Projecting the Results for a Hypothetical 8-Team College Football Playoff

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2017

Projecting the Results for a Hypothetical 8-Team College Football Playoff

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    Will Hunter Renfrow play a big role in Clemson's push for another national title?
    Will Hunter Renfrow play a big role in Clemson's push for another national title?Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    When it comes to the College Football Playoff, change seems inevitable. During the Bowl Championship Series era, many refused to recognize a playoff system on the horizon—until Alabama and LSU met in an all-SEC BCS title game in 2011. Shortly afterward, wheels were set in motion for a four-team playoff, which debuted in 2014.

    Since then, playoff expansion has bubbled below the surface, but this season's events might push it to the forefront. For the first time, one league (the SEC) sent two representatives to the playoff, and the Big Ten and Pac-12 were shut out. Other high-profile schools—such as Notre Dame, which contended late into the season and is expected to be a future factor—were left without a spot in the tournament.

    That left us wondering what an eight-team playoff would look like for the 2017 season. Using the Top Eight squads from the Week 14 CFP rankings, here's how it would shake out.

No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 8 USC

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    Sam Darnold and USC will have their hands full with Clemson's defensive line.
    Sam Darnold and USC will have their hands full with Clemson's defensive line.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Who'll win

    Clemson 34, USC 21

                  

    How it would happen

    The 11-2 USC Trojans had an excellent season, but even as the Pac-12 champions, they barely made this eight-team field. They were just 3-2 against Top 25 opponents, having defeated Arizona once and Stanford twice. They also got blown out at Notre Dame 49-14 and fell at Washington State 30-27. This is a great opportunity for the Trojans, but they're in over their heads against the top-seeded Clemson Tigers.

    Clemson junior defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) and redshirt sophomore defensive end Clelin Ferrell (17 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks) lead the nation's nastiest defensive front. They've overwhelmed a number of offensive lines, and USC's is next. Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold will throw under pressure all night, which will lead to critical mistakes.

    Meanwhile, Tigers junior quarterback Kelly Bryant proved himself in high-profile situations all season. He'll make big plays with his legs and arm and connect with fleet receivers Deon Cain and Tee Higgins, helping the Tigers pull away.

              

    X-factor

    Entering the season, there were questions about Clemson's backfield after Wayne Gallman left early for the NFL. While no Tigers have reached the 800-yard mark on the ground yet, Clemson's rushing game is versatile and talented. Freshman Travis Etienne's and sophomore Tavien Feaster's game-breaking speed will be too much for the Trojans' linebackers. Combined with Bryant's rushing skills, it'll be game over for the USC defense.

No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Auburn

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    Baker Mayfield is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in recent memory.
    Baker Mayfield is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in recent memory.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Who'll win

    Oklahoma 38, Auburn 24

             

    How it would happen

    Hello again.

    The Oklahoma Sooners and Auburn Tigers finished the 2016 season in the Sugar Bowl, with Oklahoma leading most of the way and taking a 35-19 victory. Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield had a solid performance, completing 19 of 28 passes for 296 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. It was a prologue to a Heisman-winning 2017 campaign that saw him throw for 4,340 yards, 41 touchdowns and five interceptions.

    Auburn has the nation's No. 14 passing defense and saw just one QB throw for over 300 yards against it in 2017. Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson went for 346 yards and two touchdowns, but the Rebels still lost 44-23.

    However, the Tigers haven't face anyone of Mayfield's caliber. Oklahoma's passing game will prove to be the difference.

                   

    X-factor

    Oklahoma lost talented backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine to the NFL following the 2016 season, but the Sooners have made up for it with a trio of productive rushers. Rodney Anderson, Trey Sermon and Abdul Adams have combined for 2,242 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, giving the offense balance.

    Auburn has an excellent defensive line, but the collective muscle of the Sooners backfield will tire the Tigers line by the third quarter. That will set up OU's offense for difference-making plays.

No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 Wisconsin

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    NIck Chubb has enjoyed a special season in Georgia's backfield.
    NIck Chubb has enjoyed a special season in Georgia's backfield.John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Who'll win

    Georgia 20, Wisconsin 17

                

    How it would happen

    With strong defenses on both sides and a pair of run-first offenses, points will be at a premium. Wisconsin Badgers freshman Jonathan Taylor had an excellent year with 1,847 yards and 13 touchdowns. But the Georgia Bulldogs have a pair of productive backs in seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who combined for 2,123 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns in 2017.

    Chubb and Michel will break multiple big plays and thrive behind Georgia's rugged offensive line, which will be a difference-maker in a tight game.

             

    X-factor

    Georgia hasn't leaned heavily on freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, as he had only one 300-yard passing game. But he has been efficient. Fromm passed for 2,173 yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions and has a 63 percent completion rate. The Bulldogs' passing offense is far better than Wisconsin's now that the Badgers' top receiver, Quintez Cephus, is sidelined with a leg injury.

    The only Badger pass-catcher remaining with more than 23 receptions is tight end Troy Fumagalli, who has 43 catches for 516 yards and four touchdowns. Wisconsin's lack of balance will be exposed, especially in contrast with Georgia's. Fromm will move the chains with third-down throws that keep the Badgers defense honest and open lanes for Chubb and Michel.

No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 5 Ohio State

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    Nick Bosa is following his family's footsteps in starring on the Ohio State defensive line.
    Nick Bosa is following his family's footsteps in starring on the Ohio State defensive line.Associated Press

    Who'll win

    Ohio State 24, Alabama 21

              

    How it would happen

    This is the early-round game everyone will want to see in the eight-team playoff.

