Projecting What a 16-Team CFB Tournament Would Like for the 2018 Season

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2018

Projecting What a 16-Team CFB Tournament Would Like for the 2018 Season

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    The four-team College Football Playoff has been a welcome change from the old Bowl Championship Game format, but that doesn't mean it's perfect. Of course, no matter what you do, there will always be disappointed parties and teams that are left out.

    Wouldn't it be awesome if the FBS adopted a 16-team playoff? 

    As exciting and lucrative as the current system is, some of the sport's power brokers may not want to mess with it. On the other hand, expansion is always a hot topic, and these dollar signs extrapolated over several weeks could lure them into a bigger slate of games.

    If you have a 16-team playoff, you can feature every conference champion, including Group of Five participants. If you can make that work from a geographical standpoint, college football won't lose money with those smaller fanbases not having to travel as far.

    Sure, there are plenty of reasons why it wouldn't work, but what fun is that? For all of us college football lovers, anything that gives us intriguing battles and more games is exciting to think about. So, let's take a look at what a 16-team playoff in 2018 may look like.

    Please share your ideas on Twitter (@Brad_Shepard)!

The Field

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    Programs get automatic bids for winning their conference championship game or, in the Sun Belt's case, the regular-season title. Here are the 2018 conference winners:

    ACC: Clemson
    American: Houston
    Big 12: Oklahoma
    Big Ten: Ohio State
    Conference USA: Florida Atlantic
    Mid-American: Buffalo
    Mountain West: Boise State
    Pac-12: Washington
    SEC: Alabama
    Sun Belt: Appalachian State

    That leaves six at-large spots, which will all come from Power Five conferences. Notable absences include West Virginia, Auburn and Penn State.

    At-Large (ACC): Miami
    At-Large (Big Ten): Michigan
    At-Large (Pac-12): Stanford
    At-Large (Big 12): Texas
    At-Large (SEC): Georgia
    At-Large (Big Ten): Wisconsin

The Brackets

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    My colleague, David Kenyon, did a great job lining out the playoff criteria and bracket parameters a year ago, so there's no reason to change the formula.

    As he stated, we'll take geography, conference affiliation and nonconference schedules into account to build the opening-round matchups. Seeds 1-8 would host the first set of games.

    There won't be any first-round rematches from the regular season. And proximity was factored into the equation to maximize ticket sales, something the NCAA basketball tournament routinely neglects to do and an issue the cash-cow college football likely wouldn't have.

    Group of Five champions are rewarded for winning their conference, and if they don't host a game, they at least won't be traveling across the country.

             

    No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Buffalo
    No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 9 Texas

    No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 Florida Atlantic
    No. 5 Washington vs. No. 12 Boise State

    No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Michigan
    No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 14 Houston

    No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Georgia
    No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Appalachian State

Opening Round, Part 1

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    No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Buffalo

    One of the biggest surprise teams in the playoffs is MAC champion Buffalo, which goes from 6-6 to a league title in a breakout year under coach Lance Leipold. But Alabama has a way of halting happy hopes, and the Bulls will get a heavy dose of Tua Tagovailoa and Co. All the Crimson Tide will need is a half to dispose.

    This will be a Bama breeze but a nice season nonetheless for Buffalo.

               

    No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 9 Texas

    This is the battle of the better-than-you-think teams that will surprise people in 2018. I'm a big believer in what coach Tom Herman is doing in Austin, and quarterback Sam Ehlinger looked like he found something late in the year. The infusion of defensive back talent will help shore up that unit, and it could be a big year for the Longhorns.

    Bryce Love coming back behind a sturdy offensive line is good news for David Shaw, and K.J. Costello is set to take a giant leap. Still, look for the 'Horns to continue their rebound year with a close win.

                

    No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 Florida Atlantic

    Lane Kiffin's second year in Boca Raton will be even better than his first behind star running back Devin Singletary. Quarterback Jason Driskel retired, but Oklahoma transfer Chris Robison or former Florida State signal-caller De'Andre Johnson will pick up where he left off.

    The Owls are going to have a high-octane offense, and they'll need it against the Sooners. Despite the graduation of Baker Mayfield, they still have too much talent not to be back. They'll win this one in a closer-than-expected first round against a Group of Five team nobody wants to play.

               

    No. 5 Washington vs. No. 12 Boise State

    This will be Huskies senior quarterback Jake Browning's last chance to win the big one, but his star-studded career will fall short after winning the Pac-12 yet again. The Broncos are going to be this year's Central Florida, with Brett Rypien back and a lot of weapons around him.

    Cedrick Wilson is gone and so are some offensive linemen, but there are capable players in place. Also, Alexander Mattison returns to anchor the team at running back. This is a dangerous first-round opponent for the Huskies, and the Broncos win a stunner to advance.

Opening Round, Part 2

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    No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Michigan

    Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh hasn't been worth the money so far. But last year he had to rebuild the Wolverines, who had been upperclassman-heavy following Brady Hoke's tenure.

    This year, the Wolverines will begin to show promise with Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson (if he's eligible) at the helm and a defense that should be among the top five in the nation. 

    Mark Richt looks to be building a juggernaut in South Florida with youth and talent on both sides of the ball, and this has all the trappings to be an exceptional matchup. Still, in this scenario, Patterson is ready, and the Wolverines win a defensive slugfest to advance.

              

    No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 14 Houston

    Clemson returns a slew of defensive stars, and by this point, Trevor Lawrence has beaten out Kelly Bryant at quarterback, and the Tigers are clicking. They need to be, too, because the marriage of Cougars quarterback D'Eriq King and new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles is paying dividends.

    Houston's magical year—and star defensive tackle Ed Oliver's career—comes to an end in Death Valley, however, as the Tigers are just too deep and talented.

              

    No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Georgia

    All that youth and talent gets Kirby Smart's Bulldogs back to the College Football Playoffs a year after falling just short of a national title against Alabama, but that's because of a weak SEC East. It will be obvious UGA isn't as good as it was in '17, but it'll also be clear the Dawgs are more talented.

    It still won't be enough against the Badgers' experience, and running back Jonathan Taylor will be too much for a Dawgs defense full of freshmen. But don't worry, UGA fans. They'll be back. Soon.

               

    No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Appalachian State

    It's possible the nation's top two defenses will be in the same division with Ohio State and Michigan, and the Buckeyes look like they're primed to make a deep run in '18.

    I'm a big believer in Dwayne Haskins, who has a better skill set than J.T. Barrett. He will make more mistakes, but he'll also make a lot more plays. This game is going to get ugly quickly, and the Mountaineers will be dispatched in a hurry.

Quarterfinals, Part 1

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    No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 9 Texas

    We start off this slide of memorable matchups from the Bowl Championship Series era with two of the most storied programs in the nation historically. The Crimson Tide are college football's powerhouse, and while the Longhorns have been down, they appear on the way back.

    Though the 'Horns hold a 7-1-1 head-to-head record versus the Tide, Alabama won the big one in the 2010 BCS Championship Game in Pasadena, California, with a 37-21 beatdown after Texas quarterback Colt McCoy went down.

    This time around, the Tide will have similar ease. The Longhorns are on their way to competing for titles again, but Sam Ehlinger isn't the type of quarterback who can fling it all over the field against UA, and the Tide defense will hold firm. Alabama will score enough to advance in a low-scoring game.

              

    No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 Boise State

    The only time these two teams met was in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl that put the Broncos on the map with the old Statue of Liberty play in a dramatic win over the Sooners. It's been too long for there to be any modicum of "payback," but don't look for the Broncos to repeat the feat.

    After a dramatic opening-round win over Washington, the Broncos will run out of bullets against Kyler Murray, Marquise Brown, CeeDee Lamb and Co. The Sooners won't have any issue throwing the ball all over the field, and the Rodney Anderson-Trey Sermon duo will do its work on the ground, too.

    Life without Baker Mayfield might be rocky early on, but by this time Lincoln Riley's offense is clicking, and the Sooners move on to face the Tide.

Quarterfinals, Part 2

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    No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 11 Michigan

    This is a game that virtually everybody in the nation would watch with two huge fanbases and two great programs squaring off for a chance to go to college football's Final Four.

    Shea Patterson is a big-play quarterback, but he is also prone to make mistakes. Against Clemson's stout front seven, he's going to be scrambling around trying to find daylight all night. This is also the game where Tigers coach Dabo Swinney will take the restrictor plates off freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence.

    In the end, Travis Etienne is the difference with a couple of big runs, and the Tigers advance in an old-fashioned slobberknocker of a defensive battle. Michigan will return tons of playmakers in '19, but the Tigers move on because of their veteran defense.

               

    No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Wisconsin 

    Urban Meyer's Buckeyes are fresh off their second straight Big Ten title game victory over the Badgers, so this will be a matchup between two teams probably sick of playing one another.

    The Badgers are going to be sick of losing, too. Alex Hornibrook, Jonathan Taylor and the rest of the Badgers are going be mad and come out swinging.

    But it won't matter. There's too much talent on both sides of the ball for the Buckeyes, and even though Wisconsin has a senior-laden team, it will lose its third soul-crushing game to Meyer and Co. in two years.

FBS Final Four

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    This is where college football will maximize ticket sales by putting the highest remaining seeds in the nearest bowl spot for the College Football Playoff semifinals.

    That means Alabama travels to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl (yes, it's nearly 200 miles closer to Tuscaloosa than Miami). 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.

    Cotton Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma

    Orange Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson

    Yes, it may seem boring to do it this way, but it's difficult to envision a scenario where Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State aren't standing in next year's Final Four. They're the three best teams on paper returning. Oklahoma has enough firepower left over, too.

    Alabama will get some redemption from the Sooners' 45-31 Sugar Bowl win in 2014 by making Kyler Murray look like the inexperienced signal-caller he is. The Tide just manufacture waves of talent, and although the Sooners are offensively elite, they have defensive holes.

    Alabama wins.

    On the other side, Ohio State will return the favor from Clemson's 31-0 2016 College Football Playoff win. This is a game that will be ruled by defense, but the Buckeyes will make enough plays as the nation's top two pass-rushing teams make things difficult on both inexperienced quarterbacks.

    National Championship: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Ohio State

    These days, it seems like the Crimson Tide, Buckeyes and Clemson Tigers just flip-flop national championships.

    Well, it's the Buckeyes' turn in Levi's Stadium.

    Dwayne Haskins will be one of the biggest stories in college football all year, and he'll show up with his biggest game in the most important moment. Without safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, UA will have some growing pains in pass defense in '18, and that will be the case here.

    Unlike Oklahoma, Ohio State has enough defense to keep things close and wind up on top of the Tide for a huge program victory and another national championship.