College Football Playoff Notebook: Breaking Down the Dream Semifinal Scenario

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2017

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts throws the ball before an NCAA college football game against Fresno State, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

The selection committee released the latest College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, and there were no changes worth exploring. Clemson and Miami flipped spots, while Alabama and Oklahoma stayed in the Top Four. Undefeated Wisconsin and respected Auburn remained just outside.

As currently constructed, that would be an enjoyable season-ending tournament. Alabama is Alabama, The U is closer to "back" than ever, Clemson won last season's championship, and Oklahoma has a prolific offense capable of competing with any opponent. And if Wisconsin replaced an ACC team, great. That defense is sensational.

But the college football world can dream, right?

If the community agreed on the most compelling setup for the 2017 playoff, what would it be—and how would we get there?

It's reasonable to suggest the majority of viewers would pick Alabama as the No. 1 team. The committee, Associated Press voters, coaches, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated and many others agree.

Are you tired of Alabama? Well, tough.

Late-rising Auburn seems to have emerged as a favorite team. Its 40-17 smackdown of then-No. 1 Georgia vaulted the Tigers into the headlines. Additionally, Auburn provided those fatigued with Alabama's excellence a tangible threat to the Crimson Tide.

For both teams to receive a playoff invite, though, the Tigers must win the Iron Bowl and then defeat the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama would require a little help from Ohio State to avoid a Wisconsin-SEC controversy, but that's not unthinkable.

We'll hand the remaining berths to Clemsonagain, the reigning national championand Oklahoma, which features the likely Heisman Trophy winner in Baker Mayfield.

Every possible semifinal combination would be captivating. Mayfield opposing any of the three outstanding defenses would be must-watch. Alabama and Clemson have a championship history. Auburn and Alabama, as you may have heard, don't like each other.

That quartet is enticing, thoroughly entertaining and probably even the best-case scenario for ratings.

Round 3, anyone?
Round 3, anyone?David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Now, yes, we hear you, fans of Miami, Wisconsin and Georgia. What about us?

The Turnover Chain has sparked several copycatssome creative, some eye-roll-worthy (ahem, Oregon)and college football sure is more interesting when the Hurricanes are nationally competitive. And if you're going to include Miami, you can't not tab Georgia, too.

Mark Richt spent 15 years in Athens, collecting the second-most wins in program history. Pitting the Canes against a roster he largely constructed would be memorable.

For Miami to reach the CFP would mean Clemson was out, and for Georgia to earn a bid would require Auburn to lose a game. Mayfield and the Sooners pitted against the Tide would be the best remaining matchup.

The problem with this hypothetical is the rankings make it unlikely the Canes and Dawgs would meet until the national championship. If both teams earn a Top Four seed, it's improbable either squad will be No. 4 given the victory it would need to win its conference. The showdown could only happen if Oklahoma soars to No. 1.

While attractive, that sequence would be tough to pull off.

Wisconsin, you're probably feeling left out. Please know I care about you. You deserve every bit of 11-0. Jonathan Taylor is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Your defense is spectacular.

Relative to the other contenders, however, you're not very interesting. Your offense is built on efficiency, not explosiveness. Other than for throwback fans, it's not entertaining in today's spread-focused, pass-heavy world.

But really, would you want it any other way, Badgers lovers? Physical domination has been a source of pride since the Barry Alvarez days, so don't change now because you want to be loved. Just do what you've always done, and bore us while we respect you.


Which Teams Can Afford a Loss in Rivalry Week?

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Back in reality, several teams are preparing for emotional games.

Alabama's trip to Auburn is the unquestionable highlight given the stakes of the Iron Bowl. The winner will clinch the SEC West and represent the division in the conference championship game opposite Georgia, which travels to Georgia Tech this week.

Elsewhere, Clemson heads to South Carolina, Wisconsin visits Minnesota and Ohio State makes the jaunt to Michigan.

Other than Alabama and Auburn, each Top Seven teamincluding Miami (at Pitt) and Oklahoma (vs. West Virginia)and No. 9 Ohio State are double-digit favorites, according to OddsShark. On paper, there shouldn't be many changes this week.

Only a couple of programs could survive a surprise, though.

Alabama occupies the best position, since it could lose at Auburn and reach the playoff despite not playing another game. Every other contender is certain to play in its conference championship, and the Tigers could join that group. If just one favorite lost, the Tide could be the committee's first choice to benefit.

Miami also has a margin for error as long as Clemson navigates South Carolina. Beating a Top Four team next week should be enough to propel a one-loss Hurricanes squad into the Top Four. Plus, as ESPN's Rece Davis noted, the Canes own the nation's greatest strength of record.

Wisconsin theoretically could survive a loss, but Paul Chryst's team would require considerable assistance to recover. If the Badgers fall, they would have to then defeat the Buckeyes for the Big Ten crown and hope the Tide win twice while the Hurricanes obliterate Clemson.

Clemson, Oklahoma, Auburn and Georgiaplus Ohio State out there on the fringecannot risk a slip-up. A second loss (or third, in the cases of Auburn and Ohio State) would prove to be the dagger in their fragile playoff aspirations.


Mayfield Benched, but Oklahoma Is Fine

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

As a result of his unnecessary gesture at Kansas, Mayfield will neither be a captain nor start Oklahoma's regular-season finale.

But Sooners fans shouldn't be worried.

West Virginia will be without starting quarterback Will Grier, who underwent surgery for a broken finger and will be sidelined four to six weeks.

The injury happened on the Mountaineers' third drive of last week's matchup with Texas, and the offense failed to score until the fourth quarter. A backup quarterback beat Oklahoma earlier this season, but it's unlikely that will happen again.

Plus, it's not inconceivable that Mayfield's punishment will be sitting for the Sooners' first possession and then entering the game. Head coach Lincoln Riley has not elaborated on the length of Mayfield's temporary benching, but Mayfield's actionswhile impropershouldn't stop him from playing for long.

Once Mayfield is on the field, Oklahoma should begin pulling away from West Virginia. And, to be fair, Kyler Murray shouldn't be overlooked as a threat as long as he takes the snaps, no matter how limited those are.

The Sooners' path to the playoff is clear: Win, and you're in. They're not in much danger to take a wrong turn Saturday.


Respect for Miami Narrows Ohio State's Path

The biggest loser in Miami's ascent to No. 2 was Ohio State.

According to Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel, CFP committee chair Kirby Hocutt said the panel boosted the Canes as a result of their resume continually improving in November.

Now that the selection committee values Miami over every one-loss team, it's difficult to envision the 13-member panel reversing course. If Richt's club defeats Pitt and plays a competitive game but loses to Clemson in the ACC title tilt, Miami may remain ahead of a two-loss Ohio State team with a Big Ten championship.

Remember, Buckeyes fans, a similar situation benefited your team last season. Since Miami throttled No. 8 Notre Dame, The U would own a 2016 Oklahoma-type win. Plus, the team's quality loss would be against a playoff qualifier—not just a New Year's Six team like Penn State.

To be clear, this doesn't mean the Canes are a playoff lock if they topple Pitt and fall short opposite the Tigers. The playoff field could include 13-0 Alabama, 12-1 Clemson, 12-1 Oklahoma and 13-0 Wisconsin.

The Buckeyes are alive, yes. Barring an astonishing string of results and an unexpected boost from the committee, however, Ohio State will not return to the College Football Playoff.


Stats from or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.


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