While there’s no doubt that the carnage around college football shook up the entire sport last Saturday, it did ultimately lead to some good news this week.
That’s because while a week ago it seemed like four, undefeated Power 5 teams seemed destined to meet in the College Football Playoff, with all the losses last weekend, there are now any number of teams and matchups which could happen in the Final Four.
It also raises the question: With so many teams in the playoff mix, what would actually be the best playoff matchups would possibly see? Here are the most intriguing.
Michigan vs. Washington
If this were 30 years ago, we’d get these two in the Rose Bowl. Instead, we could very well see them in a semifinal on New Year’s Eve. This would be a fun cross-sectional matchup between a team with the best pass defense in Michigan, (which allows an FBS-best 131 yards through the air) against Washington's potent pass offense -- led by John Ross and Dante Pettis, two of the most prolific wide receivers in the sport.
Plus, wouldn’t it be fun to spend a few weeks watching Jim Harbaugh desperately try to get into the head of Chris Petersen, only to see the uber-unflappable Petersen ignore him like a teenager brushing off his naggy little brother?
Penn State vs. Alabama
Two of college football’s great historic programs and two of the signature fan-bases in the sport. Two of ... Aww screw it -- this would be a blood bath. I love what James Franklin is doing in Happy Valley but the Nittany Lions are a statistical outlier, a team that doesn’t rank in the Top 30 nationally in scoring, or Top 50 in defense, and somehow finds itself in the thick of the playoff race. If these two actually met, hide the women, children, and small animals. It would get ugly.
But I want to see this game simply for the fact that a few years ago, Franklin caused quite a little dust-up when he called Nick Saban “Nicky Satan” and the internet ran wild with it for a few days. Could Franklin come up with something better? Would he keep his mouth shut? Would he even acknowledge it ever happened? Tune in this December to find out!
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY SportsRich Barnes
Michigan vs. Ohio State
On paper, this game would be awesome. A matchup of Harbaugh vs. Meyer, two of college football’s most talented teams and hated rivals on the sport’s biggest stage. Move over Ryan Seacrest and Pit Bull. This would be the show everybody was watching New Year’s Eve.
This one seems especially sweet because it could actually happen. If Alabama, Clemson and Michigan all win out, it’s almost certain that the Wolverines and Tigers will be playing New Year’s Eve in Glendale.
And if it does happen, well, it will be a fascinating matchup on both sides of the ball. On the one hand, you’d have Michigan’s big, heavy pro-style run game going against Clemson’s fast, athletic defense (watch out for Ben Boulware!). On the other side, you’d have DeShaun Watson and Clemson’s big receivers going against the best pass defense in college football.
Heck, the chess matchup between Watson and Jabrill Peppers on defense would be the worth the price of admission alone. So too would the pre and post-game press conferences from Dabo Swinney and Jim Harbaugh. If the college football Gods are reading this article, please, make this game happen!
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY SportsJoshua S. Kelly
Alabama vs. Ohio State
“Saban vs. Meyer” has given us plenty of classics through the years, dating back to the 2008 and 2009 SEC title games, straight through the first College Football Playoff two seasons ago.
It would almost certainly give us another matchup to remember. Even after Ohio State lost to Penn State, Vegas still listed them as the team which most closely matches up with the Crimson Tide. And you’d have to think that if any defense could give Alabama QB Jalen Hurts fits, it would be the Buckeyes, who already have 15 interceptions this season, including an FBS-best six returned for touchdowns.
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Clemson vs. Louisville
Clemson and Louisville already gave us the game of the year in Death Valley back in the first week of October -- a matchup that produced over 1,000 yards of total offense and cemented Lamar Jackson’s legacy in a loss.
Sequels aren’t always a good thing (although I am cautiously optimistic about “Bad Santa 2”). But this is one that everyone in college football would sign up for.
Clemson vs. Alabama
The problem with projecting Alabama vs. anyone in scenarios like this, is that you just don’t know what you’ll get from the other team. As Mike Tyson once said, “everyone’s got a plan until they get punched into the mouth” and that’s a term that seems applicable for virtually anyone that ‘Bama has faced through the years. Everyone thinks they have a shot against the Tide, until they actually step on the field.
But if there’s one team we know would not be afraid of Alabama, it’s Clemson. This is a club that not only played Alabama in last year’s title game, but played them tough, taking a lead into the fourth quarter. And with the Tigers built similarly this year – with speedy receivers, an athletic defense and Watson at QB – they probably have the best personnel across-the-board to handle Alabama.
Alabama vs. Louisville
While Clemson has the best personnel to handle Alabama, Louisville provides the biggest actual threat to the them. Can you imagine if we actually got the Cards and Tide in the playoff?
For one, it’d be a beautiful stylistic chess match between arguably college football’s best play-caller (Bobby Petrino) vs. defensive mastermind Nick Saban, but two, Lamar Jackson is the ultimate kryptonite for Saban’s defenses. Dual-threat guys like Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and DeShaun Watson have given him fits through the years, as have guys with monster arms like Cardale Jones. Can you imagine Saban coming up with a scheme to try to slow down the huge arm, and quick legs of Jackson?
Ultimately the question here would be if Louisville’s defense could slow down Jalen Hurts and the Alabama offense. Because frankly, this might be the one game where ‘Bama’s defense won’t be enough to carry them.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY SportsJim Brown
Michigan vs. Alabama
How would the Wolverines handle Alabama? Considering they're a pro-style team without a dual-threat quarterback, history says it wouldn’t go well for Michigan. But then again, after everything Jim Harbaugh has done in less than two years at the school, are you really doubting him?
And besides, this one really isn’t about scheme, matchup or style but instead, Saban vs. Harbaugh. They’re two of the biggest personalities in the sport, two of the best coaches in the game and two guys who weren’t afraid to mix it up in the media this summer.
It’s a dream scenario, and unquestionably the best playoff matchup we could see this season.