PALO ALTO CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Andrew Luck #12 and Richard Sherman #9 of the Stanford Cardinal celebrate from the sidelines after Stanford scored a touchdown to go up 67-24 in the fourth quarter of their game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Stanford Stadium on September 18 2010 in Palo Alto California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Imagine college football wasn't stuck in the 1950's and there was a playoff to decide the National Championship. Here are five teams that would challenge the unbeatens -- Oregon, Auburn and TCU -- to win the title.
There is no playoff in college football. This is great, because it is perpetually 1954 in our sport, a year and a time when going to someplace that was not your home for exhibition game was considered quite novel. College football is also baffled by this new microwave oven we've been hearing about that can heat an apple to lukewarm in under 10 minutes despite being only the size of a small refrigerator. For something that only costs $880, that is quite a feat of engineering.
(My grandmother had one of these early wall-sized microwaves. It was constantly catching on fire, made a noise like a nuclear reactor just shy of going critical, and announced things were with a heinous buzz and electronic voice that said "EISENHOWER!" loudly. Appliances from the 50's were both household utilities and booby traps made by American corporations to double as defense against a Communist invasion.)
So, if it is 1954 forever in college football, then what you are about to read is pulp science fiction of the highest order. The beauty or horror of a playoff, depending on who you ask, is its ability to put teams coming into form at the end of the season into a hypothetical downhill luge run towards a championship. If we had this kind of system--one as heinous and impossible as moon-men or the deadly sea-maidens of Atlantis itself, dear reader!--these would be the teams whose design, personnel, and general profile would make them the least pleasant teams to encounter down the stretch of--HORRORS, WE TELL YOU--a college football playoff in the fictional and fantastic year of 2010.
(Note: for obvious reasons we're not including the undefeateds of Oregon, TCU, and Auburn. This focuses on teams who would have come into form late, so think 2008 Super Bowl New York Giants, and not the New England Patriots here.)
Virginia Tech. A nasty run game is a given with Virginia Tech, but having a skilled passer with nearly unmatched improv chops is not, thus making 2010's Hokies a mutant bunch, indeed. Virginia Tech faceplanted early at the party, rebooted, and then ripped 11 straight wins from their opponents' innards, going 8-0 in the ACC, winning the conference title. They finished the year like a running back that comes into camp 15 pounds overweight: ripped, fresh for a stretch run, and still a little bit ashamed of those embarrassing photos of him from a few months ago with the belly lapping over the belt and everything. In a convenient segue, they now go to the Orange Bowl to face...
Stanford. You must admire an animal that is constantly enraged at everything around them. Great cats take plays off and are prone to napping and playtime, but besides a few playful Hollywood scenes, have you ever seen a bear look happy? Of course you haven't. Bears do two things: sleep and rage, and you know why? Because they are constantly surrounded by the most irritating thing of all: TREES.
Bears and trees have been natural enemies for years. Video evidence follows.
Trees win this battle every time, conclusive proof that as much rage as bears might emit, it simply pales compares to the boundless anger of trees. Stanford spread out its abundant rage throughout its schedule, losing only to Pac-10 Champ Oregon in Eugene, shutting down its last five opponents in conference and holding all to under 20 points, and running an all-terrain run game accented by the outstanding play of Andrew Luck, the best pure pro quarterback prospect in the country. Only Arizona State held Stanford to under 30 points on offense, and a combination of productivity on that side of the ball combined with stinginess on defense would he a leafy hell to face for playoff opponents---in that fantastical, mystical, and impossible hypothetical world we're talking about here, of course.
Wisconsin. Imagine having a cow just fall on you over, and over, and over, and then over again. Of all of the one one-loss teams in the Big Ten, the worst to face in a playoff scenario would be Wisconsin due to the sheer amount of beef they throw at you on the offensive line. QB Scott Tolzien will be hailed for his "efficiency," (the white quarterback's "athleticism,") but the Badgers rely on the great Steak Avalanche and always have. Wisconsin very nearly had three thousand yard rushers, and any time you come into battle equipped with bludgeoning power like that you stand a chance--especially if this completely insane "playoff" we're discussing ends up being played in some cold weather.
Nevada. Caution: I am not saying they'd win, but if you had a team you wanted to throw in strictly to ruin a few good brackets in a playoff, Nevada would be the choice, not Boise State. (Apologies to Boise, but Kyle Brotzman going out for kicks of any significance at this point would be too painful for the mind or soul to contemplate without breaking down into tears.) The Pistol is hard to prepare against anyway, but throwing in Ault's defense-bending formations with Colin Kaepernick and Vai Tua at the skill positions and you've got one axle-breaking speed bump of a playoff team. And hey: their defense is better than you might think. (You think it's terrible because they're in the WAC, so "merely competent" is an upgrade!)
Arkansas. The most dangerous person in a gunfight is the cowboy with one more bullet than you. This is a universal rule, unless we're talking about a fight where there's bear cavalry involved, and then to hell with that: bear cavalry is way, way more dangerous than some dude with an ammo advantage. Bears don't require reloading, and if they do the fuel is you.
Anyway, as long as we're ruling out bear cavalry from the discussion, Arkansas and their five million receivers and running backs are all a fantastic threat in a multi-game chain of probabilities leading to a championship game. The defense really only failed to hold serve against Cam Newton and Auburn, making Arkansas 2010 the Andy Roddick of SEC teams: very good, but not greater than the one statistical aberration that just happened to pop up at the same time, and also prone to blowing one match along the way (Alabama) that it probably should have won.
Ryan Mallett is granted greatness and scantrons for life, but running back Knile Davis had a 1,000 yard rushing season and you didn't even compliment him on it or anything, and he is hurt by it. No, don't apologize: he'll just use that as motivation, hater, and will accept your congratulations with a stare as icy as his 6.6 ypc average. In any fight Arkansas is going to get a few defensive stops, and then it's up to you to keep up with the hot death the Razorbacks' offense dishes out on the ground and through the air. In the parallel universe where a playoff happens, this is way more than you need to make it to a title game that again is a matter of the purest fiction.*
*In other words, just like the one we currently have in college football.