It seems everyone has a playoff scenario they’ve jotted down on bar napkins or documented on blogs. Some tournaments are as small as four teams and for the most part none are larger than 16 teams.
If limited to just four teams, very few programs would benefit greatly from that system, so why not think big. While it won’t happen this year, for a moment let’s pretend there will be a 16-team playoff at the end of 2010.
Now let’s consider who it would benefit most.
There’s probably no other program over the past five years who has earned the right to prove itself in a playoff more than Boise State. But no one outside of Idaho really believes the Broncos could actually win a national championship if they needed to win two to four games for a title. Boise’s best scenario is to back into a BCS Championship Game and pull off a little more Chris Petersen magic.
The easy WAC schedule kills Boise and will always dampen its national reputation. But this year the Broncos could make a legitimate claim if they find a way to knock off Virginia Tech in the season opener in Landover, Md., and take down Oregon State at home. Most of us just assume now Boise will avoid a slip up within conference.
No reasonable college football fan can really believe Boise would win a 16-team playoff. A four-team tournament? Maybe. But the Broncos have proven in recent years that they can beat anyone on a given night and they would be any first-round opponent’s nightmare. So while I don’t see them winning a playoff, Boise makes the playoff interesting.
The Hokies are one of the elite programs who haven’t won a national title. The only time VT came close was in 2000 when the Michael Vick-led Hokies were thrashed by Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, 46-29.
If Virginia Tech gets by Boise State in the opener it is very conceivable the Hokies will be 8-0 when they enter a tough three-game ACC stretch with Georgia Tech (Nov. 4), at North Carolina (Nov. 13) and at Miami (Nov. 20). Even if VT drops one of those games it is very likely the Hokies could win the ACC.
Frank Beamer’s teams have not always excelled in bowl games (8-9 record), but the Hokies are talented enough to hang with any team, and they also ooze confidence. And don’t underestimate the impact of Beamer Ball. The Hokies more times than not win the special teams game and this will be huge in a playoff.
The Horned Frogs were yapping last year they deserved a shot at playing for the national title after going 12-0. However, they were denied as undefeated Texas and Alabama met for the championship.
Of course, TCU would have helped its cause by beating Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Horned Frogs couldn’t get its running game in gear and QB Andy Dalton was inconsistent and made some horrendous decisions as he threw three interceptions in a 17-10 loss.
There’s a good chance TCU will have a shot at winning the Mountain West again and put up another 11- or 12-win season. With the stringent defense the Frogs play under Coach Gary Patterson makes them a dangerous playoff opponent.
However, the odds would be against TCU to win four straight in a playoff.
Entering the third season under Paul Johnson, the Yellow Jackets are in prime position with his old-school triple option fully integrated and the players on the same page. Georgia Tech is fresh off an ACC championship, but the late-season flop is a concern.
The Jackets face the ACC’s best (North Carolina, Miami, Clemson and Virginia Tech) as well as rival Georgia, who upset Tech last season. If GT makes the ACC title game again it could likely end up in the playoff.
If so, Johnson’s triple option is difficult to prepare for in a short time and that makes the Jackets a tough opponent during any week of a playoff. If given extra time to prepare, like a bowl game, defenses are usually better equipped.
The Hawkeyes may need a little luck and deception to get it done on offense, but Iowa could arguably have the nation’s toughest defense with nine starters returning.
Iowa should benefit from a favorable schedule that includes two road games in the first eight games and the Hawkeyes’ toughest opponents (Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State) at home. There’s a good chance Iowa will drop a game, so a playoff is the best chance.
Kirk Ferentz gets the most out his teams, so that right there makes Iowa a tough playoff foe. Don’t overlook the Hawkeyes’ special teams either. The punting and place kicking may be among the best in the nation, which could be the edge they need in close playoff games.
The Cougars are a real long shot to even make a playoff out of Conference USA, but let’s not forget the big upset at Oklahoma State last year, as well as the wins against Texas Tech and Mississippi State. That proves Houston could be a formidable playoff test for anyone.
With QB Case Keenum back for one more year, not to mention he’ll have his full complement of weapons, the Cougars offense will likely be as explosive as last season. Houston’s problem? Defense. The Cougars will have to put up big scores to win.
But that offense makes Houston scary. Don’t overlook Coach Kevin Sumlin either. He’s one of the hottest names in coaching and he has the bloodlines after coaching under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, so he understands what it takes to get ready for big games.
The Cornhuskers are a dark horse pick for a few prognosticators, and that shouldn’t be a big surprise. Nebraska’s schedule is an advantage, but don’t overlook that early season road trip to Washington (Husky Stadium is always a tough location).
Nebraska’s defense will get the headlines, but the offense returns nearly every key player. If the Huskers can improve the passing game a little who knows how far this team will go.
The Cornhuskers may be made for a playoff format. With Bo Pelini’s defense, Nebraska could shut down the best offenses and make any game resemble last year’s Big 12 championship that it nearly won against heavily favored Texas.
The Mountaineers are not a clear-cut favorite to win the Big East, but if WVU wants a legitimate shot at playing for a national championship it better do it this year as the conference’s future is gloomy and its automatic qualifier status is in serious jeopardy.
So if Bill Stewart can get out of his own way and let his talented squad take care of Pitt, Cincinnati and UConn and win the Big East, WVU becomes a precarious foe for anyone (just ask Georgia and Oklahoma).
Those who disrespect the Mountaineers forget how close they were to playing for it all in 2007. So it’s clear WVU understands the stakes of a playoff, and the Mountaineers match up well with the faster SEC teams. Biggest obstacle for the Mountaineers is Stewart. The nice guy has kept them respectable, but he also gets outcoached (e.g., Bobby Bowden in last year’s Gator Bowl).
In recent years, the Trojans always seemed to be that team playing the best football as the season came to a close but were left out of the championship game (ignore 2009). If that can hold true under Lane Kiffin, USC should flourish in a playoff format.
After being humbled by Pac-10 teams the Trojans had normally dominated it’s going to be interesting to see how they respond in 2010. Luckily for Kiffin, USC returns plenty of talent that includes a stable of quarterbacks (Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain).
The Trojans are likely a year away from serious contention, but could you imagine DC Monte Kiffin getting USC prepared for the playoffs? It would be like Tampa Bay in 2003 when the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl.
How do you pick just one SEC team? Early predictions are that Alabama and Florida will meet for the championship again. If that happens then the loser benefits the most from a playoff. But don’t count out South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU or Georgia just yet.
Some of the pressure would be off the two SEC Championship Game opponents since both would likely get a playoff invite. Whoever the runner up is will be battle tested and unfazed by any team they must face in a playoff.
The best story line of the playoffs would be a possible SEC rematch in the championship game. However, it’s very unlikely the playoff organizers would allow this scenario to happen.