    The Alabama Crimson Tide didn't win the SEC West but were the No. 4 playoff pick over the Ohio State Buckeyes. That was despite the Tide's loss in the regular-season finale to Auburn and with their best wins coming over 6-6 Florida State and 8-4 Mississippi State.

    OSU finished behind the Tide due to a Sept. 9 home loss to Oklahoma and a stunning 55-24 loss at Iowa, but now it gets to settle it on the field.

    The Buckeyes will justify their supporters' arguments for playoff inclusion. Ohio State has an excellent defensive line keyed by sophomore end Nick Bosa, who had 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks. That unit will hold Alabama sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts in check. Senior signal-caller J.T. Barrett missed OSU's last meeting with Alabama in the 2014 playoff, but he'll make multiple big plays as Urban Meyer and Co. get the best of Nick Saban again.

                     

    X-factor

    Injuries have wracked Alabama's linebacker corps. Seven contributors, including multiple starters, missed extensive time. The latest is starter Dylan Moses, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in practice last week. That attrition will catch up with the Crimson Tide against Ohio State.

    Tailback J.K. Dobbins and receiver Parris Campbell are major home run threats, and both will dent the Tide's front seven for big gains that help punch Ohio State's ticket to the semifinals.

No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 5 Ohio State

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    Kelly Bryant has more than proved himself as Clemson's starting quarterback.
    Kelly Bryant has more than proved himself as Clemson's starting quarterback.Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Who'll win

    Clemson 31, Ohio State 17

           

    How it would happen

    Ohio State has been hoping for this rematch all year. Clemson embarrassed the Buckeyes 31-0 in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl that doubled as a CFP semi, dealing Meyer the first shutout of his career. And this will unfold much like that one.

    Ohio State hasn't faced a defensive line like Clemson's since. The Tigers' deep, talented, aggressive front will make life difficult for Barrett and force him into multiple mistakes.

    Barrett and the Buckeyes will get on the scoreboard, but his final collegiate game will be miserable. Meanwhile, Bryant will play poised, error-free ball and move the Tigers offense up and down the field, control the clock and give Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney his third consecutive win over Meyer.

             

    X-factor

    Ohio State has a solid secondary, led by All-American cornerback Denzel Ward. He'll focus on stopping Hunter Renfrow, who's been highly productive with 26 catches for 289 yards and five touchdowns in Clemson's last two playoff trips.

    But that should open the field for Cain, who had a decent 2017, catching 52 passes for 659 yards and six scores. His deep-ball skills, thanks to Bryant's improved touch, will spell big trouble for the Buckeyes and help clinch another Clemson trip to the national title game.   

No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Georgia

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    Marquise Brown has major big-play ability in Oklahoma's offense.
    Marquise Brown has major big-play ability in Oklahoma's offense.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Who'll win

    Oklahoma 34, Georgia 24

             

    How it would happen

    This is an exciting clash of styles. Mayfield loves to pass in Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley's air raid system, while Georgia prefers to ground-and-pound with Chubb and Michel. Which will reign supreme in the national semifinals?

    Georgia has the No. 2 passing defense in the nation, as it's allowed just 158.3 yards per game. But the Bulldogs have yet to see a quarterback of Mayfield's caliber this year. The three-time Heisman finalist and 2017 winner is one of the most prolific college football passers of the past decade and will pave the way to the national title game.

    Receiver Marquise Brown will use his speed and big-play ability to burn the Bulldogs deep downfield multiple times in Pasadena.

                           

    X-factor

    Oklahoma is not known for its defense. The Sooners have allowed 25 points per game and are more comfortable outscoring foes. They face a serious challenge in Chubb and Michel, but the Sooners D-line will come up big when it matters most. It'll hold the Dawgs under 150 total rushing yards (below their 263.5-yard average) and reduce pressure on the offense. That'll be huge against Georgia's stingy D, which has allowed 13.2 points per game.

No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 2 Oklahoma

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    Deon Cain is a handful for any opposing secondary to contain.
    Deon Cain is a handful for any opposing secondary to contain.Associated Press

    Who'll win

    Clemson 34, Oklahoma 31

                

    How it would happen

    Well, well. Look who it is. Clemson and Oklahoma are more than familiar with each other, and the Sooners don't care for the history. Following the 2014 season, Clemson pounded Oklahoma 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl. A year later, the Tigers broke out in a close game for a 37-17 Orange Bowl rout in the national semifinals.

    Mayfield finished his first year as OU's starter in that Orange Bowl and would love a chance at revenge. That'll spell trouble for the Sooners. Mayfield plays a wide-open, risk-taking style, and it'll cost him against Clemson's opportunistic secondary, which has 14 interceptions this season. Meanwhile, Bryant again will play a mistake-free, clean game, which will help the Tigers win their second consecutive national championship.

                  

    X-factor

    Renfrow has a knack for coming up big in key situations—just ask Alabama. He had 10 catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns in last year's CFP title game against the Tide. Not to mention the championship-winning touchdown catch. Renfrow also has 55 catches for 571 yards and three touchdowns this season and is Bryant's most trusted receiver.

    After watching his tape against Ohio State, the Sooners will key on Cain. That'll open up the field for Renfrow, who'll carve up OU's linebackers and safeties all night.

    Renfrow will play a huge role in the Tigers' national title win and get on the radar of every NFL general manager who's seeking a slot receiver.