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?

CFB Greatest Of All Time Tournament – Round 5 and 6: 2014 National Championship Rematch?

We’re into Round 5 and 6 of our Greatest of all time College Football simulation, and by the end of this article, we will be down to our final six teams. A few teams will play twice in this piece, as we narrow it down to the final three teams from each bracket. As a reminder of where we stand currently: 2012 Alabama (Bracket A) and 2001 Miami (Bracket B) are the only remaining undefeated teams and must be defeated twice in the bracket championship. 2019 LSU and 2009 Alabama fell victim to each of those teams respectively and have earned their spot in the final six participants. Four teams in each bracket are left to duke it out for the final two entries into the seventh round. In Bracket A, 2018 Clemson, 2008 Florida, 2008 Oklahoma, and 2000 Miami fight for survival. On the other side of things, 2013 Florida State, 2003 LSU, 2014 Ohio State, and 2014 Oregon will clash for that sixth and final spot. Let’s get into it. 

Bracket A Loser’s Bracket

6. 2008 Florida vs. 2. 2018 Clemson
Clemson 37 Florida 27
Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers are moving on, as Travis Etienne ran for 147 yards and a touchdown, while Lawrence tossed a pair of scores on 24-36 passing and 293 yards. Clemson opened up a touchdown lead at halftime and never trailed, as Tim Tebow and his 2008 Gators could not seal the deal against Dabo Swinney’s 15-0 championship team. 

13. 2000 Miami vs. 9. 2008 Oklahoma
Oklahoma 45 Miami 27
Miami’s hopes now lie in their unbeaten ‘01 squad, after the 2008 Sooners torched the Hurricanes through the air and on the ground, dominating start to finish in a 45-27 victory. Chris Brown ran for 104 yards on 21 carries while finding the end zone twice. Bradford threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns, as Oklahoma led by double digits by the end of the first quarter and never let Miami come within a touchdown. 

Bracket A Loser’s Bracket – Round 6

2018 Clemson vs. 2008 Oklahoma
Clemson 52 Oklahoma 31
This one was never close from the start. Trevor Lawrence threw two first half touchdowns to open up a 14-point halftime lead, while Travis Etienne racked up 186 yard and three touchdowns on just 20 carries, as 2018 Clemson cruised to a 52-31 victory, moving on to the final three in Bracket A and earning a much anticipated clash with 2019 LSU. 

Bracket B Loser’s Bracket – Round 5

7. 2003 LSU vs. 4. 2013 Florida State
Florida State 41 LSU 38 OT
In a game largely dominated by running backs, Florida State’s Jameis Winston came in clutch down the stretch, rescuing the Seminoles from a 7-point deficit entering the fourth quarter. Karlos Williams ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns to keep Florida State in it, and Winston threw for 325 yards – coming up with 132 in the fourth quarter and a pair of touchdown passes to force overtime. There, FSU got the ball second after an LSU field goal. Williams ran for eight yards, Winston scrambled for one, and on 3rd and short, Winston found Kelvin Benjamin for a 16-yard, game-winning touchdown to secure the victory in an instant classic.

12. 2014 Oregon vs. 9. Ohio State
Ohio State 54 Oregon 27
In a rematch of the 2014 national championship, Ohio State beat down Oregon once more, doubling up the ducks on the strength of an efficient performance from J.T. Barrett and a fearsome rushing attack. Ezekiel Elliot ran 25 times for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns, Barrett went 20 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns, while throwing for another 293 yards and a score. The Buckeyes only led 23-20 at halftime, but they absolutely dominated the Ducks in the final two quarters to seal the deal. 

Bracket B Loser’s Bracket – Round 6

4. 2013 Florida State vs. 9. 2014 Ohio State
Florida State 37 Ohio State 34 2OT
In a clash of the final BCS champion and the first ever CFP champion, the 2013 BCS-winning Florida State Seminoles won their second straight overtime battle over the Buckeyes. A blocked punt and pick-6 were major factors in FSU engineering another comeback. While Jameis Winston did throw for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns, it was Lamarcus Joyne’s interception return for a touchdown that tied the game at 28 points apiece with 5:54 to play in the game. After trading off field goals in overtime, Florida State got the ball down three, needing a touchdown to win. Winston scrambled right for 7 yards and then hit Devonta Freeman for a 9-yard gain and a first down. There, the redshirt freshman Heisman winner once again found Kelvin Benjamin open in the end zone, firing a 9-yard dart for a game-sealing touchdown. 

