In 2014, the first year of the College Football Playoff, six teams finished thinking they had legitimate shots. The fourth and final pick, Ohio State, was controversial, but the Buckeyes won the national title.
Had the Playoff existed in 2007, nine teams would have finished the regular season with decent cases, 10 if you include unbeaten Hawaii.
Let’s walk through how the CFP committee’s rankings would have probably taken shape, beginning with what we’ll pretend is the first rankings release, on the first Tuesday in November. The BCS had a hard enough time sorting out this season, so imagine how much harder it would’ve been to pick four teams, instead of two.
- Ohio State (10-0, last week: W vs. No. 21 Wisconsin)
- LSU (8-1, last week: W vs. No. 17 Alabama)
- Oregon (8-1, last week: W vs. No. 4 Arizona State)
- Oklahoma (8-1, last week: W vs. Texas A&M)
- Kansas (9-0, last week: W vs. Nebraska)
- West Virginia (7-1, last week: bye)
- Missouri (8-1, last week: W vs. Colorado)
- Boston College (8-1, last week: L vs. Florida State)
- Georgia (7-2, last week: W vs. Troy)
- Arizona State (8-1, last week: L vs. Oregon)
(These rankings are based on observing the Playoff committee from 2014 to 2016.)
By this point, we had already dealt with Appalachian State’s upset of Michigan, Stanford’s upset of USC, and Kentucky’s triple-OT win over LSU. Cal, USF, and BC had already made their runs to No. 2.
It had already been a crazy year. But as the hypothetical CFP race officially begins, things are only getting started.
- Illinois 28, No. 1 Ohio State 21
- No. 2 LSU 58, Louisiana Tech 10
- No. 4 Oklahoma 52, Baylor 21
- No. 5 Kansas 43, Oklahoma State 28
- No. 6 WVU 38, Louisville 31
- No. 7 Missouri 40, Texas A&M 26
- Maryland 42, No. 8 Boston College 35
- No. 9 Georgia 45, No. 18 Auburn 20
- No. 10 Arizona State, UCLA 20
No. 1 doesn’t even last a week. Ohio State can’t get the ball away from Juice Williams, and the Buckeyes fall. With that, there is only one unbeaten power-conference team.
(We know enough about the CFP committee to know Hawaii would not have played a role in this race.)
- LSU (9-1) ↑
- Oregon (9-1) ↑
- Oklahoma (9-1) ↑
- Kansas (9-0) ↑
- Missouri (9-1) ↑
- Ohio State (10-1) ↓
- West Virginia (8-1) ↓
- Georgia (8-2) ↑
- Arizona State (9-1) ↑
- USC (8-2) ↑
Missouri gets a committee boost, having beaten Ohio State-killer Illinois earlier in the year. Considering Kansas and Missouri still have to meet (with the winner facing Oklahoma), the Buckeyes are probably still in fine shape.
- No. 1 LSU 41, Ole Miss 24
- Arizona 34, No. 2 Oregon 24
- Texas Tech 34, No. 3 Oklahoma 27
- No. 4 Kansas 45, Iowa State 7
- No. 5 Missouri 49, Kansas State 32
- No. 6 Ohio State 14, No. 21 Michigan 3
- No. 7 West Virginia 28, No. 22 Cincinnati 23
- No. 8 Georgia 24, No. 23 Kentucky 13
- No. 10 Virginia Tech 44, Miami 14
Down go No. 2 and No. 3! Suddenly, West Virginia is positioned well, and two-loss Georgia is creeping up the board.
- LSU (10-1)
- Kansas (10-0) ↑
- Missouri (10-1) ↑
- Ohio State (11-1) ↑
- West Virginia (9-1) ↑
- Georgia (9-2) ↑
- Arizona State (9-1) ↑
- Oklahoma (9-2) ↓
- Oregon (9-2) ↓
- USC (8-2)
We head into Thanksgiving weekend with the new No. 2 and 3 playing an eliminator.
