Finally, someone took down a four-seed in this simulation, as Temple took down Navy in what is quickly developing into a virtual rivalry, and edged out South Florida in the final. However, they had zero luck against Power-5 competition, getting manhandled by fourth-seeded Washington, trailing by 29 points in the fourth quarter. Maybe the quality of play is a little worse, but you can’t deny this Playoff would be highly interesting – six of the nine games played in the Group of 5 portion of the simulation have been decided by one possession. 

2017

  1. UCF
  2. Memphis
  3. Boise State
  4. South Florida
  1. UCF def. 4. USF 45-13
  2. Memphis def. 3. Boise State 37-27

Championship

1. UCF def. 2. Memphis 41-31

Against the CFP…
LOST to Oklahoma 42-37
Summary

This simulation has produced some wild results, so to see chalk in Year 4 was actually pretty shocking. 2017 UCF can definitely stake a claim to being the best Group of 5 team in recent history, and they dominated the Playoff simulation here, taking the title in convincing fashion. However, a very strong Playoff field made it tough to advance further, as Baker Mayfield and the Sooners edged the Knights. McKenzie Milton was a joy to watch on the gridiron, so here’s to hoping he makes it back soon – college football is better when guys like him are playing. 

2018

  1. UCF
  2. Fresno State
  3. Boise State
  4. Utah State

    4. Utah State def. 1. UCF 35-23
    2. Fresno State def. 3. Boise State 35-21

Championship

4. Utah State def. 2. Fresno State 37-34 (OT)

Against the CFP…

LOST to Oklahoma 52-33

Summary

Top-seeded UCF had to play without McKenzie Milton and fell victim to Jordan Love’s rocket arm. Meanwhile, Boise State falls to 0-3 in three separate appearances, and the Aggies triumph in an overtime classic over Fresno State, tying the game on a late field goal and winning on Love’s 26-yard TD toss. Utah State clashed with Heisman winner Kyler Murray and simply did not have the firepower to stay with the Sooners. Love had a pair of TDs, but Oklahoma grabbed a 10-point halftime lead and cruised to victory. 

2019

  1. Memphis
  2. Boise State
  3. Appalachian State
  4. Cincinnati 

    1. Memphis def. 4. Cincinnati 41-28

2. Boise State def. 3. Appalachian State 37-14

Championship

2. Boise State def. 1. Memphis 35-30

Against the CFP…

LOST to Oklahoma 34-28
Summary

Boise State breaks through! I’m really glad, because I would have had to deal with a throng of rabid Broncos’ fans if they didn’t even get a win in the Group of 5 CFP. The Broncos manhandled Appalachian State in one of the biggest blowouts of our 6-year simulation before edging out a very good Memphis squad. However, their magic ran out against the Sooners – no ‘Statue of Liberty’ stunner in this one, as the Broncos dropped a 6-point contest to Jalen Hurts, CeeDee Lamb and Co. 

Final Thoughts

A Group-of-5 playoff will never happen, because it will require the NCAA to admit that their current system excludes half the teams in the nation from even competing for a Playoff spot. However, I am still enthralled by the idea; exciting small-name programs can be exciting to watch, and this system pits some of the best teams in the nation against each other, largely producing thrilling results. Four-seeds combined for an insane 7-3 record, as upsets raged throughout the years, while teams like UCF proved their utter dominance with convincing victories. 

Ultimately, Boise State led with four Playoff appearances, although it took them until that fourth try to snatch a win. Memphis went 2-3 in three appearances, and nobody else had more than two Playoff berths. Against CFP teams, our Group-of-5 champions went 2-6, but no victories were seen in the final four years. 

Ultimately, I think four appearances in six years is a decent statement as to Boise State’s consistency, regardless of their schedule, but the three tournament victories by fourth-seeds also showed that there is plenty of parity between the best Group-of-5 teams. Again, this won’t happen, but imagine if this event was a precursor to the CFP, making it four straight weekends of premier college football. One can dream.

We Simulated Every CFP – But With An 8-Team Field

Every year, as the College Football Playoff committee controversially selects four teams for the Playoff, there are outraged cries for expansion, as many feel that to many elite teams get shafted by the Committee due to one unfortunate result. The four-team CFP has been around for six seasons now, so we decided to look into how much an expanded field would have changed the results we’ve watched play out on the gridiron.

We expanded the playoff in each season to 8 teams. The Power-5 conference champions and top-ranked Group of 5 team were guaranteed a spot, and the other two slots went to at-large teams. We determined the field by the final CFP rankings of each season, seeding them as they were ranked by the Committee. Here’s what we got:

2014:
The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Oregon
  3. Florida State
  4. Ohio State
  5. Baylor
  6. TCU
  7. Mississippi State
  8. Boise State

Quarterfinals

1. Alabama def. 8. Boise State 42-13 
2. Oregon def. 7. Mississippi State 37-17
3. Florida State def. 6. TCU 34-31 (OT)
4. Ohio State def. 5. Baylor 42-24
Semifinals
4. Ohio State def. 1. Alabama 38-35
3. Florida State def. 2. Oregon 40-24

Championship

3. Florida State def. 4. Ohio State 35-30

The Summary

We do get a new champion in our first year with an 8-team playoff, and I really see a distinct reason for that happening. Jameis Winston and his defending champion Seminoles seemed to really coast through an undefeated season and were simply unprepared for Oregon in the semifinals. In this simulation, they get their wakeup call in the quarterfinals, where they are still talented enough to escape with a come-from-behind OT victory. TCU awakens the beast that is FSU, and they thump Oregon in the semis to reach the championship against Ohio State, who replicated their underdog run with Cardale Jones under center. FSU wins a classic, with Winston throwing for three touchdowns and Dalvin Cook rushing for two, leading the Seminoles to back-to-back titles. 

