What a 16-Team College Football Tournament Would Look Like for the 2021 Season

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2021

What a 16-Team College Football Tournament Would Look Like for the 2021 Season

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The FCS's 16-team playoff is going to give college football fans a glimpse of what a massive football tournament would look like this spring.

    Wouldn't it be nice if the FBS followed suit and expanded from four to 16 teams? Nobody would blanch at a few extra weeks of big-time football, would they?

    Well, the offseason is just the time for fun speculation. While playoff expansion doesn't seem to be happening anytime soon, it's exciting to think about how a bigger tournament would look next season. 

    This year's College Football Playoff national championship game drew the lowest-ever rating, which suggests there are plenty of people sick of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. Expanding the playoff would keep a lot more fans interested, even if it's only for a few more weeks.

    All games for this exercise will be talked about as if they're really occurring. From here, enter an alternate-reality 2021 season where a 16-team playoff actually exists.  

Round of 16

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    Matt Cashore/Associated Press

    No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Indiana

    The Group of Five gets squeezed again here as the Sun Devils slide into the final playoff spot over Coastal Carolina and Liberty. Iowa and Indiana out of the Big Ten and Texas also had a beef, but Herm Edwards' powerful running game did the trick. Unfortunately, they run into the immovable object that is the Crimson Tide.

    Alabama wins 33-17


    No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Miami

    It's an old-school battle between two powerhouses, but there won't be much anguish here. The Sooners are rolling by this point, and Spencer Rattler and Co. are too much for the vaunted Hurricanes defense to handle. 

    Oklahoma wins 40-27


    No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 14 Wisconsin

    This is one of the more interesting battles of the first round, regardless of ranking. Yes, the Tigers have elite players everywhere, but Graham Mertz finally has things working, and head coach Paul Chryst's team has come to play in important postseason games in the future. Dabo Swinney's squad gets it done, but barely.

    Clemson wins 27-23


    No. 4 Georgia vs. No. 13 North Carolina

    The four highest seeds complete the sweep when the Bulldogs keep their championship hopes alive for another round by making the Tar Heels one-dimensional. UNC running back Ty Chandler can't get going against the SEC's best front seven, and UGA escapes to advance.

    Georgia wins 31-23


    No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Texas A&M

    This is where things get dicey. Yes, the Buckeyes have talent on both sides of the ball, but their youth and inexperience at quarterback leads to some shocking decisions. While the Aggies also have a first-year starter under center, they have enough weapons in the running game to pull off the upset of the first round in an exciting win.

    Texas A&M wins 38-34


    No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Notre Dame

    Matt Campbell has been building toward this run for several years in Ames, but where is Brock Purdy in big games? He finally steps up in a major game and leads the Cyclones past battle-tested Notre Dame and first-year quarterback Jack Coan. This is a great win for Iowa State's program.

    Iowa State wins 23-17


    No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 Florida

    This has the potential to be a statement game for the Pac-12, and the Ducks are ready for it. The Gators had a nice year after losing so many offensive weapons, but by this point, Oregon true freshman quarterback Ty Thompson has it clicking, and the Ducks wind up with a big win for the conference. UF will be back, though.

    Oregon wins 41-31


    No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 Cincinnati

    Want to see a team with a chip on its shoulder? Look no further than the Bearcats, who get in one year after getting snubbed in the College Football Playoff but have a lower seed than expected. They're going to respond in a big way, upending the Trojans and erasing those feel-good vibes from Oregon's win. Luke Fickell's team is dangerous.

    Cincinnati wins 36-30  

Quarterfinal: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 9 Cincinnati

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    This has all the trappings for one of the biggest upsets in college football history.

    Desmond Ridder is a seasoned veteran who, by this point of his final season, will be trying to improve his draft position after generating some first-round buzz. A win for the ages would cement his standing in the scouts' eyes. It also would be massive for Bearcats running back Jerome Ford, an Alabama transfer. 

    Throw in the Tide's youth all over the offense, and concern wears crimson, right? Nah.

    Nick Saban's team has too much talent and depth for an upset of this magnitude to happen. The Bearcats will keep things close for a while, and there will be some fun shots of Saban losing his cool on the sidelines. But Alabama doesn't falter in games like this.

    At this point of the season, the elite freshmen and sophomores getting reps will be playing like veterans, and 'Bama will overcome a slow start and move on once again. Bryce Young will have several coming-out parties over the course of the season, but this will be another huge showing for the dual-threat quarterback.

    The Tide will cruise in the second half.

    Alabama wins 41-24

Quarterfinal: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Oregon

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    This is the type of game that can bring a lot of excitement to the postseason.

    Though Oklahoma has been to the CFP in three of the past four years, the Ducks haven't made an appearance since 2015. Making it to the second round for a game of this magnitude would be huge to a pair of hungry, large fanbases.

    There are a lot of reasons to like the Ducks and what head coach Mario Cristobal has built in Eugene, and getting this far would be a big step forward. But next year feels like a big one for Boomer Sooner.

    Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch's unit is making major strides, Spencer Rattler is doing everything you want a high-profile quarterback to do, and the Sooners added some major puzzle pieces like transfer running back Eric Gray and offensive lineman Wanya Morris.

    The Sooners have too many weapons for the Ducks to deal with, and they'll flex their muscle on both sides of the ball in a statement game that shows they're in this tournament for the long haul.