- Arkansas 50, No. 1 LSU 48
- No. 3 Missouri 36, No. 2 Kansas 28
- No. 5 West Virginia 66, No. 20 UConn 21
- No. 6 Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 17
- No. 10 USC 44, No. 7 Arizona State 24
- No. 8 Oklahoma 49, Oklahoma State 17
- UCLA 16, No. 9 Oregon 0
Arkansas’ upset of LSU officially makes a mess of everything. Now you’ve got up to 10 teams heading into championship weekend thinking they could have Playoff shots.
- Missouri (11-1) ↑
- West Virginia (10-1) ↑
- Ohio State (11-1) ↑
- LSU (10-2) ↓
- Georgia (10-2) ↑
- Kansas (10-1) ↓
- Oklahoma (10-2) ↑
- USC (9-2) ↑
- Virginia Tech (10-2) ↑
- Boston College (10-2) ↑
The Big Ten doesn’t have a conference title game until 2011, so the Buckeyes are probably already in the Playoff four. The Big 12 title game’s winner — No. 1 Mizzou or No. 7 Oklahoma — will also probably make it. WVU is in, as long as it beats Pitt as a 28.5-point favorite.
No. 9 Virginia Tech and No. 10 BC are playing to keep dark-horse Playoff hopes alive. USC can lock up the Pac-10 title with a win over UCLA, LSU has to vanquish Tennessee to hold onto its spot, and ... what do you do with Georgia? The Dawgs are smoking hot but aren’t playing for the SEC title.
- No. 7 Oklahoma 38, No. 1 Missouri 17
- Pitt 13, No. 2 West Virginia 9
- No. 4 LSU 21, No. 14 Tennessee 14
- No. 8 USC 24, UCLA 7
- No. 9 Virginia Tech 30, No. 10 Boston College 16
USC and Virginia Tech look impressive and earn conference title bumps, and No. 1 and No. 2 both go down. The only way these five games could have created more uncertainty is if Tennessee had found one more touchdown against LSU.
The committee has a massive mess.
- Ohio State, with one loss and a Big Ten title, is in.
- Real-life BCS opponent LSU was fourth heading into Championship Weekend and then won the SEC.
- Oklahoma is safe thanks to its two wins over Missouri, a Big 12 title bump, and the fact that quarterback Sam Bradford was injured in the Texas Tech loss (the real-life committee has said it takes injuries into account).
How did 2007 happen?
How did every top-10 team in the preseason AP Poll go on to lose at least two games, with seven losing three or more? Let’s take a look at what happened to each of those 10 teams and identify some patterns.
Preseason No. 1 USC did end up undefeated ... in games with a healthy QB.
The Trojans went 10-2 and finished No. 3. QB John David Booty broke his finger in the one-point loss against Stanford, throwing four interceptions, and missed the Oregon game, which the Trojans lost by a touchdown. USC also had a lot of offensive linemen get banged up.
This was probably the best team in the country and was Pete Carroll’s last great chance to win a title.
No. 2 LSU’s QB was really banged up in both of its losses.
LSU won the national title but did lose twice. That’s certainly not bad, considering it played eight games against ranked teams.
QB Matt Flynn battled injury, including against Kentucky and Arkansas, the two teams to defeat LSU (both in triple overtime). Against a bad Arkansas defense, Flynn was 22 for 47 for 209 yards and just 17 for 35 for 130 against Kentucky.
Defensive line was LSU’s calling card, but there were times when it was vulnerable. Already missing Ricky Jean Francois, suspended for 12 games, and Charles Alexander, who missed 11, LSU’s defense was gashed when All-American Glenn Dorsey got banged up. A thinned line allowed Arkansas to rush 53 times for 385 yards in Death Valley.
Four quarters without QB Pat White doomed West Virginia.
West Virginia starting No. 3 raised some eyebrows, but the Mountaineers were damn good when White was on the field.
In losses vs. USF and Pitt, the skinny White played hurt. He missed about a half in each game. His combined line in those losses was 17 of 28 for just 150 passing yards and a horrid 5.25 yards per attempt.
West Virginia was one of the healthiest teams in the nation, according to Phil Steele’s 2008 College Football Preview. It just lost its most important player at the worst possible time ... twice.
