What a 16-Team College Football Tournament Would Look Like for the 2017 Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2017

What a 16-Team College Football Tournament Would Look Like for the 2017 Season

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    Will the College Football Playoff ever expand? That's the lingering question around the sport, and everyone from coaches to analysts to fans have an opinion about the proper course of action.

    And in the spirit of the NCAA tournament, we're going to address that unknown with a hypothetical answer: Yes, and to 16.

    Personal opinions aside, a 16-team playoff is the most objectively fair option if—the key word here, if—a selection committee wants to feature every Group of Five conference champion.

    Yes, we'd probably scream about the final at-large berthalso the reason why no amount of expansion will ever be perfectbut it's the best way to include the "little guy" without yelling about which four- and five-loss teams are most deserving.

The Field

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    In order to earn an automatic bid to the field, a program must win a conference championship game. Or, in the Sun Belt's case, the regular-season title.

    ACC: Florida State
    American: South Florida
    Big 12: Oklahoma State
    Big Ten: Ohio State
    Conference USA: Western Kentucky
    Mid-American: Toledo
    Mountain West: Boise State
    Pac-12: USC
    SEC: Alabama
    Sun Belt: Appalachian State

    Beyond the 10 automatic bids, we'd fill the final six spots with at-large teams. Notable absences include Penn State, Louisville, Georgia, Wisconsin and Stanford.

    At-Large (ACC): Clemson
    At-Large (SEC): LSU
    At-Large (Pac-12): Washington
    At-Large (Big 12): Oklahoma
    At-Large (SEC): Auburn
    At-Large (Big Ten): Michigan

The Brackets

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    Taking geography, league affiliation and 2017 nonconference schedules into account, we built the opening-round matchups. Seeds 1-8 would host the first set of games.

    We avoided immediate rematches, while proximity made a small impact on seeding. Group of Five champions should be rewarded for winning their conference. While they're not going to host a game, they shouldn't be traveling across the country.

    At-large teams, however, are at the mercy of the rankings.

    No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Western Kentucky
    No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Auburn

    No. 4 USC vs. No. 13 Boise State
    No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Michigan

    No. 6 Clemson vs. No. 11 Appalachian State
    No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 14 South Florida

    No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 Washington
    No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Toledo

Opening Round, Part 1

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    No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Western Kentucky

    Western Kentucky plays an enjoyable offensive style and returns quarterback Mike White. But the 2016 regular-season meeting with Alabama (38-10) showed an overmatched Hilltoppers team, and that was with ultra-productive receiver Taywan Taylor, as well as key defenders Keith Brown, Nick Dawson-Brents and Omarius Bryant. The Crimson Tide advance relatively painlessly.

    No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Auburn

    For the second straight postseason, Oklahoma and Auburn will square off. Only this time around, the Tigers would have a better quarterback—and theoretically one not playing with a broken arm. Jarrett Stidham isn't a championship solution for the Tigers, but he provides the missing element to lift them past Oklahoma.

    No. 4 USC vs. No. 13 Boise State

    Although Boise State plays in the Mountain West, this would be a challenging trip for its supporters. Los Angeles is not close to Idaho. Still, the Broncos have built a reputation for wreaking havoc on power-conference opponents, particularly in the Pac-12. However, USC won't be included in that group, winning the first-ever matchup between the programs.

    No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Michigan

    Depending on how Michigan adjusts schematically to major personnel changes, this would be a clash of contrasting styles. Oklahoma State runs a highly efficient uptempo attack, while Jim Harbaugh typically uses a deliberate, ground-focused system. The Wolverines' aggressive defense might be a challenge for Mason Rudolph, but an explosive offense is just enough for the Pokes.

Opening Round, Part 2

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    No. 6 Clemson vs. No. 11 Appalachian State

    Appalachian State, the defending champion in the Sun Belt, returns a senior-heavy roster in 2017. The veterans help the Mountaineers roll through conference play until meeting Clemson. Dabo Swinney's team lost a strong majority of its offensive production, but an experienced offensive line and menacing defensive front propels the new-look Tigers to the next round.


