Projecting the Results for a Hypothetical 8-Team College Football Playoff
Last weekend's championship-a-palooza gave us plenty of exciting action between marquee teams, and the upcoming bowls and four-team College Football Playoff will provide more where that came from.
But what if we spiced it up a little and went to an eight-team field? It would add just one game to the best teams' slates and would mean added star power and another round of exciting matchups. It also likely would mean megabucks for a sport at the pinnacle of its popularity.
Who wouldn't want to go eight deep and see if there are any Cinderellas ready to try on slippers? The way this year's playoff looks, there are three no-doubt teams and just one upstart in Oklahoma, which has an explosive enough offense to make things interesting.
Perhaps it isn't a fail-safe to keep the banter away about who belongs, but it would be a lot of fun. Let's see how a hypothetical eight-team playoff would shake out.
Quarterfinal: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Badgers proved they were much more than a token opponent for Ohio State in last weekend's Big Ten Championship Game by building a 14-point advantage before a second-half onslaught gave the Buckeyes a comfortable win.
Still, they did enough to stay on the cusp of the playoff conversation. In this scenario, they would have been the last team in rather than the Big Ten representative in the Rose Bowl.
Their reward wouldn't have been an enviable task, though, having to play high-powered LSU and quarterback Joe Burrow. Even though the Badgers have a lot of defensive star power, they don't have the offensive horses to keep up.
Once Ohio State figured out the blitz packages and rolled quarterback Justin Fields out of the pocket, the Buckeyes opened things up and ran away from the Badgers. It would be even worse against the Bayou Bengals' passing attack.
Wisconsin doesn't have enough of an air assault to match LSU point for point. Burrow would get going soon enough, and most teams don't respect versatile running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire enough.
The Badgers may have kept it close for a half, but the Tigers advance in this scenario with a 38-23 win, getting some big-stage payback for Wisconsin's 16-14 victory over them the last time they played in September 2016.
Quarterfinal: No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Georgia
Georgia was exposed in the SEC Championship Game against LSU's explosive offense, and it's hard to envision Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts would do much worse.
Yes, the Bulldogs have a terrific defense that sat atop of the SEC for much of the season, but the unit can't do it all, and the other side of the ball has experienced myriad issues in offensive coordinator James Coley's first season.
Though the Sooners haven't been consistently dynamic on offense, making far too many mistakes, they've got the talent and experience to make up for it. With Hurts at the helm, this unit can score in a hurry, and UGA would have to slow yet another elite stable of receivers.
You'd think Georgia would be able to put up points on Oklahoma's suspect defense, but coordinator Alex Grinch has the Sooners playing much better, and with Georgia's issues, exposing OU wouldn't be a given.
Yes, having a healthy D'Andre Swift would matter for the Dawgs, and the running back's shoulder would likely be fine by the time this game would be played. In the end, though, Oklahoma has too many offensive weapons, and Georgia doesn't have enough.
With UGA's injury-riddled receiving corps without Lawrence Cager (ankle) and having lost Dominick Blaylock (torn ACL) in the conference title game, there aren't enough perimeter stars for quarterback Jake Fromm, who was having a mediocre season anyway.
Oklahoma wins 30-23 and advances to the semifinal.
Quarterfinal: No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 6 Oregon
Oregon is the best team that didn't get into this year's CFP, making this one of the most intriguing games of our quarterfinals.
The Ducks screwed up against Arizona State and were rightly left out of this year's field, but coach Mario Cristobal's team has the studs on both sides of the ball to do damage had it earned a spot.
In this situation, it's in. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they run into Dabo Swinney's scorching-hot Clemson Tigers.
Not only are Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Co. playing at an extremely high level on offense, but the Tigers defense is also elite. It's hard to believe they lost so much NFL talent from the front seven and are still this good, but they are.
The Tigers lead the nation in scoring defense and total defense.
Hence, the Ducks' playoff foray would be short-lived, as Clemson would have its way on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Cristobal's team could hang for a while, but the Tigers have too many stars to be held in check for long.
Lawrence is on another planet, and Burrow is the only pro-style passer who's playing better than him. He would outduel Justin Herbert, and Clemson would advance with a 38-28 win.
Quarterfinal: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Baylor
On the bottom side of our eight-team bracket sit the Ohio State Buckeyes, who showed flaws in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin.
Of course, the Buckeyes also showed they can flex their considerable muscle while trailing, and being tested at this time of year is never a bad thing. All that game proved is Justin Fields can battle through difficult situations and lead his team to victories.