And here’s what happened to the rest of the preseason top 10, and why.
But what the hell do you do with the fourth spot?
- Georgia has wins over a top-10 Florida and a ranked Auburn, but lost to 6-6 South Carolina, lost by 21 at a Tennessee that just lost, and didn’t win the SEC East.
- Kansas hasn’t beaten any ranked teams or won the Big 12 North, but lost only to Missouri and beat everybody else by an average score of 46-14. That loss to Mizzou also looks a little worse, now that the Tigers aren’t No. 1.
- Missouri has a win over a top-10 Kansas and ranked Illinois and Texas Tech teams, who each beat a Playoff team. The Big 12 North champs’ losses were both to No. 3 Oklahoma, but ... don’t two losses to CFP teams show the Tigers have already had their shot?
- USC has a win over a ranked Arizona State and a conference title bump, and one of the Trojans’ losses was to a pre-collapse Oregon (which will be looked on favorably because of Dennis Dixon’s injury). And since injuries play a role, the fact that USC was undefeated with a healthy John David Booty helps. But the Trojans also have one of the biggest upset losses of all time (Stanford).
- Virginia Tech has wins over ranked BC, Clemson, and Virginia teams and an ACC title bump. The Hokies also lost to No. 2 LSU really, really badly.
- West Virginia has a win over a possibly ranked Cincinnati and a Big East title bump, and one of the Mountaineers’ two losses was to USF at its peak. Plus, Pat White was dinged up during both losses. Still, the second loss was to a wholly mediocre Pitt.
That’s six teams with decent cases.
I think you can eliminate Kansas and West Virginia for lack of quality wins. Missouri and Virginia Tech probably get dinged for losing badly to Playoff teams — Tech by 41 to LSU, Missouri by an average of 15.5 in two games vs. OU.
That leaves USC — with a conference title and injury claims offsetting minimal quality wins and a really bad loss — or Georgia — with no division title and a pretty bad loss offsetting a steadier schedule and at least two good wins — at No. 4.
I ... think the committee goes with USC? Possibly?
- Ohio State (11-1) ↑
- LSU (11-2) ↑
- Oklahoma (11-2) ↑
- USC (10-2) ↑
- Georgia (10-2)
- Missouri (11-2) ↓
- Virginia Tech (11-2) ↑
- Kansas (11-1) ↓
- West Virginia (10-2) ↓
- Florida (9-3) ↑
That’d mean Steve Spurrier would’ve knocked UGA out of the Playoff — not the first or last time he’d wreck a Dawgs season.
After all that mayhem, we end up with four blue bloods in the semifinals: Ohio State vs. USC in their eighth major bowl meeting, and LSU vs. Oklahoma in a rematch of 2003’s BCS Championship.
So that results in the following New Year’s Six bowl matchups:
- Peach Bowl: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 USC
- Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
- Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 6 Missouri
- Orange Bowl: No. 7 Virginia Tech vs. No. 10 Florida
- Cotton Bowl: No. 9 West Virginia vs. No. 11 Hawaii
- Rose Bowl: No. 12 Arizona State vs. No. 13 Illinois
Going backward from 2014, this is the bowl arrangement 2007’s Playoff would’ve used.
Maintaining current conference ties (and giving WVU an auto-bid as Big East champion, since that league was officially considered a power at the time), we end up with future SEC East rivals Georgia and Missouri in New Orleans.
Because of that, Tim Tebow’s Florida jumps Kansas for the Orange Bowl bid opposite Virginia Tech. The Playoff system’s Orange requires that a Big Ten or SEC team (or Notre Dame, which just misses the 2007 cut at 3-9) take this spot opposite the ACC champion.
Hawaii still makes a big bowl, because it’s the highest-ranked champ among the true mid-major leagues.
And of course, since the Rose Bowl still gets special treatment and gets to maintain Big Ten-Pac-12 ties when not a Playoff game, Pasadena gets to welcome ... Arizona State and Illinois. Rules are rules.
This story's author and Podcast Ain't Played Nobody co-host Steven Godfrey talk the 2007 season's madness and the year's actual best teams: