Which College Football Playoff Team Is Best Positioned for Next 3 Years?

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystDecember 19, 2019

Joe Burrow and LSU head coach Ed Orgeron
Joe Burrow and LSU head coach Ed OrgeronJason Szenes/Associated Press

Less than a month from now, Clemson, LSU, Ohio State or Oklahoma will be crowned the 2019-20 college football national champion.

Of the four semifinalists, though, which is best positioned to partake in at least two of the next three College Football Playoffs?

Perhaps even more intriguing or controversial, which one is least likely to participate in another playoff in the next three years?

Using a combination of current players and incoming recruits, we've assigned scores (out of 100 possible points) to each of the four teams in five major categories: passing offense, rushing offense, overall defense, coaching pedigree and conference affiliation.

Let the furious debating begin!


Passing Offense
Clemson - 99
Oklahoma - 99
Ohio State - 98
LSU - 92

Clemson's Trevor Lawrence
Clemson's Trevor LawrenceRichard Shiro/Associated Press

Without question, Clemson and Ohio State are best situated in this area for next season. For some silly, archaic reason, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are required to wait one more year to enter the NFL draft and will enter 2020 as the co-favorites to win the Heisman.

The Tigers will also get at least one more year of wideout Justyn Ross and two more years of Joe Ngata and Frank Ladson Jr., both of whom had three touchdowns this season and were top-10 wide receivers in the 2019 class. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes get another year of Chris Olave and two more years of Garrett Wilson, and they hold a commitment from the No. 1 receiver (and No. 2 overall recruit) in the 2020 class, Julian Fleming. Neither team will be hurting for targets any time soon.

Ohio State's QB situation beyond 2020 is a big question mark, though. Clemson has a 5-star recruit in this year's class (DJ Uiagalelei) and a 4-star freshman (Taisun Phommachanh) gaining valuable experience behind Lawrence. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, have the No. 25 QB in this year's class (Jack Miller) and, I guess, Chris Chugunov as the options for 2021. They could always snag another top-notch transfer, but the current outlook is a bit cloudy, which is why Clemson receives the higher score.

But, man, if you think Oklahoma might fall apart after losing Jalen Hurts and (presumably) CeeDee Lamb, think again.

The Sooners signed the No. 1 QB in the 2019 class (Spencer Rattler), the No. 1 wide receiver (Jadon Haselwood), the No. 3 wide receiver (Theo Wease), the No. 3 tight end (Austin Stogner) and the No. 15 wide receiver (Trejan Bridges). They barely needed to use any of those guys this season, but in one recruiting fell swoop, they put together an entire passing arsenal that will terrorize the Big 12 through at least the 2021 season.

Given the way they've been able to transition from Baker Mayfield to Kyler Murray to Jalen Hurts without missing a beat, one has to assume Rattler will immediately succeed next season and that the handoff to whomever follows him will go smoothly as well.

The odd man out here is LSU. Passing game coordinator Joe Brady helped turned Joe Burrow into a Heisman winner, but can he do the same with Myles Brennan or have the No. 20 overall QB in the 2020 class (Max Johnson) ready to run this same high-octane offense as a true freshman?

Whoever ends up starting at quarterback for the Tigers, at least that guy will have Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. in 2020. But if any of these four playoff teams is going to experience a hiccup in the passing department, LSU is the most likely culprit.


Rushing Offense
Oklahoma - 98
Ohio State - 95
LSU - 93
Clemson - 90

Oklahoma's Kennedy Brooks
Oklahoma's Kennedy BrooksSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Unless Travis Etienne surprises us by returning for a senior season, Clemson is going to lose its starting running back and four of its five starting offensive linemen. Lyn-J Dixon is a more than capable tailback, but don't expect to see Clemson extending its streak to three consecutive years ranking top two nationally in yards per carry, even with potential star Demarkcus Bowman (No. 3 RB in 2020 class) on the way. There's just too much the Tigers need to replace up front.

Oklahoma is in the opposite boat. All five starting linemen and the top running back (Kennedy Brooks) each has at least two years of eligibility remaining. The Sooners will also get No. 2 running back Rhamondre Stevenson back next year and should get Trey Sermon back as well, provided he can make a full recovery from the knee injury that cut short his season. Rattler is nowhere near the runner that Hurts is, though, so Oklahoma's rushing attack will be different. However, that change probably won't be a bad thing.

Ohio State is likely going to lose J.K. Dobbins, but the combination of Fields, Master Teague III and Steele Chambers should keep the Buckeyes in business. There is some attrition along the offensive linemore than Oklahoma, less than Clemsonbut the No. 1 offensive lineman in this year's class (Paris Johnson Jr.) should help matters.

Once again, LSU is the biggest unknown in this equation. While Etienne and Dobbins seem like obvious candidates to leave a year early for the NFL, Clyde Edwards-Helaire might come back for a senior season. If he doesn't, at least the Tigers have the No. 2 (John Emery Jr.) and No. 10 (Tyrion Davis) running backs from the 2019 class waiting in the wings.

Like Ohio State, there are going to be a couple of departures along the offensive line. Unlike Ohio State, LSU only has one top-50 offensive lineman signed in this year's class, only signed one of the top 25 O-linemen in last year's class and didn't sign a single top-50 O-lineman in 2018. At some point, that's going to catch up to the Tigers, right?


Overall Defense
Clemson - 99
LSU - 98
Oklahoma - 90
Ohio State - 89

John Bazemore/Associated Press

Defense was Ohio State's downfall in 2018 and its forte in 2019. The Buckeyes will likely make a return to mediocre in that department in 2020, though, unless Chase Young is honestly going to come back. Assuming both he and Jeffrey Okudah are leaving a year early, Ohio State will need to replace seven of its best defenders. And aside from Zach Harrison, it doesn't have a breakout star waiting to happen.