There's enough pro-level talent on both sides of the ball to make Ohio State dangerous, though LSU is rightfully ranked first.
In this scenario, the Buckeyes would get a tough first-round matchup with Baylor, which lost just twice—to Oklahoma, and in heartbreaking fashion each time. What coach Matt Rhule has done with the Bears, rebuilding the program after the shameful Art Briles tenure, is miraculous.
With a healthy Charlie Brewer at quarterback—something they didn't have in the Big 12 Championship Game—the Bears could make noise if they got another shot at winning it all.
Unfortunately for Rhule's team, it doesn't have the offensive horses to ride with Ohio State. The Buckeyes are strong on both sides, and, as with LSU against its Big Ten counterpart, the talent discrepancy would play out in the second half.
This quarterfinal showdown would wind up lopsided, as Ohio State easily would advance with a 33-17 win. This is just a horrible matchup for the Bears.
Semifinal: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
Unfortunately for those looking for upsets, the eight-team playoff would produce the same final four, based solely on matchups.
Oregon might have had a chance if it played a team such as Oklahoma or even Ohio State, but the Ducks can't hang with the high-flying attacks of LSU and Clemson.
So, this becomes a question of what will happen when LSU matches up with Oklahoma, and it's difficult to envision the Sooners staying close.
The thing about coach Ed Orgeron's team is the offense is so dynamic that there have been several games where the Tigers seemingly took the night off on defense and it didn't matter. (Remember Ole Miss?) The Bayou Bengals will score as much as they want against Oklahoma's defense.
While Grinch has that unit playing better, the Sooners haven't seen anything like Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. And Terrace Marshall Jr. had a pair of touchdowns against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game? That's not even fair.
Throw in Edwards-Helaire, and the Sooners don't have answers.
Oklahoma will score thanks to the dynamic Hurts in his college finale, but it's difficult to envision it being enough. This has all the markings of being a blast to watch, but LSU has more than enough firepower to win 48-34.
If this game stays below 75 points, it'll be a shock.
Semifinal: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
This is the first playoff showdown everybody wants to see, and it will be an exceptional one.
If Clemson is to repeat as national champion, the Tigers will have to earn it against Ohio State and LSU.
Luckily for Dabo Swinney's team, it is battle-tested from last year's championship run. It also should be well-rested after hardly breaking a sweat throughout the last three-quarters of the regular season.
These are the two most complete teams, with elite playmakers on offense and defense. While the Buckeyes have two Heisman Trophy candidates (defensive end Chase Young and quarterback Justin Fields), Clemson is just as talented.
Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins and Clemson's Travis Etienne will provide a nice subplot, as arguably the nation's top two runners go head-to-head against elite defenses.
The only team that can match Clemson's defensive talent is Ohio State too.
LSU has college football's top offense, but these teams are evenly matched across the board, and this could be a classic. It almost certainly will be better than the last time these teams met following the 2016 season in a 31-0 Clemson laugher.
These powerhouses will trade body blow after body blow, but Lawrence has been there before and made huge plays on the biggest stage, so he's a safe bet to make one more big play than Fields and take his team to the title game.
Clemson will win a terrific matchup 31-28 and advance to play LSU.
National Championship Game: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 3 Clemson
Don't buy into Swinney's whining. Clemson gets plenty of respect, and you'd better believe Orgeron and the Bayou Bengals will know what they're in store for in the title game.
The tilt of the Tigers should be electrifying.
Clemson's defense is better than LSU's, but Orgeron's team showed that coordinator Dave Aranda's unit can play at a high level in a big game last week. Of course, the Tigers are in a different stratosphere than Georgia on that side of the ball.
LSU's virtual home game in New Orleans will be the difference-maker.
Yes, it's all new for the Bayou Bengals, who haven't played for a national title since they lost to Alabama in 2011 in the so-called "Game of the Century" and haven't won one since 2007. But after everything that's been thrown at Burrow, he seems to get better when the games get bigger.
So, while Clemson is probably the more complete team, LSU has the best player who will impact the game in a bigger way. If it sounds like I'm trying to convince myself of this, it's because it could go either way.
LSU will play better defensively than it has much of the season. Elite safety Grant Delpit will get a chance to rest his nagging ankle injury, and the dynamic duo of Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley at cornerback will make things tough on Lawrence, Higgins and Ross. And LSU's secondary is just a bit better than Clemson's.
Also Burrow proved he can get beyond the tackles, extend the play and shrug off a pass rush against Georgia. He'll do the same in this game.
This could be another classic, but in front of what should be a home crowd, the No. 1 seed will have an advantage. LSU will win a battle 38-34.