2015

The Field

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Michigan State
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Iowa
  6. Stanford
  7. Ohio State
  8. Houston

Quarterfinals
1. Clemson def. 8. Houston 27-18
2. Alabama def. 7. Ohio State 24-20
6. Stanford def. 3. Michigan State 28-27
4. Oklahoma def. 5. Iowa 28-13

Semifinals

1. Clemson def. 4. Oklahoma 37-28
2. Alabama def. 6. Stanford 35-16

Championship

2. Alabama def. 1. Clemson 30-13

The Summary

Despite the same champion, this was an interesting plug for an expanded playoff. Eighth-seeded Houston led Clemson at halftime and pushed the Tigers for most of the game, while Alabama and Ohio State played an instant-classic in the 2 v. 7 match-up. We also saw our first quarterfinal upset, courtesy of Christian McCaffrey and the Stanford Cardinal, which gave us a different look in the semis, but ultimately, Alabama vs. Clemson (Episode 1) was not to be denied. The championship game was definitely less close than the championship, although the game was actually 16-13 entering the fourth quarter, but Deshaun Watson didn’t have the fourth quarter touch, allowing Jake Coker and the Tide to seal the deal. 

2016

The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Ohio State
  4. Washington
  5. Penn State
  6. Michigan
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Western Michigan

Quarterfinals
1. Alabama def. 8. Western Michigan 45-17
7. Oklahoma def. 2. Clemson 42-31
6. Michigan def. 3. Ohio State 33-24
4. Washington def. 5. Penn State 40-21

Semifinals
1. Alabama def. 4. Washington 37-34 (OT)
6. Michigan def. 7. Oklahoma 30-24

Championship
6. Michigan def. 1. Alabama 29-28 (OT)

The Summary

Wow. What a stunning result in the 2016 simulation. If you remember, Michigan was left out of the CFP due to their gut-wrenching loss to Ohio State that involved the infamous “J.T was short” play. With the extended field, the Wolverines get a rematch of The Game in the quarterfinals, and they break their losing streak against Ohio State. Meanwhile, Oklahoma stuns Clemson in the quarterfinals, ending Deshaun Watson’s championship run before it started, as Baker Mayfield simply torched the Tigers. Alabama returned to the championship game, but even with Clemson out of the way, they couldn’t rise to the top, as Michigan took them to OT, and then shocked the world and went for two and the win after their overtime touchdown – “It’s Speights, rolling right, fires to Chesson and it’s caught! Michigan wins!” (My electric play-by-play call that I had in my head as I typed this article). Michigan stuns everyone and grabs the national championship. 

2017 

The Field

  1. Clemson
  2. Oklahoma
  3. Georgia
  4. Alabama
  5. Ohio State
  6. Wisconsin
  7. USC
  8. UCF


Quarterfinals

8. UCF def. 1. Clemson 37-27
7. USC def. 2. Oklahoma 49-34
3. Georgia def. 6. Wisconsin 30-21
5. Ohio State def. 4. Alabama 24-14

Semifinals
5. Ohio State def. 8. UCF 34-20
3. Georgia def. 7. USC 33-30

Championship
5. Ohio State def. 3. Georgia 31-27

The Summary

Another year, another wild result with our expanded playoff simulation. 2017 Clemson was probably the weakest of their ongoing dynasty, and they ran into probably the best Group of 5 qualifier of the CFP era in unbeaten UCF, resulting in our first 8 over 1 upset. Sam Darnold put seventh-seeded USC into the semifinals, and #5 Ohio State rolled the Tide in the first round to set up a wild second round. A little bit of normalcy was restored in the semis, with #3 Georgia edging USC, and Ohio State thumping UCF to set up a more traditional championship, where the Buckeyes rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out a national championship, their first in the CFP era after they lost the 2014 title game. For the second straight year, our national champion is a team that didn’t even qualify for the CFP in reality. 

2018

The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Georgia
  6. Ohio State
  7. UCF
  8. Washington

Quarterfinals

1. Alabama def. 8. Washington 38-23
2. Clemson def. 7. UCF 66-24
3. Notre Dame def. 6. Ohio State 28-24
4. Oklahoma def. 5. Georgia 41-35

Semifinals

1. Alabama def. 4. Oklahoma 42-37
2. Clemson def. 3. Notre Dame 45-23

Championship

2. Clemson def. 1. Alabama 40-34

The Summary

There were a few notable storylines, but ultimately there were no upsets and nothing changed from the actual CFP in 2018. We got to see Notre Dame prove they were worthy of a semifinal spot by edging Ohio State, giving the Irish a needed win in a big game. We finally saw a Group-of-5 team get better than an eight seed, only to watch Clemson absolutely unload on UCF in a revenge game, and an instant-classic in the Oklahoma-Georgia quarterfinal. Once we got to the semis, it was pretty much a familiar story; Tua and the Tide edged out Kyler Murray and Oklahoma (by a slightly smaller margin than in reality) and Clemson thumped the Irish. The title game was closer than it was two years ago, but Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers emerged victorious and take home their first title of the CFP era. 

2019

The Field

  1. LSU
  2. Clemson
  3. Ohio State
  4. Oklahoma 
  5. Georgia
  6. Oregon
  7. Baylor
  8. Memphis

Quarterfinals

1. LSU def. 8. Memphis 42-33
2. Clemson def. 7. Baylor 42-20
3. Ohio State def. 6. Oregon 30-23
5. Georgia def. 4. Oklahoma 35-20

Semifinals

1. LSU def. 5. Georgia 38-31
2. Clemson def. 3. Ohio State 24-20

Championship

1.  LSU def. 2. Clemson 30-27

The Summary

2019 LSU continued to be a machine, although they survived a few scares in this expanded playoff. They dealt with a feisty Memphis offense that, last season, posted 39 points on Penn State’s elite defense. They had to beat Georgia for a second time, and the Bulldogs proved far more competent, particularly with their second crack at LSU’s defense, but Burrow and Co. still emerged victorious. Ultimately, the only changed result was Georgia walloping Oklahoma in the quarterfinals to keep the lackluster Sooners out of the semis, while we also saw an Ohio State-Oregon thriller in the first round. Clemson edged out the Buckeyes in the semis once again, and they pushed LSU to the edge, leading into the fourth quarter, but Burrow put the Tigers on his shoulders and grinded out the victory. 

The 6-year Recap

Ultimately, with six years of an 8-team playoff, we saw three different champions crowned (in 2014,2016, and 2017).We saw just two editions of the Bama-Clemson rivalry and a few shocking quarterfinal upsets, including UCF’s stunner over Clemson, and a pair of victories from the #7 seeds. We witnessed a miracle championship run from #6 Michigan in 2016, before ending our simulation with two of the greatest teams of all time triumphing over expanded fields in 2018 and 2019. 

The initial results of the addition of quarterfinals to the Playoff seemed not great on the surface as only 25% (6/24) first-round contests were decided by one possession. However, even if the quarterfinal clashes were somewhat lopsided at times, they led to more competitive semifinals, as 7 of our 12 semifinal games were decided by 8 points or less. To this date, only three of 12 actual CFP semifinals have been decided by a single score. This note, plus the fact that two of our simulated champions were teams that were actually left out of the Playoff, serves as yet another plug for the Playoff to be expanded in the near future.

What if We Radically Reorganized College Football?

Suspend your disbelief, and hear me out. 

Every year, as the college football season is being played, I watch the beginning of the college basketball season, featuring premier non-conference match-ups. Look at the Champions Classic, featuring Kansas vs. Duke and Michigan State vs. Kentucky on opening night. UNC @ Gonzaga and Kentucky @ Texas Tech were just another pair of elite non-conference match-ups. In other, less mainstream sports, such contests between the best teams in the country take place regularly, but not in college football…there’s a few top games, but premier non-conference clashes are rare yet spectacular occasions. 

OK. Now pause. Imagine a college football season with top-25 match-ups every week, one-score thrillers, and some of the best possible competition coming to every stadium every Saturday. Let me introduce a college football season based on the set-up of English soccer, and once more hear me out. 

Say all you want about how everyone starts the season 0-0, and everyone has a chance to win the national championship. We know that’s not true, because obviously there’s about 90-100 teams that just don’t have the talent each year. And we already know that no undefeated Group of 5 team will make it into the 4-team College Football Playoff, so let’s cut to the chase and accept that any given year, there’s really maybe 15-20 teams with any kind of realistic chance at chasing down a national title. So what if we let those 15-20 teams (plus maybe a few extra) duke it out all season, finishing up with an 8-team playoff of battle-tested college football teams. 

In the English soccer scene, there is the English Premier League, followed by the English Football League, which is divided into three divisions. To jump into the next division, you have to place in the final three, while if you finish in the bottom three, you are relegated down into the next division. Let’s see how that could be implemented in college football. 

130 teams, 5 divisions

There are 130 division-1 FBS football teams. Let’s divide those 130 teams into five divisions, and teams can move between divisions based on their finish in the prior season. Each team’s schedule will be played within that division, keeping games largely very competitive. We can stop digging our eyes out and watching Rutgers get pummeled by the rest of the Big 10 each season, or watching Bowling Green take on Notre Dame, or any of the other countless blowouts that plague our Saturday afternoons. 

The Season Set-up

As mentioned, each division has 26 teams with two conferences of 13 squads each. Potentially you could divide them geographically, or, to maximize equality of competition, set up the conferences based on ranking. The season is a complete round-robin of those 13 teams. In the top division, the top four teams in each conference advance to a Playoff. 12 regular season games with a 15-game maximum (as there is now). Relegation status could be determined, but for this hypothetical let’s say the bottom eight teams in each division drop down, with the playoff qualifiers getting promoted. 

Bowl Games

The biggest issue facing most college playoff expansion ideas is how to keep the financial profits of the insane number of bowl games (there were 40 in 2019). So how do we keep that? Let’s count the quarterfinals in the top division as bowl games, bringing us down to 36 necessary games. The next 8 teams in the top division, and the top 16 teams in each of the other divisions qualify for bowl games. We can figure out the scheduling specifics later. The point is, we have the same number of bowl games, and we still have a semifinal and championship in the top division to play. So there shouldn’t be pressing financial concerns with this format, and all the 6-6 teams still get their bowl games. 

What would this look like in 2020

So, let’s think about this; what would the top division look like in 2020? By the final AP Poll of 2019:

Conference AConference B
LSUClemson
GeorgiaOhio State
OregonFlorida
AlabamaOklahoma
Penn StateMinnesota
Notre DameWisconsin
BaylorAuburn
UtahIowa
MemphisMichigan
NavyAppalachian State
CincinnatiAir Force
UCFBoise State
TexasTexas A&M

I mean, come on, how is that not enticing? Boise State, App State, UCF, Memphis and all the loud-mouthed Group of 5 teams have a chance to take on the premier programs they’re always saying they can beat. You get the best of the SEC (LSU, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M) without dealing with Vanderbilt and Arkansas. You get Clemson without the rest of the ACC. The best of the Power-5, the best of the Group-of-5, 12 weeks of heavyweight clashes and a well-deserved top four in each division at day’s end. No strength of schedule debates, no need at all for the controversial CFP committee. Just a battle of the titans every single week on the gridiron, with eight successful and battle-tested squads emerging from the chaos into a single-elimination bracket. Record-breaking TV ratings, sellout stadiums (in a future world with a COVID-19 vaccine) – what’s not to like? 

There’s obviously kinks in this system, which is why it’s a very rough draft of an idea, but the theory behind it is pretty intriguing. Small-name schools get a legitimate and unbiased shot at the title, powerhouses duel every weekend, and we have a much-needed expanded playoff. The top division gets refreshed with 8-10 new teams each season, breathing new life and match-ups into each season. Questions remain – do we want to go with smaller conferences? We could go with 22 teams. That allow for teams to schedule two of their own games, including a rivalry game, and maybe hosting a FCS or small program. 

Alright, you can un-suspend your disbelief now. It will almost certainly never happen, but forgive me? I’m just a bored college kid living in a bleak, largely sportsless world, let me have a little joy.

We Simulated Clemson’s 2019 Season, but with LSU’s Schedule

Clemson got a lot of grief for their quality of competition last season, going 12-0 in the ACC en route to a College Football Playoff berth – Clemson dominated the ACC, but they wouldn’t have stood a chance in the SEC – or so the rabid fans down south would like you to believe. Yes, Clemson has dominated the ACC, but last year, only one other team put up a nine-win season, and that was Virginia, who lost by 45 points to Clemson in the ACC title game – not exactly elite by any stretch. However, there’s no question Dabo Swinney runs an excellent program, and you only have to go back two years to recall Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers dismantling Alabama by 28 points in the title game. Was last year’s championship loss another mere reflection of LSU’s dominance, or did it symbolize that Clemson simply wouldn’t be as good as they are in a different conference. To answer this question, we simulated Clemson’s 2019 season, except we stacked them up against LSU’s schedule, to see how the Tigers may have fared. Granted, this is only one simulation, but it’s curious to see if LSU, and the SEC as a whole, has some merit in their constant berating of Dabo’s team. Let’s see if Clemson can shut them up. 

Week 1 vs. Georgia Southern
Win 38-6 (LSU Result: Win 55-3)
Maybe LSU had a little more dominance, but this one wasn’t ever close. No questions are answered after this game. 

Week 2 @ Texas
Loss 20-17 (LSU Result: Win 45-38)
Ouch. A Week 2 loss already in the books for Clemson. They had much better defensive success against Sam Ehlinger, but a 32-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left dooms them. This game wasn’t a cakewalk for LSU either though, and a three-point non-conference loss hardly dooms Clemson’s playoff hopes (if they run the table in the SEC). 

Week 3 vs. Northwestern State
COULD NOT SIM
Our simulator does not allow us to clash with FCS opponents, but we know this one would have been a blowout win for Clemson either way. It was never going to tell us anything we didn’t already know. 

Week 4 @ Vanderbilt
Win 44-19 (LSU Result: Win 66-38)
In their first SEC clash, Clemson answers the bell with ease, dominating the hapless Commodores. Travis Etienne – he’s dominant in any conference – puts up over 250 yards of offense as Clemson opens up a 34-6 halftime lead. LSU’s margin of victory is slightly bigger, but nothing jaw-dropping here. 

Week 5 vs. Utah State
Win 62-13 (LSU Result: Win 42-3)
The only thing we learned from this one is that Jordan Love can’t do anything against LSU or Clemson – wouldn’t be too confident if I’m a Packers fan right now. Clemson wins by 10 more than LSU did, with Trevor Lawrence tossing six touchdowns, but both teams cruise.

Week 6 vs. Florida
Win 31-26 (LSU Result: Win 42-28)
What a game! People forget that Kyle Trask and the Gators were the only team all season to lead LSU in the second half. They never actually lead Clemson in this one, but they’re very close all game, and Clemson can’t breathe easy until Trask tosses an interception at the Clemson 38 with under a minute to play. Still a very solid SEC win for the Tigers, however. 

Week 7 @ Mississippi State
Win 42-21 (LSU Result: Win 36-13)
Nothing much to see here – Clemson cruises on the road against an inferior team that was barely bowl-eligible. It wasn’t even as close as the score indicated, as the Bulldogs scored in the final minutes to pull within 21. The next few weeks have some bigger tests in store.

Week 8 vs. Auburn
Win 58-10 (LSU Result: Win 23-20)
Wow, absolute dominance by Clemson. Auburn rarely struggles like this on defense, but Clemson was simply all over them from the start. A rare time that the Clemson offense did far more than LSU did, as Trevor Lawrence (389 yards, four touchdowns) and Travis Ettienne (213 all-purpose yards) were simply finding gaping holes in the defense. Is this a testament to who has the real Death Valley as well? Bo Nix looked horrific here, but he almost led the Tigers to a big upset at LSU..

Week 9 @ Alabama
Loss 47-7 (LSU Result: Win 46-41)

That’s a tough look right there. Clemson went into Tuscaloosa, but unlike Joe Burrow, they didn’t pull the upset. Not only that, but the Crimson Tide laughed Clemson out of town, as the Tigers failed to score until 1:37 left in the third quarter. Alabama had the offense to go toe-to-toe with anyone, and Clemson’s offense was simply not up to the task. Since the rest of the SEC results will hold, this means Alabama finishes the season 7-1 in SEC play, and thus Clemson will not play in the SEC title game. The Playoff  is a distant memory at this point, and they can only hope to play for a potential New Years’ 6 Bowl Game. (Apologies, there were some issues with the boxscore link on this game).

Week 10 @ Ole Miss
Win 28-18 (LSU Result: Win 58-37)
It’s been a pretty consistent trend (sans the Alabama debacle) – Clemson fared much better defensively against the Rebels than LSU, while their offense suffered considerably more struggles. Ole Miss led for much of the first half, but Clemson seizes control late in the second quarter and pulls away.
Week 11 vs Arkansas
Win 54-17 (LSU Result: Win 56-20)
Arkansas is exactly the same thing to Clemson that they were to LSU: SEC punching bags. The Razorbacks never had a chance. Clemson unleashes some of their frustration from their horrific loss and frustratingly close win against Ole Miss. 

Week 12 vs. Texas A&M
Win 33-3 (LSU Result: Win 50-7)
The Aggies are a good, not great, SEC team. It’s a useful measuring stick to see how Clemson sizes up against a team that is certainly in the upper half of the conference. They proved clear superiority in this one, much like they did in their actual game against Texas A&M this past season (albeit much earlier in the season). The Aggies are held to three points, as they were on the actual gridiron, and Clemson tacks on a few more field goals in this virtual contest, wrapping up their regular season. At 10-2, with ranked victories over Florida and Auburn, Clemson has a decent chance at swinging a New Years’ 6 game, but nothing more than that, as Alabama takes on Georgia in the SEC championship. 

The Verdict
Clearly, Clemson was not the power that LSU was, but we already knew that from their championship game clash. The Tigers went 10-2, with a 7-1 SEC mark, proving that they would be right there with the best of them in the conference. The biggest bragging right the SEC can hold over Clemson is much tougher road atmospheres. Clemson went 3-1 in SEC road games, struggling to do much against Ole Miss and getting absolutely blown out by Alabama. Throw in their Texas loss, and the Tigers went 3-2 in true road games, with a point differential of just +13. Maybe Clemson is in for a bit more trouble than people think when they visit Notre Dame, who hasn’t lost at home since 2017, in the upcoming season. The ACC doesn’t provide intimidating road environments – not exactly surprising for a basketball-dominated conference – and Clemson clearly struggled in hostile environments in this simulation. However, nobody, regardless of conference, touches Clemson at Death Valley (real or not).

It’s completely unfair to say Clemson is not a great team that benefits from a bad conference. Yes, their ACC schedule is easy, but Clemson would be extremely competitive and near the top of the SEC, even if they weren’t a near-lock for 12-0 every season. Their mauling in Tuscaloosa does raise some questions abut their physicality, and emphasizes the difference in a full-season grind in the SEC versus the ACC – however don’t mistake that for mediocrity. Clemson is a premier program and would still compete for a Playoff spot against a much tougher schedule.

ESPN FPI – Overrated and Underrated Teams

ESPN updated their 2020 college football projections yesterday, and it raised some major questions. Certain teams slotted in way too high, and a few teams, based on their projections, seem like they would be a smart bet for this upcoming season. As we continue to wait for any announcements regarding this upcoming football season, here’s one take on who was underrated and overrated by ESPN’s FPI projections.

Overrated – Wisconsin
I’ll start with the team that I think was the most out of place. In my mind, Wisconsin was a borderline Top-10 team. They lost four games last year, and they lost their most dynamic player in Jonathan Taylor. Yes, two of Wisconsin’s losses game against Ohio State, and another one against Oregon, but they haven’t finished in the Top 5 since 1999. I don’t understand this ranking at all. If you go by the projections, Wisconsin will make the College Football Playoff next year. After a light slate to start the year, Wisconsin embarks on a 3-weeks stretch at Michigan, Notre Dame, and versus Minnesota. No chance.

Underrated – Florida

Kyle Trask is a nice little sleeper Heisman pick, and he’s one of the few decent returning starting quarterbacks in the SEC, especially in the SEC East. If they get past Georgia, there’s no reason to think the Gators can’t win the SEC East. With no clear favorite in the conference, Trask could absolutely help lead Florida to an SEC title, which has been nearly synonymous with a College Football Playoff berth. Yet Florida is ranked 13th? Behind Texas and UCF? Absolute joke.

Overrated – Georgia

Nathaniel wrote about Georgia’s massive draft losses yesterday, but he has a little more optimism about the Bulldogs’ chances than I do. They lost fifteen players to the draft, as well as Jake Fromm. Say what you want about Fromm, but he’s been the only quarterback at the helm during Georgia’s relevance. I don’t like the odds of an ACC quarterback coming in and taking over the SEC. Don’t see it, and I don’t agree with the 5th-best odds that ESPN gifted Kirby Smart’s squad.

Underrated – Notre Dame
I mean come on. Notre Dame has been a consistent Top-10 team for a few years now, and they haven’t lost at home in two years. Ian Book returns for his third year as a starter, defensive coordinator Clark Lea always leads an elite-level defense for the Irish, and Brian Kelly’s squad returns his entire starting offensive lineman. Throw in incoming recruit Chris Tyree, new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, and ranking the Irish #15, also behind UCF and Texas, is insane.

Overrated – USC Trojans
At #14, Ranking USC anywhere near this list is horrible. Clay Helton has not proven to be an elite level coach, and USC lost some of their major weapons this year. With some controversy in the quarterback room, and a 13-12 record in the past two seasons, the Trojans have no business coming into the Top 15.

Underrated – Clemson

OK if I’m being honest, Florida and Notre Dame were my biggest complaints about the list, but I figured I’d use the final space to just mention Clemson. This team is going to be an absolute monster. With Justyn Ross, Trevor Lawrence, and Travis Etienne returning, Dabo Swinney still at the helm, and their traditionally dominant defense, along with playing in the ACC, Clemson is primed for another 12-0 regular season. And while obviously LSU came out of nowhere, it took one of the greatest college football teams of all time to take down Lawrence and the Tigers, and I don’t see it happening this year. They are ranked #1 with an 81% chance to make the Playoff. Seems like an understatement to me.

Non-CFP End Of Season Power Rankings

The college football season just ended, and so while we will largely turn our attention to basketball and hockey, here’s our end of season Power Rankings of Non-CFP teams. We did it this way so as to avoid having a virtually unanimous top 3 teams. After combining our votes, here is our final non-CFP Top 10 football power rankings. 

Honorable Mention

  • Baylor

The Bears came up short in some of their biggest games, but never by much. They led Oklahoma 28-3 in one game before losing, and they took the Sooners to OT in the Big 12 championship. They were competitive against Georgia in their bowl game, but ultimately, their struggles to claim a signature win kept them out of the top 10. 

The Rankings

#10 – Memphis

The Tigers fell in the Cotton Bowl to Penn State, don’t let that distract you from what they did to an elite defense. Memphis slapped 39 points on the board, eleven more than any other opponent scored against the Nittany Lions. Ohio State put up 28 points. Memphis scored 39. After a season-opening 15-10 win over Ole Miss, Memphis never put up less than 28 points all year, losing one regular season game by 2 points. They finished the year with consective wins over a ranked Cincinnati team to win their conference title and secure a berth in the Cotton Bowl. What a season for the Tigers. 

#9 – Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish fell short of expectations in some regards, but also put together a strong season. Road games against Georgia and Michigan were regarded as their toughest games, and sure enough the Irish faltered in both, including a horrible blowout loss to the Wolverines. But after the Michigan game, the Irish looked like one of the best teams in the nation, winning their final five games by an average of 28 points, including a 32-point victory over a Navy team that finished in the top 20. Only two of their 11 wins were closer than 15 points, indicating that the Irish were finally beginning to dominate teams they should dominate, but their letdowns in their biggest games keep them from being higher on the list. 

#8 – Minnesota

It was a razor-thin margin between the Gophers and their Outback Bowl victims in Auburn, but the Gophers fell a point shy of making that happen in our polls. Minnesota had an extremely impressive year, and neither their bowl win or their win over Penn State should be ignored. But the Gophers were also beaten handily by Iowa and smoked by Wisconsin. These blowout losses really knocked the Gophers out of the national picture after they gained respect by beating Penn State. A really impressive season from Minnesota, and they’ll definitely look to be contending for a Big 10 title in the near future. 

