What a 16-Team College Football Tournament Would Look Like for the 2020 Season
With March Madness right around the corner, we wondered: what if college football went all out for the 2020 season and had a 16-team playoff bracket?
A playoff with that many teams would quiet one of the bigger critiques of the current format, which is continuing to leave out Group of Five programs, or teams that had great seasons but weren't able to win their conference championships.
Of course, that would mean adding two additional games for the nation's top teams and the wear and tear that comes with it.
Although we're probably still years away from the playoff expanding to eight teams, let's take a look at what teams would theoretically play in a 16-team playoff based off their current projections and a committee-style approach to make sure some of the smaller programs are also included.
The Cinderellas (16-13)
16. Iowa State Cyclones
Head coach Matt Campbell has turned the Cyclones into one of the more respected teams in the Big 12. However, they don't have the resources of other bigger programs to make a run at a national title.
In this hypothetical, they would at least get their foot in the door of the playoff, but they'd have to face the No. 1 seed. A massive upset would only occur if QB Brock Purdy had the game of his life.
Still, Iowa State fans wouldn't complain about getting into the playoff.
15. Penn State Nittany Lions
Playing in the same division as Ohio State makes it difficult for the Nittany Lions to compete for a conference title, much less a College Football Playoff spot.
With Sean Clifford returning, they should still be in great shape. The quarterback passed for 23 touchdowns against just seven interceptions last season, and he should put up even bigger numbers next year.
14. Texas A&M Aggies
Jimbo Fisher is still trying to turn the Aggies into title contenders after taking over the head coaching job in 2018. They have gone 17-9 over the past two seasons, and they're hoping to start making a run in the SEC in 2020.
Along with some strong recruiting classes, the Aggies will also have Kellen Mond back under center. They may not win the SEC over teams like Alabama or Georgia, but they should have a strong enough season to be one of the top teams in the country.
13. Central Florida Knights
The Knights have a chance to be one of the biggest feel-good stories of the year.
After suffering a devastating knee injury in 2018, quarterback McKenzie Milton is back to throwing in spring practice. It's still not a guarantee he'll return, but if he does, it could help the Knights make some noise.
A 16-team bracket is exactly the kind of format that would lead to smaller programs like Central Florida getting the chance to compete.
The Dark Horses (12-9)
12. Auburn Tigers
Head coach Gus Malzahn has not returned to the national championship game since losing to Florida State in his first season with Auburn in 2013. An expanded playoff could change that if the Tigers got lucky.
2020 could be a big year if Bo Nix continues to develop as a passer. He showed flashes last year as a true freshman, leading Auburn to a comeback win over Oregon in his first career game. He finished the season with 2,542 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions while adding another seven touchdowns on the ground.
If Nix builds on a strong season, the possibilities for Auburn are endless.
11. Oregon Ducks
How will the Ducks replace Justin Herbert? That's the big question they'll have to answer if they're going to make another run this season.
A bit of the pressure will be taken off thanks to running back CJ Verdell. He's eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in both of his seasons with the Ducks, averaging 6.2 yards per carry in 2019.
As long as Oregon's next quarterback can limit turnovers and be efficient, the Ducks will be in a good spot to compete for a Pac-12 title.
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers
P.J. Fleck has turned the Golden Gophers into a formidable foe in the Big Ten.
Minnesota will have a dynamic duo in its passing game with quarterback Tanner Morgan and receiver Rashod Bateman returning. Bateman was an explosive playmaker last year, catching 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns, earning all-conference honors.
With top-tier talent returning and Fleck continuing to recruit well, the Golden Gophers could have another big year in 2020.
9. Georgia Bulldogs
This will be a prove-it season for the Bulldogs after the departure of quarterback Jake Fromm, especially with the Florida Gators back on the come-up in the SEC East. Incoming graduate transfer Jamie Newman will take over under center after a solid year at Wake Forest (26 touchdowns, 11 interceptions).
Kirby Smart continues to replenish the talent in Athens, producing the top recruiting classes in the country in both 2018 and 2020. Georgia's success in 2020 will depend on the success of the young players from those classes.
The Bulldogs' ranking could be a lot higher if they're able to win the SEC East or snag a conference title, but even as the No. 9 seed, they could make noise in a 16-team tournament.
The Contenders (8-5)
8. LSU Tigers
An exodus of players, including Joe Burrow, is going to hurt LSU's chances of a repeat. Losing passing game coordinator Joe Brady will likely hurt just as much.
The good news is there are still stars for the Tigers on both sides of the ball. Ja'Marr Chase took the SEC by storm in 2019 by breaking conference records for receiving yards (1,780) and touchdowns (20). On defense, Derek Stingley Jr. was an All-American as a true freshman, snagging six interceptions and 15 pass breakups.
The passing game won't look the same in 2020, but there would still be a good chance for the Tigers to make a deep run in a 16-team playoff format.
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Being a program independent from a conference has made a CFP appearance much more difficult for Notre Dame. An expanded bracket would give the Fighting Irish a better chance at trying to prove themselves against the country's top programs.
Quarterback Ian Book is returning for his final season in South Bend, which will give Notre Dame a shot at competing this year. He did a good job taking care of the ball in 2019, passing for 3,034 yards, 34 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Notre Dame's schedule features some tough matchups against the likes of Clemson and Wisconsin, making an appearance in the CFP an uphill battle. If the playoff were expanded, however, the Irish likely wouldn't have an issue getting into the tournament.
6. Texas Longhorns
Head coach Tom Herman has brought the Longhorns back to prominence in his three seasons. However, 2020 might be the year that Herman and Co. kick the door down.
Texas will start the season with a warm-up game against South Florida before trying to get revenge on the reigning national champion LSU Tigers. The Longhorns will also have big matchups against Oklahoma and Baylor, and they have the talent on both sides of the field to get it done.
Sam Ehlinger will be the X-factor once again as a senior. He's racked up 80 total touchdowns over the past two seasons and has continued to develop as a more traditional passer without sacrificing his mobility.
A No. 6 seed for the Longhorns could be a surprise for some, but a locker room with Herman and Ehlinger might have what it takes to make a serious run in 2020.
5. Florida Gators
If the Gators could go 11-2 and finish in the Top 10 of the final AP poll of the 2019 season, imagine what they could do in 2020 with consistency at quarterback.
When Feleipe Franks went down with a season-ending ankle injury in the third game of the season, the season was on the brink. Fortunately, Kyle Trask, who hadn't even started a game in high school, took over and played at a high level with 2,941 passing yards and 25 touchdowns.
Trask and exciting tight end Kyle Pitts will be a nice duo to build the offense around, and the Gators defense consistently churns out big-time playmakers. Dan Mullen's team will likely be competing against the Georgia Bulldogs for the SEC East division title, and the winner would have a good chance at a top-five seeding in this bracket.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
As long as Lincoln Riley is the head coach for the Sooners, the prestigious Big 12 program should continue to be in the mix for a national championship.
Despite playing with three different quarterbacks in his first three seasons, Riley has helped lead the Sooners to a 36-6 record, three CFP appearances and three conference championships (it also helps to have Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts).
Even with Hurts heading to the NFL, the Sooners are still in great shape under center. Five-star recruit and the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the 2019 recruiting class, Spencer Rattler, is expected to take the starting job and play at a high level right away in Riley's offense.
However, losing playmakers in Kenneth Murray and Neville Gallimore will be a big loss to a defense that showed some real promise in 2019.
Even with a projected No. 4 seed, the Sooners could run into some trouble against an explosive offense in a 16-team bracket, but that would be the kind of high-scoring shootout fans would love to see.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Even after head coach Urban Meyer stepped down following the 2018 season, the Ohio State Buckeyes have continued to play at an extremely high level, and that's not going to stop being the case in 2020.
A lot of the team's success in 2020 will depend on the play of quarterback Justin Fields, especially with running back J.K. Dobbins heading to the NFL. Fields was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season while leading the Buckeyes to a playoff appearance, amassing 41 passing touchdowns and just three interceptions, adding 10 more touchdowns on the ground.
What might keep Ohio State from being a national champion in 2020 could be the departure of so many talented players on defense. Pass-rusher Chase Young and cornerback Jeffrey Okudah are expected to be two of the first non-quarterbacks selected in the draft, while fellow cornerback Damon Arnette and linebacker Malik Harrison are also heading to the pros.
The good news is Ohio State continues to recruit well and produces elite NFL prospects on defense almost yearly. If the defense can weather the storm, the Buckeyes shouldn't have an issue winning the Big Ten and competing for another playoff spot.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
After years of dominance, the Crimson Tide looked vulnerable in 2019, a rare occurrence in the Nick Saban era. Some bad injury luck with star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa cost the program a chance at another playoff appearance, but if we've learned anything about college football, it's that Saban refuses to struggle in back-to-back seasons.
Since taking over at Alabama before the 2007 season, Saban has never lost more than two games in back-to-back seasons.
Despite all the injury drama surrounding Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide still went 11-2, and Mac Jones played well in relief (1,503 yards, 14 touchdowns, three interceptions).
Losing Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III will hurt the offense, but they still have Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith at wide receiver, while the elusive Najee Harris will also be returning to man the backfield.
The Crimson Tide's level of competition is always so difficult that a few more games likely wouldn't be an issue.
1. Clemson Tigers
Whether you love it or hate it, the Dabo Swinney era with Clemson has been one of the most successful runs of any head coach in college football history, and the Tigers aren't close to slowing down.
Powered by Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, the Tigers have won five straight conference championships, gone to five straight College Football Playoffs and won a pair of national championships.
While the other teams in this past season's playoff are losing a lot of talent, the Tigers are mostly intact. Outside of losing defensive superstar Isaiah Simmons, Clemson is still keeping star quarterback Lawrence, explosive running back Travis Etienne and playmaking wideout Justyn Ross.
Lawrence, widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft if he declares, has gone 29-1 in his first two seasons. With an elite coach and a ton of playmakers around him, there's no reason to think the Tigers won't contend for another title in 2020, even if they had to play in a 16-team playoff to do so.