The other three teams appear to be in good shape.

LSU is going to lose Kristian Fulton, possibly JaCoby Stevens and all but certainly Grant Delpit from its secondary, but the combination of Derek Stingley Jr. and incoming freshman Elias Ricks will wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks for the next two years. The Tigers weren't as good on defense as we were expecting, but they should be just as good next year.

Clemson has a few key lossesmost notably Chad Smith at linebacker and Tanner Muse at safety—but Dabo Swinney is reloading in a big way with five 2020 defensive commits who rank in the top 30 overall in the class. In particular, Swinney is putting together another defensive line that could be just as good as the one that Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins helped lead to a 15-0 record last year.

Oklahoma's immediate future will depend on Kenneth Murray. If he stays with the Sooners, they should continue improving by leaps and bounds in Alex Grinch's second season as defensive coordinator. However, if the star linebacker leaves for the NFL, the Sooners will have one major hole to fill at all three levels and might take a step backward. And with the exception of Brendan Radley-Hiles, Oklahoma doesn't lure in the type of immediate-impact talent that the other three schools typically do on an annual basis.


Coaching Pedigree
Clemson - 100
Oklahoma - 98
Ohio State - 96
LSU - 94

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day
Ohio State head coach Ryan DayMichael Conroy/Associated Press

Hard to say anything negative about four guys currently boasting a 51-1 record on the season. In the moment, they each seem more than capable of leading a different group back to the promised land again one year from now.

But how did we feel about these men four months ago? Which ones had shown an ability as head coaches to develop talent and navigate through adversity, and which ones might have landed on the hot seat if they had instead gone 9-3 this year?

Dabo Swinney is, by far, the longest tenured of the group. He took over a perennially good-not-great Clemson program in 2008 and turned it into a juggernaut over the course of the next five years. The Tigers have won two of the last three national championships and are competing in their fifth consecutive College Football Playoff. It's officially 1a and 1b between he and Nick Saban in any college football coaching hierarchy.

Lincoln Riley is one hell of a second fiddle in this conversation, though, as he is 3-of-3 in reaching the playoff and 3-of-3 in putting a quarterback in the top two of the Heisman vote. Bob Stoops was an incredible coach at Oklahoma for 18 years, but Riley has elevated this Sooners program to an even higher gear.

Ed Orgeron was certainly the one most in danger of approaching the hot seat back in August, but he instead improved this LSU team for the fourth straight year and has become synonymous with the Bayou Bengals and gumbo. However, this is his eighth season (including partials) as a head coach, and this is the first time he has come anywhere close to playing for a championship.

Coach O might be at the start of the type of five-year run of dominance that Swinney has been on at Clemson, but it's too soon to say. There's no question he is adored by those LSU fans, though.

Ryan Day is the wild cardor at least he was to start the season. He currently has a career record of 16-0 as a head coach, but we'll see if he can sustain that type of success when he isn't inheriting an incredible roster from a combination of Urban Meyer and the transfer market. Considering Ohio State has averaged 11.4 wins over the past 15 seasons despite going through three coaching changes, we almost have to give Day the benefit of the doubt.


Conference Affiliation (Ease of Path to CFP)
Clemson - 10
Oklahoma - 9
Ohio State - 7
LSU - 6

Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

We're decreasing the scoring to 10 points instead of 100 for this category, because the wide gap here shouldn't supersede everything else we've discussed. However, the relative strength of these conferences is a vital factor when considering playoff potential.

LSU has to deal with Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M every year just to win its division. Get through that gauntlet and it still needs to beat Georgia or Florida to win the SEC championship. Ohio State is in a similar boat with Michigan and Penn State in the Big Ten East for the right to face a Wisconsin or Iowa in the conference championship. But the Buckeyes grade a couple of points higher than the Tigers because Michigan ain't Alabama, to put it lightly.

Oklahoma doesn't even need to win a division to play in the Big 12 championship, and aside from Baylor, no one is particularly close to passing the Sooners in that league. As demonstrated repeatedly in the past half decade, they can afford to lose once and still reach the playoff.

And then there's Clemson in the ACC, where it has a 43-2 record (including conference championships) over the past five years. Not only has the gap been wide for a while, but it felt wider than ever this year, with an unexpected close call against North Carolina serving as the only game decided by fewer than 30 points.

Maybe Mike Norvell can bring Florida State back to relevancy in the next three years. Maybe Scott Satterfield will get Louisville up to the level of at least competing with Clemson at some point. But given the disparity in current talent and recruiting, it's likely the Tigers will continue running roughshod over this league for at least another few seasons.


Final Tally
Clemson - 398
Oklahoma - 394
Ohio State - 385
LSU - 383

Dabo Swinney
Dabo SwinneyMike McCarn/Associated Press

It's no surprise that Clemson finished with the highest score, considering it has won two of the last three titles and has the No. 1 recruiting class for 2020. This program has been a freight train for a while, and the ride doesn't appear to be ending any time soon.

But it is a surprise (to me, at least) that Oklahoma is convincingly in second place and so close behind the Tigers. If Kenneth Murray does come back, I might have to pick Oklahoma to win it all in 2020.

And while Ohio State and LSU are a somewhat distant third and fourth, respectively, I couldn't even pretend to be surprised if they're both in the playoff again next year. The Buckeyes have a lot of holes to plug on defense, and LSU's quarterback situation is going to be one of the most intriguing offseason storylines, but both teams are dripping with talent and reloading with plenty more in this year's class.


Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite.

Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.