Auburn and Minnesota were neck and neck in our final Power Rankings. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

#7 – Auburn

Ultimately, it seems Auburn just really doesn’t care about bowl games. They are 2-5 in postseason games under Gus Malzahn (including a BCS championship loss), a record that now includes losses to lower ranked opponents like Minnesota and UCF. However, everything else Auburn did was extremely impressive. They held Joe Burrow to 23 points, which is basically a better achievement than a shutout against any other offense. They played Georgia and Florida, and they beat Oregon and Alabama, and at College Station against Texas A&M. All in all, it was a very good season from the Tigers, but they’ll look to qualify for the Playoff next year – maybe then we’ll see the real Auburn Tigers show up in the postseason. 

#6 – Wisconsin

Two four-loss teams make our Top-7, which may be surprising, but they’re both extremely good squads. Two of Wisconsin’s losses were to Ohio State – including the Big 10 championship, when they became the only team all year to lead the Buckeyes at halftime. While one loss was an inexplicable defeat to Illinois, their fourth was a 1-point bowl game loss to Oregon. They handled Iowa, throttled Michigan, and dominated Minnesota on the road to claim a spot in the Big 10 title game. Three very impressive victories and a strong finish to the regular season outweigh three really tough losses and one weird one, giving the Badgers the #6 spot her. 

#5 – Florida 

The Gators were the only team to lead LSU in the second half at any point this season. And considering LSU also played Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Alabama, and Auburn – that is a really impressive statistic. They took down Auburn, dominated Florida State for a second straight year, and earned a few other impressive victories, including at Kentucky and at Missouri. Kyle Trask stepped up as the team’s signal caller and was very strong under center for the Gators, who polished off their season with a second straight New Years’ 6 bowl win, albeit as a heavy favorite versus Virginia. The next step is overcoming Georgia in the SEC East and making the Playoff for the Gators, they’re running out other ways to impress us. 

#4 – Penn State 

The Nittany Lions were in a dead heat with the Gators for the fourth spot, so we took out their lowest ranking for each team in the poll to decide, and Penn State edged out Florida by one point. We mentioned some of Penn State’s defensive exploits in the Memphis excerpt, as the Nittany Lions held Ohio State to 28 points, their lowest total of the year prior to the Playoff. They showed their ability to win ugly (17-12 over Iowa) and in a shootout (53-39 over Memphis), which is key for any team with championship aspirations. The Nittany Lions may very well have been a playoff team without their slip up at Minnesota, and they’ll have their eyes on taking the next step in 2020. 

The white out crowd always creates an electric home atmosphere for Penn State. Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

#3 – Georgia

It feels difficult to laud the Bulldogs, as they haven’t really done anything unusual by their standards. They had a very impressive 11-1 regular season with statement wins over Auburn, Florida, and Notre Dame, but they also had an awful home loss to South Carolina, who finished 4-8. And ultimately, the Bulldogs fell short in the SEC again, and this time they weren’t even competitive, losing 37-10 to LSU. To be fair, LSU was a buzzsaw this year, but Georgia feels like they’ve been at the same level for 3-4 years now, and it’s time to take the next step. Finishing sixth or seventh in the country is not their goal, especially a couple of years removed from being three points shy of a national title. 

#2 – Alabama (1 first place vote)

I don’t think anyone bought the fact that the Crimson Tide were only the 12th best team in the country heading into bowl season. They more or less proved that point by laying a 35-16 beatdown on Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, shutting out the Wolverines in the second half. It was hard to rank them higher than 8th in the AP Poll, as Alabama really didn’t beat any other very good teams. Their Texas A&M win was their next best victory, so it was hard to justify moving up past Georgia, Oregon, and even Oklahoma, who beat Baylor twice. However, the Crimson Tide have never gone three years without winning a championship under Nick Saban – is 2021 the year for ‘Bama?

#1 – Oregon

I think a lot of people really wanted Oregon in the Playoff simply because, outside of a befuddling loss to Arizona State, the Ducks just looked like one of the best teams in the country. After their season-opening loss to Auburn, Oregon gave up 25 points in their next five games. And when Pac-12 offenses began to challenge their defense, Justin Herbert rose to the occasion, averaging about 30 points per game in conference play. Herbert finished his year with a gutsy performance in the Rose Bowl, rushing for three touchdowns and proving his ability to win without his best game, taking down a very impressive Wisconsin team. Oregon may have been the fourth best team in the country outside the Big 3, but due to an unforgivingly rigid Playoff Structure, they had to settle for being #1 in the non-CFP teams rankings.

5 Takeaways From the CFP National Championship

What a game. What a season. The college football season came to a conclusion as LSU completed a historic season with a 42-25 victory over #3 Clemson, snapping a 29-game winning streak in the process. After a surge in the second quarter, LSU maintained their lead, pulling away in the fourth quarter. Joe Burrow tossed six touchdown passes, bringing his total to 13 TD passes and one rushing TD in the two-game playoff. They were historic numbers that capped the best season ever put forth by a college quarterback. And without getting too ahead of ourselves, we’d like to extend our best wishes to Joe Burrow in turning around the Cincinnati Bengals, as that is likely his next task as the #1 pick in the upcoming draft. 

But, as fun as it is to pour over the LSU Tigers’ historic season from every angle, we’ll discuss 5 other takeaways from the CFP title game.. 

Takeaway #1: The Targeting Call

If I had to rank every factor that impacted the results of the College Football Playoff, my list would probably start with Joe Burrow, with targeting calls close behind. In each playoff game, there was a targeting call and ensuing ejection. Now the targeting call in the LSU-Oklahoma, where Clyde Edwards-Hilaire was blindsided by a brutal hit from behind, was not very controversial, and I don’t believe anyone really questioned that call. Nor did it really affect a game which LSU was already beginning to control and ended up winning by 35 points. 