Round 7 and 8 Schedule

Bracket A
1. 2019 LSU vs. 2. 2018 Clemson

Winner vs. 7. 2012 Alabama

Bracket B
3. 2009 Alabama vs. 4. 2013 Florida State

Winner vs. 1. 2001 Miami

Implications on Big 12 and ACC After SEC Announces Conference-Only Schedule

Another seismic wave washed over college football yesterday, as the SEC announced they would go to a 10-game, conference-only schedule. Implications? Yeah, just a few. In what’s become a common theme to our articles over these past few days, let’s break down everything we know. 

SEC’s New Schedule

The SEC – much like the ACC – will be shifting to a ten-game schedule, adding two games to each team’s conference slate. However, unlike the ACC, the SEC will not be including non-conference games. The Alabama-USC was finally officially cancelled yesterday, and other marquee out-of-conference games like LSU-Texas and Auburn-UNC went down the drain as well. The new schedule will commence September 26th. New games have been leaked, but no formal schedule has been announced. 

Florida may have gotten the toughest draw, adding in a clash with Alabama and a road trip to Texas A&M. Meanwhile, arch SEC East rival Georgia added games against Mississippi State and Arkansas, so safe to say that Georgia just became the clear favorites for their fourth straight division title. 

Implications on the ACC

The implications for the ACC are that the “+1” of their “10 games +1” scheduling model just became a lot more unclear. It seemed that the initial idea behind the ACC’s announcement was to keep their rivalry weekend clashes with the SEC alive. But via the SEC’s announcement, Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville, and Florida-Florida State will no longer happen, leaving the ACC starting from scratch with this announcement. The ACC will either scramble for independent and Group of 5 programs to fill out the schedule, or roll-back their initial announcement and go to conference only to match the SEC, Pac-12, and Big 10. 

Implications on the Big 12

The Big 12 were massive losers from yesterday’s changes, as the Big 12 now is the only Power-5 conference remaining that hasn’t updated their schedule. An optimistic Big 12 fan may suggest they could go with a full conference round robin (9 games) and then match-up with the ACC for non-conference battles. That seems pretty unlikely, as it would require scheduling games that were never on the docket, and, outside of West Virginia, there’s no geographical convenience to these games. The Big 12 has said they will update their status on August 3rd, but with only 10 teams in their conference, it will be difficult for them to match the 10-game schedule put together by every other conference. This could leave the Big 12, already dealing with a bad reputation in the College Football Playoff, on the outside looking in, if no expanded playoff format is adopted for 2020. There’s no clean format for the Big 12 to try out that doesn’t involve a repeat conference opponent. Expect a 9-game conference season, with a delayed announcement about conference games, as the Big 12 will likely try to keep some of their Group of 5 and Independent opponents on the schedule, in order to play at least 10 games.

College Football Relevancy Rankings: Top 15

What makes a college football team relevant? Is it wins? That would be unfairly biased towards Group of 5 programs with the ability to rack up wins against horrific teams while unfairly punishing teams out of the SEC, Big 10, and other Power-5 conferences that load their schedules with premier competition each year. No offense to Boise State (or maybe a little bit), but the Broncos are not the best team in the country by really any other measure. And beating up on San Jose State, New Mexico, and UNLV does not qualify one for college football supremacy. However, to strictly take playoff berths and national championships seems flawed as well, as that essentially completely discounts UCF, Boise State, and other great but smaller-name programs. What about elite recruiting? Or draft picks and successful NFL careers?

We did our best to combine the variety of factors, weighing the success of college alums in the NFL, draft position, bowl appearances – with an emphasis on New Year’s 6 bowls – and CFP appearances. Of course, extra points were awarded for national championships – Group of 5 teams can cry all they want about how biased the CFP committee is, but the reality is they don’t have the ability to consistently defeat high-level programs. In a recent simulation we ran, we expanded the CFP to include the top Group of 5 team from each season, the non Power-5 squads went 1-6 with only 2017 UCF picking up a win. Relevancy or dominance can also not be claimed from one amazing season (LSU fans would have you believe they’re the greatest program in history because Joe Burrow dropped about a million points on everyone), nor can it be claimed by a 1988 national championship (looking at myself and fellow Irish fans on that one). 