    A big Rattler touchdown seals it and sends Oklahoma forward in a battle of conference champions.

    Oklahoma wins 37-27

Quarterfinal: No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 6 Iowa State

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    There's been a lot of talk about Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell, and everybody around the college football world believes in his coaching acumen. He even got a lot of attention from NFL teams this offseason, according to CBS Sports' Ben Kercheval.

    But Campbell needs a big-time postseason win on his resume. It just eluded his Cyclones when the Sooners beat them in the Big 12 championship game after Iowa State dispatched Oklahoma during the season.

    This will be that shocking, bracket-shattering win for Campbell.

    The Cyclones defense has bruisers at all levels, and they're going to make things extremely difficult on D.J. Uigalelei and the Tigers. Clemson's lack of a dominant, steady running game in the absence of Travis Etienne plays right into defensive coordinator Jon Heacock's hands.

    On the other hand, running back Breece Hall keeps Iowa State close throughout a rugged, hard-fought win where the game plan is to muck things up, and the Cyclones succeed throughout. Yes, the Tigers are better on defense, but they still have some youth and inexperience.

    Needing a big play to turn the fortunes of his career in clutch situations, Brock Purdy will find Xavier Hutchinson for a program-altering, go-ahead touchdown late, and the Cyclones celebrate. 

    Iowa State wins 28-24  

Quarterfinal: No. 4 Georgia vs. No. 12 Texas A&M

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    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Texas A&M's huge upset of Ohio State in the first round leads to this All-SEC quarterfinal showdown with head coach Kirby Smart's Georgia Bulldogs.

    Still, there is plenty of intrigue considering these two teams don't play each other often.

    While the Aggies feasted on playing against a young Buckeyes quarterback, they won't have that same luxury against the Bulldogs and transfer quarterback JT Daniels. If you had any doubts that the former USC signal-caller will be the first quarterback taken in the 2022 draft, he'll put them to rest here.

    This is going to be a terrific game, but UGA has found plenty of balance by this point of the season with Zamir White leading a deep, strong group of running backs and Daniels throwing darts all over the field.

    UGA's veteran defense makes A&M quarterback Haynes King look average, though Kellen Mond's replacement is going to have a nice future. The Bulldogs will march on to play their second SEC foe in as many weeks and try to exorcise some demons from 2018.

    Visions of 1980 (their last national title) will dance in the Dawgs' heads.

    Georgia wins 31-16

Semifinal: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    It's a sight that won't soon be forgotten: Tua Tagovailoa completing a storybook second half by throwing a beautiful downfield bomb to fellow streaking freshman DeVonta Smith for the game-winning overtime touchdown to beat Georgia in the 2018 national title game.

    Up until that point, the Dawgs appeared to have the game in hand for their first national championship in 38 years. Instead, it started the amazing career of Tagovailoa, Smith and that outstanding Crimson Tide 2017 recruiting class.

    In this hypothetical situation, Georgia turns the tables on the Tide.

    With veterans all over the field and youth sprinkled in from Kirby Smart's elite recruiting hauls such as left tackle Amarius Mims, tight end Darnell Washington, safety Kelee Ringo and linebacker Xavian Sorey, Georgia exacts some revenge for the last time these two teams met.

    Daniels etches his name in history with another big game, and though head coach Nick Saban's team had another outstanding year, the youth shows against an upperclassman-laden Georgia program. The Dawgs win and set up another chance at glory.

    A last-second field goal doesn't provide the same dramatics, but it's good enough for red-and-black history.

    Georgia wins, 33-30 

Semifinal: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 6 Iowa State

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    If you're wondering why there's a picture of a guy in a Tennessee jersey here, you'd better get to know Eric Gray. The former Vols running back transferred to the Sooners this offseason, and he is a star waiting to happen in head coach Lincoln Riley's offense.

    This game is going to be a thrill for Big 12 fans: a near-unprecedented third meeting in the same season between two teams. Oklahoma is going to win the grudge match with the Cyclones, breaking the hearts of Brock Purdy and Breece Hall in their final game with the program.

    Spencer Rattler and his high-flying receiving corps will get most of the headlines coming into the game, but Gray steals the show with a few breakaway runs that wind up proving to be the difference. Though the Cyclones are well-coached and battle-tested, they don't have the horses to keep up with this wagon train.

    The Sooners are going to pull away in the fourth quarter and end the Cyclones' magical run just shy of a title chance. Oklahoma is on a collision course with Georgia to win it all.

    Oklahoma wins 37-23

National Championship Game: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 4 Georgia

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    This is the second throwback to 2018, but you may have forgotten the way Georgia made it to the national title game to play Alabama. The Bulldogs needed two overtimes to beat Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners in the star signal-caller's final collegiate game, 54-48.

    Now that the Bulldogs have gotten payback against Alabama, it's OU's turn to do the same.

    Using an explosive offense and creating a few key second-half turnovers, the Sooners' bend-but-don't-break defense makes several pivotal plays to end Georgia's season just shy of a championship yet again.

    This game will have a huge viewership, and though the Bulldogs and Sooners are no strangers to the top of the recruiting rankings, the allure of a new champion will intrigue everybody. 

    Finally, Lincoln Riley is going to end his close-but-no-natty streak with a championship of his own. With Kirby Smart recruiting the way he is, the Bulldogs will be back soon, but the College Football Playoff belongs to the Sooners in the 2021 season.

    Oklahoma wins the national championship 40-34


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