However, the other two calls? They were both controversial and definitely affected the game in a major way. Ohio State’s Shaun Wade was called for targeting for his sack of Trevor Lawrence. The sack was a big play that should have ended a Clemson drive and kept the score 16-0 Ohio State. Wade was called for targeting on the play, leading to his ejection, 15 yards and a first down for the Tigers, who later scored and turned around the momentum of the game. 

By the rulebook, what Wade did was targeting, but that is horrible. Targeting, especially if it results in an ejection, should be reserved for clearly dirty hits that had the intent of injuring a player, or unnecessary violent acts in the game. Wade was making a football play and  the fact that in the rulebook what he did merited an ejection is awful. At the very least, they need to have seperate targeting penalties, one for plays that were questionable but not ejection-worthy and then penalties, like the one in the LSU-Oklahoma game, that qualify for ejection. 

In the title game, Clemson was the victim of a weak ejection, as stud linebacker James Skalski was tossed for a hard hit in the third quarter. Again, what Skalski did, by the rulebook, was targeting, but by no means was it excessively violent or even unnecessary. While he led with his head, Skalski did not make head-to-head contact, and his extra effort was enough to stop any further gain from LSU receiver Justin Jefferson. At the time of the call, Clemson was down 28-25 and had stopped LSU on consecutive drives. Without Skalski, the Tigers struggled and never seriously threatened again. 

Between the two targeting calls, the team who had a player ejected was outscored 43-7 after the penalty, clearly demonstrating a major impact on the game. Neither of these plays were made with dirty or violent intent, and during the flow of play, they looked like normal football plays. Targeting is becoming far too controversial; the rule has to be fixed. 

Takeaway 2: Pass Interference Is Still Unclear

This is a major problem at every level of the sport, and it was evident again last night. Clemson was first the beneficiary and then the victim of horrible pass interference calls. First, LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton made a great play, jumping a route by Justyn Ross and making an interception. The pick was a likely dagger, as it would have handed the ball back to a red-hot Joe Burrow with a chance to make the lead three possessions. But instead, Fulton was called for an extremely questionable pass interference call. Replay indicated that Fulton may have caught a small fistful of Ross’s jersey in his hand, but the contact seemed to neither affect the receiver’s movement or his balance as he stayed on his feet and appeared unimpeded. Yet after the pick, Ross began pleading for a flag, and the refs obliged, taking away a potentially game-winning play from the LSU defense. 

However, once again, Clemson was victimized by a play that had earlier saved them. Down 42-25 and likely needing to score on every remaining possession, Trevor Lawrence unleashed a deep ball to Tee Higgins. He caught it and waltzed into the end zone only for a flag to deter his celebration. The official closest to the play deemed Higgins’ contact with his defender merited an offensive pass interference that not only negated the touchdown, but slapped Clemson with a 15-yard penalty and a 1st and 25 at their own 36. The Tigers punted soon after, and the game was never in doubt. Replay cast a lot of doubt on the call; LSU cornerback Kary Vincent Jr. made lots of contact with Higgins throughout the route, and when Higgins used his physicality to gain position, never extending his arms, Vincent either demonstrated horrific balance or exemplary acting and flopping skills, as he splayed out on the sideline, allowing Higgins to make the catch unimpeded. 

Put it this way: If that was offensive pass interference…we definitely need to replay the Saints-Vikings OT possession, because what Tee Higgins did was not even close to what Kyle Rudolph did. There was contact on the play. Higgings kept his balance, and Vincent did not, yet Higgins was penalized. The call was not only horrible but also likely cost the game a lot of viewers as a potential 10-point game with ten minutes to go turned into a 17-point game with the winning team in possession. Game over. Thank you refs. 

Clemson’s last gasp was stifled by a questionable pass interference penalty against Tee Higgins. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Takeaway #3 The SEC is the best conference in football

OK, we probably already knew that. But as a Notre Dame fan and Maine resident, I’ve often considered myself an SEC-hater and usually needed extra-convincing when regarding any positive take on the conference. But last night’s title game left no doubt; for one, the SEC put their third different team into the title game in the Playoff era – no other conference has more than one, and the Big 12 is yet to have a representative. That was impressive, but what was arguably more impressive was that Monday’s title game was not LSU’s biggest test of the season. 

I would argue it was their third toughest game of the year, ranking their matchups with the Florida Gators and Auburn Tigers #1 and #2 on that list. The Gators were the only team to lead LSU at any point in the second half, leading the Tigers 28-21 in the third quarter. LSU played Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Texas, and Auburn; none of those teams ever led LSU in the second half. Clemson may have had a 10-point lead, but they ultimately never surpassed LSU’s halftime score, and they finished three points shy of what Florida put up on the scoreboard.

 Meanwhile, Auburn put up the stiffest defensive resistance to LSU’s historic offense. Outside of this game, LSU never scored less than 36 points in a game. Against Auburn, they scored 23. Heading into the title game, I felt this was evidence that LSU’s offense could be stopped and Clemson could replicate Auburn’s performance. After the title game, I’m left with only one possible takeaway: the SEC is simply better than every other conference. Auburn was probably the 4th or 5th best team in the SEC and they were 20 points better than Clemson on the defensive side of the ball. Clemson put up a good fight last night, but they simply did not push LSU to the brink like Florida or Auburn did. 

Takeaway #4: The ACC (and the rest of the country) should be very scared about facing Clemson next year

Trevor Lawrence has lost two football games as a high school and college quarterback. Last night, and his final high school game. The high school loss broke a 41-game winning streak, and Lawrence responded by opening up his college career with 29 straight wins. Whether you’re Notre Dame – Clemson’s top non-conference opponent – or the ACC, I would be extremely scared to be facing Trevor Lawrence. It’s his last college season before he declares for the draft, and you better believe he has one goal in his mind. The Tigers have already been declared 2020 national championship favorites – thanks to the departure of Joe Burrow -, and this team will come out ready to roll over their opponents next season. I would not look forward to this matchup if I’m on their schedule. 