So, taking all these factors into consideration, here are the rankings of the top 15 most relevant football programs heading into the 2020 season. For the keyboard warriors, rage type all your angry thoughts to collegetalking@gmail.com, where you can contact any of our writers.

15. Wisconsin 

Wisconsin just exudes hard and tough vibes, and that’s exactly the type of product the Badgers put out on the gridiron year in and year out. Their biggest strengths lie in their backfield and in the trenches. Recent alum of the program and 2017 first-round pick Ryan Ramczyk has already posted 47 starts and garnered All-Pro honors, while 2019 picks Michael Deiter and David Edwards have already combined for 25 starts. Behind their grind-it-out, ground-and-pound style, Wisconsin has won four of six West Division titles since the Big 10 split into East/West divisions. They’ve posted three top-15 finishes in that time period, rising into the top-6 at various points in each of the past four years, along with a 5-1 record in Bowl Games, including an Orange Bowl victory in 2017. However, an 0-4 record in Big 10 championships and struggles on the recruiting class (not in the Top 25 over the past five seasons), keep the Badgers from rising too far up this list. 

14. Washington

The Huskies edged out Wisconsin on the strength of three NY6 bowl appearances, and a spectacular stretch from 2016-2018 that was highlighted by a College Football Playoff berth in 2017. Playoff berths were certainly valued highly in the compilation of these rankings, as were conference championships, both areas where Washington beat out the Badgers, as the Huskies have won a pair of Pac-12 titles. They’ve had success in developing professional prospects in the secondary and at tight end, and they had no losing records in the past decade. However, they were really only elite for a 3-year stretch and went 2-3 in their last five bowl appearances, so Washington stays at #14 here. 

13. Boise State

As much as I like to give grief to the Broncos, they do at least belong on this list. Spoiler Alert: They’re the only Group-of-5 team that cracked the top 15. Boise State has not been the best Group-of-5 squad in recent years, having not been to a New Year’s 6 bowl since 2014, but their remarkable consistency earns them a place here – the Broncos have won at least 8 games in every season since 1998, posting 17 ten-win campaigns in that 21-year stretch. Their easy strength of schedule (not a single above-average SOS in program history) will always present an asterisk to their name that anyone will throw in their face, but Boise State gets Ws, and they have for 25 years, and they’ve been superb since joining the FBS in 2011, cracking the top 25 in every season. Their winning percentage over the last decade ranks fifth in the country at .805, and the Broncos sit fourth with 107 wins during that time. Now, I will throw in this statistic, so whether you’re a Boise State fan ready to brag about breaking the top 15 or insulted that you are put that low ( I truly don’t know what to expect out of that rabid and slightly delusional fanbase) – Since 2012, Boise State is just 1-4 against ranked Power-5 teams, and they don’t have a top-10 win since 2010. So they’re not a top-10 program, but they do deserve recognition for their consistency and sheer quantity of wins. 

12. Florida 

Florida would be a lot higher on this list if we were putting greater emphasis on history. Long gone are the days of Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow,  and the 2008 national championship, and even further gone is the era of Steve Spurrier, accompanied by four consecutive SEC championships and a couple more national titles. However, the Gators haven’t won the SEC title since that ‘08 run, and they haven’t appeared in the championship game since 2016. They’ve continued to recruit well, with their recruiting classes ranked #14 over the past five seasons, and they still pump out solid NFL talent, particularly on the offensive line and at defensive back – the boys in Gainesville are one of many teams to claim DBU. Florida has a pair of losing seasons in the past decades, but they’ve rebounded nicely in the past couple seasons, ending their previous two campaigns with major bowl victories (Peach and Orange Bowls), keeping them in the top 15. 

11. Notre Dame

Yes they’ve struggled in big games recently, and the Irish are still sitting on zero championships in the BCS/CFP era, but Notre Dame’s ability to bring in top level talent and turn that talent into NFL prospects keeps the Irish highly relevant, but I couldn’t justify bringing them into the top 10 without major recent accomplishments. However, the Irish produce some elite professional players, particularly on their offensive line in recent years (Quentin Nelson, Mike McGlinchey, Zack Martin). They have a .713 winning percentage in the past decade, and they’re 4-2 in their past six bowl game appearances, highlighted by a pair of thrilling victories over LSU. They’ve been ranked in the top 12 in four of the past five seasons, and combined with a Playoff appearance, it was enough to put Notre Dame at #11 on the list. 

10. Florida State

One of the most dominant teams in college football in the first half of the decade, Florida State has faded from relevancy, posting just an 18-20 record in their prior three seasons. However, the Seminoles’ 59-9 record in the five years prior was more than enough to earn FSU some consideration for making this list. Ultimately, their BCS national championship and CFP appearance was enough to just barely crack the top 10. The Seminoles have continued to recruit at a high level, despite their recent struggles, as they’ve boasted the 6th-best recruiting classes over the past five years. They’ve had a pair of quarterbacks drafted in the first round, and clearly on-field talent isn’t the issue – if Florida State can sort out some off-field issues, the Seminoles should return to their elite ways. If not? They’ll slip very quickly off this list. 

9. Oregon
Recent first-round pick Justin Herbert has completed the Ducks’ turnaround, after Oregon spent nearly a decade as one of the best teams in the country. From 2008-2014, the Ducks went 80-15, with that stretch of dominance sandwiched by a pair of 9-4 seasons. They also were a consistent presence in major bowl games, winning the Rose Bowl twice, the Fiesta Bowl once, and appearing in two national championship games and the Playoff. Oregon bottomed out in 2016 with a 4-8 record, but they’ve surged once more, with a 21-6 record over the past two years, punctuated by another thrilling Rose Bowl victory in 2020. The Ducks continue one of the premier teams on the West Coast, but they need to break through to get a national title to stay in the top 10. 

8. Auburn

The Tigers started the decade off with the brilliance of Cam Newton and a national championship, so it was certainly tough to match that, but Auburn certainly continues to a premier team in college football. Playing in the SEC, the Tigers constantly face one of the most brutal schedules in the country, and I think they could be trending upwards, with another two seasons of Bo Nix coming and some victories on the recruiting trail. Their record (62-31) over the past seven seasons may not be as flashy as others on this list, but don’t forget that winning two of three in the SEC is far more impressive than winning three of four in most other conferences, and seven straight winning seasons while playing in the toughest division in the toughest conference in college football is worthy of a top-10 appearance. A CFP appearance is needed soon, but that BCS national championship and consistent SEC relevancy slots Auburn at #8. 

7. USC

Look, I get it. This seems way to high for a team that hasn’t won a championship since 2003-2004, and I’m not particularly happy about slotting the Trojans here – I’m a diehard Irish fan and Notre Dame student, and one of my favorite memories of my freshman year was watching the boys in blue and gold dust USC at Notre Dame Stadium. But before a recent slump, USC had posted winning records in every season from 2002 to 2017, including seven straight years of at least 11 wins. Despise some recent struggles, the Trojans have been ranked in the AP Poll at some point for each of the past 19 seasons, including a #3 finish in 2016. In recruiting talent and NFL talent they bring in and pump out, USC deserves to be in the top 10. Notre Dame may lead the series in this rivalry, but USC has been better in big games. This will likely be the most controversial ranking on the list, but I’ll stick with it. USC is such a national brand that with the premier talent they bring in year in and year out, they will always be a story, and if they can get a relatively hapless Clay Helton off the sideline, the Trojans can return to national glory. 

6. Georgia

Another great team that has just been completely unable to break through on the national level, as Georgia has returned to national relevance, but they can’t quite get that big win. After finishing every season from 1997-2008 ranked inside the Top 25, the Bulldogs faded slightly, but they stayed near the top of the rankings, appearing in the top 10 in every season since 2012. Under Kirby Smart, Georgia has surged once more, finishing no lower than seventh in the past three seasons, with an SEC Championship, three SEC title game appearances, a CFP and national championship appearance, as well as wins in the Rose and Sugar Bowls. Talent wise, Georgia has absolutely dominated their in-state rivalry, allowing them to dominate the in-state recruiting battles. As such, Georgia has dominated on the recruiting front, and they produce some elite NFL prospects, particularly in the backfield, pushing the Bulldogs to 6th in our 2020 relevancy rankings. 

5. Oklahoma

Since 2000, Oklahoma has consistently been one of the top teams in college football – cracking the top ten in every season in that stretch with appearances in the top 5 in 17 of those 20 seasons. They’ve qualified for four consecutive Playoffs, and while they’ve struggled on that stage, Oklahoma has dominated their conference, been a mainstay in the rankings, featured top-10 talent, had two Heisman winners, and produced highly sought after draft prospects for the NFL. By every standard except Playoff success, Oklahoma is one of the best programs in the country, so don’t let their struggles in the spotlight cloud your judgement of the Sooners. 

4. LSU

Yes LSU is great. No they are not the best team in the nation. The Tigers returned to true national relevance in Joe Burrow’s first season, finishing sixth in the AP Poll – their first top ten finish since 2011. Then, of course, there was last year: one of the greatest seasons and quarterbacking efforts of all-time en route to a 15-0 season. That CFP appearance and national championship bumps the Tigers into the top 5. LSU recruits at a top-five level in most seasons, and they probably have the most legitimate claim to DBU with four All-Pro alums and 2017 first-round pick Jamal Adams on his way to becoming the best safety in the NFL. LSU is always relevant, and they’ve turned the corner after spending much of the decade as an afterthought in the national championship race – now they need to succeed in the post-Burrow era to validate this ranking. 

3. Ohio State

Seemingly always a powerhouse, but rarely on top. The Alabama-Clemson dual-dynasties may have dominated the second half of the decade, but Ohio State was always right in the mix, but, sans the first ever College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes have not been able to break through. Ohio State has been ranked second in the AP Poll in each of the past four years, but they haven’t sat atop the rankings since 2015. However, outside a blip in 2011 when the Buckeyes went 6-7, Ohio State has been one of the most consistent teams in the country, with extended stretches of dominance – you have to go back to 1967 to find the last season that OSU didn’t make an appearance in the AP Poll. However, Ohio State has not been able to punctuate their dynasty with more than the occasional title, meaning their spot at #3 is anything but secure, with LSU’s recent surge and Oklahoma a CFP win or two from being considered a premier program. 

2. Clemson

These rankings were always going to come down to Bama-Clemson at 1 and 2, it was just a matter of who ranked where. Ultimately, while it’s brutally difficult to decide in just the last few years, Alabama’s dynasty has simply been longer (more on that later), so Clemson ranks second. They’ve been incredibly dominant for five seasons now, and their dynasty doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. I believe the Tigers have the biggest claim to WRU, where they’ve produced DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams, and their 6-3 record in the CFP  and two national titles are wildly impressive. Had I wrote this article in 2015, I’m not sure Clemson would even be on this list, so it’s safe to say it’s a truly special period of dominance that saw the Tigers skyrocket to the top so fast.

1. Alabama

2007. That was the last time that a season went by and Alabama wasn’t ranked #1 at some point during the season. Toss in five national championships in that era, and the top ranking on this list simply couldn’t go to anyone but the Tide. Last year, they finished eighth in the AP Poll, their first time outside the top 5 since 2013 and their lowest ranking since 2010. As for the other qualifications for this list? Alabama dominates the recruiting landscape virtually every season, and they pump out NFL talent at almost every position. Although I stick with my pick of Clemson, Alabama stake a claim for WRU, and defensively, nobody can top the Tide who boast defensive line and linebacker talent like no other program. Their running backs tear up the NFL (see Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram), and the Tide have been the standard in the best conference in America for over a decade. It’s really not a question who is #1 here. 

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.

NCAA FOOTBALL TOP MOMENTS – #3: 2nd & 26, and the 2018 College Football Playoff

The #3 ‘moment’ in our postseason NCAA moment countdown is the 2018 College Football Playoff. When the worst game of the bunch is the Alabama-Clemson game, you know you had a good playoff. The Clemson-Alabama monopoly had made the semifinal games rather boring in the past two years, with the closest semifinal being an Alabama victory over Washington, 24-7. However a regular season loss by the Crimson Tide dropped them into the #4 ranking, setting them up for a semifinal with Clemson in 2018. That allowed for a Georgia-Oklahoma Rose Bowl in the 2 v. 3 game that turned into one of the best games in college football history. That was followed by one of the best national championships in history, making this entire Playoff some must-watch TV.
The 2018 Rose Bowl between 2. Oklahoma and 3. Georgia kicked off at 5pm. Georgia had been an unexpected powerhouse that season, having recovered from a season-ending injury to Jacob Eason by handing the reins to true freshman Jake Fromm. Fromm led the Bulldogs to a ranked, road victor in Week 2 at Notre Dame, and Georgia was off to the races. They climbed to #1 in the rankings before stumbling badly against Auburn. Georgia recovered to crunch Kentucky and Georgia Tech to get back to the SEC Championship. There, Georgia beat Auburn to jump into the College Football Playoff. 

Meanwhile, Oklahoma followed a very Oklahoma-like pattern in their season. They nabbed a signature win at Ohio State (known for the Baker Mayfield flag-plant), and sprinted out to a 4-0 start. However, the Sooners suffered an inexplicable upset loss to Iowa State, and they temporarily fell out of the playoff picture. After eking out a 29-24 win over Texas, the Sooners turned on the gas, and they averaged 48.6 points per game for the rest of the regular season, roaring to an 11-1 season and #2 ranking. They cemented their spot in the Playoff by thumping #10 TCU in the Big 12 championship, 41-17. 

The game between Georgia and Oklahoma was an absolute classic. Oklahoma jumped out to the early lead, with Baker Mayfield and the Sooners’ offense firing on all cylinders. Rodney Anderson ran for two scores, while Mayfield threw for one and caught another as Oklahoma built a 31-14 lead in the first half. They kicked off to Georgia with barely 15 seconds remaining in the half, but the Bulldogs got a huge return out to the Oklahoma 48, allowing for a Rodrigo Blankenship 55-yard field goal before halftime. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel broke out touchdown runs of 50 and 38 yards in the third quarter, and Oklahoma’s once-comfortable advantage was gone. Not only that, but Fromm opened up the fourth quarter with a touchdown pass, and Georgia was on a 24-0 run and led for the first time, 38-31. 

Oklahoma responded with consecutive touchdowns, one on a Mayfield pass, and the other on a 46-yard fumble return by Steven Parker, and the Sooners were back up by seven. However, Georgia did get a final chance at a game-tying drive, receiving the ball with 3:22 left at their 41-yard line. Fromm marched the Bulldogs down the field, and Chubb punched it in from two yards out, sending the game to overtime at 45-45. 

In the first overtime, the two teams traded field goals, Blankenship connecting from 38 yards, and Austin Seibert drilling one from 33. However, Mayfield would get the Sooners to the Georgia 10 in the second overtime, but they couldn’t advance further, and Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter blocked the field goal attempt. On 2nd and 12 on the Bulldogs’ ensuing possession, Michel took a wildcat snap and raced 27 yards for the game-winning touchdown, as Georgia advanced to the championship via a wild 54-48, double overtime contest. 

In the Sugar Bowl, ACC Champions and defending CFP champs Clemson, a year after dethroning the Crimson Tide in a wild 45-41 national championship game, entered as the top seed, but they had to face Alabama in the semifinals, and the Tide were hungry for revenge. Alabama’s inclusion in the Playoff was somewhat controversial, after they lost their undefeated record in the Iron Bowl, losing the SEC West to Auburn. Despite having not played in their conference championship game, the Crimson Tide were deemed the fourth best team in the country, and they were given the fourth slot in the Playoff. 

The game was a slog, as neither offense could get going. The defenses dominated, but Alabama was the first to experience a little success. After a field goal, the Crimson Tide breached the end zone for the first time on a touchdown pass by Jalen Hurts. Hurts connected with Calvin Ridley for twelve yards and a score, opening up a 10-0 Alabama lead. Clemson’s Alex Spence knocked a field goal through from 44 yards out, making their halftime deficit just seven points. Clemson cut it to 10-6, but Alabama would put the game away late in the third quarter.

Hurts flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to bring the lead to eleven points, and on the ensuing Clemson possession, Mack Wilson intercepted Kelly Bryant and brought it to the house for a 24-6 lead. From there, Alabama’s defense absolutely suffocated Clemson, who couldn’t make any kind of comeback attempt. It was a memorable defensive effort by Alabama, who shut down an offense that had only been held under 24 points once all year, and under 30 just three times. Clemson’s leading rusher had just 22 yards, and the Tigers managed just 124 yards through the air. Alabama only had 120 passing yards, but Hurts was efficient with two touchdowns, and he also contributed to a running game that had 177 yards and grinded out lengthy possessions, sending Alabama to the title game. 