    No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 14 South Florida

    The program in best shape to dethrone Clemson as ACC champion, Florida State enters the 2017 season with a resilient quarterback and a potentially great defense. South Florida's dynamic offense remains intact with Quinton Flowers running the unit, but a suspect defense is the Bulls' downfall after claiming the American. The 'Noles continue into football's Elite Eight.

    No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 Washington

    Whichever defenses can limit Derrius Guice will frustrate LSU. Fortunately for the Tigers, there aren't many on the 2017 schedule. Washington, however, has recruited the front seven necessary to accomplish that thanks to Vita Vea, Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria. The Huskies overcome the long trip to move on.

    No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Toledo

    This would only be the fourth meeting between the in-state schools, but the result wouldn't be any different than the previous three. That said, Toledo must be taken seriously as a contender for the real-life bid to a New Year's Six bowl. Logan Woodside leads what may be the most productive Group of Five offense, though a relentless Ohio State pass rush keeps the team winning.

Quarterfinals, Part 1

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    No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 9 Auburn

    Auburn would be looking for revenge. Alabama, in order to secure the No. 1 ranking, would need to have defeated its chief rival for the sixth time in seven meetings.

    But history repeats itself.

    While the Crimson Tide will travel to the Plains during the 2017 regular season, this showdown would be held in Tuscaloosa. They haven't lost at home to Auburn in five straight matchups, and a dominant defensive line helps extend that streak to six.

    No. 4 USC vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State

    Rudolph would probably find more success against USC's defense compared to Michigan's unit, but Sam Darnold and the Trojans pose a considerably larger threat offensively.

    USC can assert itself on the ground with Ronald Jones II, who should emerge as one of the nation's most electric running backs in 2017. Justin Davis' graduation leaves Jones as the featured player behind Darnold, a rising star at quarterback.

    It's a disappointing finish for Oklahoma State, but the program would've grabbed only the second Big 12 title in program history. That's a successful season for Mike Gundy and his mullet.

Quarterfinals, Part 2

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    No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 6 Clemson

    Over the last decade, Florida State and Clemson have developed an entertaining mini-rivalry with a significant aftermath. The winner of the regular-season matchup has advanced to the ACC Championship Game in eight straight seasons.

    After falling in the earlier meeting, the Tigers would be looking to avenge the loss. However, history has proved quarterback play is a difference-maker in the College Football Playoff.

    Deondre Francois holds a clear edge in that department, no matter whether it's Kelly Bryant or incoming freshman Hunter Johnson behind center for Clemson. FSU reaches the Final Four.

    No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Washington

    The ending of the 2016 campaign was tremendously unkind to the Buckeyes, and Washington struggled in a big way offensively against Alabama. In our hypothetical, the programs meet with a return trip to the CFP at stake.

    Considering the combination of beatable offenses and stout defenses, it would likely be a low-scoring affair. The advantage goes to the stronger D-line, which is Ohio State by a small margin.

    Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis are key factors in disrupting Jake Browning, forcing a couple of turnovers and winning a close one.

FBS Final Four

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    Proximity favors the top-ranked team, in which case Alabama travels to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. That's not a big problem for Ohio State, a program that aimed for an annual trip to Pasadena prior to the College Football Playoff's creation anyway.

    • Rose Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Florida State
    • Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 USC

    The chalk ruled to this point, but the 'Noles pull an upset in the Rose Bowl and head to the championship round. With a healthy Derwin James roaming every level of the defense and an experienced front seven, they overwhelm Ohio State like Clemson did.

    While Alabama walloped USC in the neutral-site meeting to kick off 2016, Darnold wasn't the starter in that showdown. He keeps the Trojans within striking distance, but the Tide's resilient defense forces a late turnover to protect the win.

    • National Championship: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Florida State

    Sure feels like Alabama is due for a title, right?

    After all, the storied program hasn't won a championship in one whole season—which ties the second-longest streak without a national title throughout Saban's decade-long tenure.

    The narrative about needing a dual-threat to beat the Crimson Tide is a bit overblown, though it certainly helps to have a mobile threat. However, the key difference is Florida State's lack of an elite playmaker at receiver like Clemson had in Mike Williams.

    Instead of losing on a last-second touchdown, Alabama holds on defense and takes the trophy back to Tuscaloosa.