Walking away from this scene will certainly motivate Trevor Lawrence in 2020. Gerald Herbert/AP/Shutterstock

Takeaway #5: LSU Playmakers Boost Their Draft Stock

I could focus on the LSU receivers, but quite honestly, I don’t believe much happened today that was particularly shocking or eye-opening based on their previous play this season. Assisted by Joe Burrows’ precision passing, LSU wide receivers continue to put up gaudy numbers and win a ridiculous number of 1-on-1 battles. Many of them will be Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks when they declare, but I don’t think the National Championship particular boosted them excessively. 

I would also praise Burrow for proving once more that he can throw and deliver under pressure. LSU’s offensive line did not have their best game and allowed Burrow to be pressured frequently, but the Heisman winner still delivered a near-immaculate performance. He didn’t really elevate his draft stock, as the Bengals were picking Burrow #1 no matter what happened on Monday, but they probably enjoyed watching him succeed under pressure, given the state of their own offensive line. The two offensive playmakers I thought truly boosted their draft stock for LSU was Thaddeus Moss and Clyde Edwards-Hilaire. 

Moss often played second fiddle in the LSU receiving corps, and he never put up eye-popping numbers. But on Monday night, Moss hauled in two touchdowns and five receptions for 36 yards, proving himself capable of taking on a critical role, particularly in a red zone offense. Tight ends who can dominate in the red zone can elevate an offense to another level, and Moss proved that, along with his physical build and speed, he has the ability to be a difference maker near the end zone, and that will have a lot of teams anxious to take him, likely on Day 2 of the draft. 

Edwards-Hilaire became a focal point of the LSU offense after their stagnant start on Monday’s game; once LSU adjusted to Clemson’s gameplan, their running back became a key cog of their performance, taking screens and short passes in the backfield and the flat, but also keeping Clemson off balance by churning out five or six yards per carry when necessary. The all-purpose back but up 164 yards and, after dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, proved his ability to be both versatile and physical. Not the fastest back in the upcoming draft, Edwards-Hillaire likely jumped up a few draft boards with his title game performance.

LSU-Oklahoma Blowout Provides Further Evidence that CFP Expansion is Needed

Heisman winner Joe Burrow took the shotgun snap, dropped back a quick two steps, and quickly found Thaddeus Moss streaking up the left sideline. Burrow floated a perfect pass, hitting Moss in stride as he took it the rest of the way for a 62-yard touchdown pass. The play capped a 2-play, 75 yard scoring drive and gave LSU an 42-14. After Oklahoma had finally drawn within 35-14, ending a 28-0 LSU run, Burrow and his squad sent a message: There would be no comeback today. 

The tweets began rolling in. Oklahoma didn’t belong. The playoff should not be expanded. Why was Oklahoma even in the Playoff to start with? Dan Wolken wrote a piece, detailing why the final score of 63-28 indicated that there ought be no expansion from four teams. But, actually, the opposite is true. 

As Nathaniel Lapoint, Andrew Degeorge, and Cal Christoforo discussed in the “College Kids Talking College Sports” podcast after the semifinals, Oklahoma was in the playoff because the current format allowed no other option. It has become apparent that a 1-loss Power-5 champion is almost certainly guaranteed a spot in the playoff. This stresses the inequity of the conferences – Oklahoma steamrolls the Big 12 year after year, only to be blasted on the national stage. After collapsing versus Georgia in 2017, the Sooners have laid a pair of eggs in their past two semifinal appearances. Oklahoma proved themselves against one other ranked team; that team happened to be Baylor, who also took advantage of the disgustingly mediocre Big 12 conference to post an 11-2 record, with both losses to Oklahoma. Yet Oklahoma, taking advantage of this horrible competition with virtually no defense, emerges triumphant and steals the last spot in the playoffs, where they have proved themselves completely unworthy. 

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – DECEMBER 28: Linebacker Kenneth Murray #9 of the Oklahoma Sooners sums up the horrific night for the Oklahoma defense who couldn’t slow down LSU (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

“Put Alabama in the SEC – they won’t lose to Kansas State”, Lapoint argued in the podcast. 

That the SEC is a better and deeper conference than the Big 12 in an objective fact. Behind 

LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and Florida, the SEC boasts a top-5 that could probably take down the Big 12 champion. Maybe not every time, but I believe all five teams would be favorites in a matchup with the Sooners. Even outside the SEC, there’s teams that probably would have put up a better fight than Oklahoma. Oregon, who outside a baffling loss to Arizona State, was one of the best teams in the country and beat Auburn. Wisconsin, who lost to Oregon by 1 and led Ohio State at halftime. Penn State, who was the first team to seriously challenge Ohio State. All of these teams likely would put up a better fight than the Sooners did versus Oklahoma, yet were left outside the Playoff picture. 

So why is this evidence for expansion? Because, maybe, with expansion, we don’t even get that LSU-Oklahoma final. In a 16-team playoff, the Sooners would have had to take on #13 Alabama in the first round. They likely would not have even survived. Remember the 46-41 classic between Burrow and the Crimson Tide? That would be a savory semifinal matchup? LSU, assuming their first round win, would play the winner of Wisconsin-Florida in the quarterfinals. Wisconsin nearly knocked off Ohio State and the Gators are the only team to have led LSU in the second half at any point this season. Notre Dame, one of the hottest teams in the nation to conclude their season, gets a chance to stun the world and beat Ohio State. Toss an Auburn-Georgia first round matchup, a potential Clemson-Oregon quarterfinal, and a few other juicy matchups, and you’ve got a Playoff well worth watching. 

But instead we have this system. A lackluster four-team system that so often forces the committee to select a team clearly not on par with the elite teams in the nation. An expanded playoff reduces the weight of these clearly unequal conferences and gives many teams who deserve to be in the conversation a chance. 

You may get an occasional blowout here and there, but that’s already happening. Every single Playoff as seen one semifinal decided by at least 17 points, and 5 of the 6 Playoffs have had a game decided by 25+. The current system is dreadfully inadequate at picking exciting Playoff matchups. 

Oklahoma’s semifinal dud may seem like a reason to keep the number of playoff teams at four. But in reality, it did the opposite. It clearly showed why the NCAA must expand the playoff as soon as possible. Because let’s be honest: Do you really want to see a 1-loss Oklahoma team lose be manhandled by the SEC in the semifinals again next year?