The two exciting semifinals set up a national title game for the ages between #3 Georgia and #4 Alabama. It was the second All-SEC championship game in history, with ‘Bama also winning the prior one, a 2011 contest against LSU. Between the two teams, there were 23 players that would be drafted to the NFL, including 6 first-rounders. That number is still growing. The first quarter had no scoring, as Georgia had drives ending in an interception and a punt, while Alabama punted once and missed a 40-yard field goal. Blankenship hit two field goals in the second quarter to open up a 6-0 lead, and Georgia kept forcing punts. Alabama punted four times in the first half, and the Bulldogs finally capitalized late, with Mecole Hardman plunging in from one yard out, gifting Georgia a 13-0 halftime lead. 

When the teams came out for the second half, Nick Saban made one of the most stunning coaching decisions of all time, taking out starter Jalen Hurts, who was 26-2 as a starter, and putting in freshman Tua Tagovailoa. The freshman was much-hyped but completely unproven. He didn’t have much success early, as Georgia forced a 3-and-out, but the Bulldogs also had to punt, and Alabama got the ball on their own 44-yard line. Tagovailoa engineered a touchdown drive, firing a 6-yard pass to Henry Ruggs to put Alabama on the board. Georgia responded with an 80-yard Fromm-to-Hardman pass for a 20-7 lead. The freshman quarterbacks traded bad interceptions, and Alabama took advantage of Fromm’s miscue, driving for a 43-yard field goal, making it a ten-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter. The Tide dominated the fourth quarter, as after a field goal brought them within seven, Tagovailoa led a game-tying drive to tie the game at 20 points apiece with 3:49 remaining. Georgia punted, and Tua brought the Tide all the way back into the red zone, but they missed a 36-yarder as time expired, and the game went to overtime. 

Georgia got the ball to start overtime and struggled greatly, taking a 13-yard sack and losing nine yards on the drive. However, Blankenship came up clutch with a 51-yard field goal, giving the Bulldogs a 23-20. Tagovailoa showed some inexperience on the first play of Alabama’s drive, taking a horrible 16-yard sack that put Alabama back at their 41-yard-line. Given Alabama’s kicking woes, it looked to almost be a game-sealing error. However, on the very next play, the infamous ‘2nd and 26’ play, Tua flashed the arm that made Saban recruit him, and gave him the confidence to play him in the national championship. Tua dropped back in the pocket and unleashed a bomb down the left sideline. He hit DeVonta Smith in stride for a 41-yard touchdown pass, winning the national championship for the Crimson Tide, and putting a stunning stamp on what went down as the best College Football Playoff in history. 

The Aftermath

Alabama’s national championship victory kickstarted the successful collegiate career of Tua Tagovailoa. He was named Offensive MVP for the title game, and in the 2018-2019 season, the Tide roared to a 14-0 start the following season before losing in the national championship. Tua finished second in the Heisman voting to Kyler Murray, and he entered his junior year as the Heisman favorite. He started off strong but dealt with some injuries that kept him off the field, before his season abruptly ended on a painful sack that saw him dislocate his hip, fracture the posterior wall, break his nose, and suffer a concussion. He started 9 games on the year, and for his career, he compiled a 22-2 record. He’s expected to be a Top-5 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Alabama did not make the College Football Playoff this season, making this championship their latest one. Georgia has not made the College Football Playoff, coming up just short in each of the past two seasons. Jake Fromm declared for the 2020 draft, while Nick Chubb, Mecole Hardman, and Sony Michel have all gone on to strong NFL careers.
Oklahoma has made four playoffs, but they are yet to play in a title game, as Lincoln Riley’s squad has gone 0-4 on the big stage.
Clemson returned with a vengeance, as Trevor Lawrence led one of the most lethal offenses in history, and the Tigers, also backed by an extraordinary defense, pummeled nearly every opponent en route to a 15-0 season and national championship. In the Playoff, they beat Notre Dame by 27 and Alabama by 28 to claim the title. The Tigers returned to the championship game this year, but their chances at a repeat were dashed by Joe Burrow and LSU.