We Simulated Every CFP – But With An 8-Team Field

Every year, as the College Football Playoff committee controversially selects four teams for the Playoff, there are outraged cries for expansion, as many feel that to many elite teams get shafted by the Committee due to one unfortunate result. The four-team CFP has been around for six seasons now, so we decided to look into how much an expanded field would have changed the results we’ve watched play out on the gridiron.

We expanded the playoff in each season to 8 teams. The Power-5 conference champions and top-ranked Group of 5 team were guaranteed a spot, and the other two slots went to at-large teams. We determined the field by the final CFP rankings of each season, seeding them as they were ranked by the Committee. Here’s what we got:

2014:
The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Oregon
  3. Florida State
  4. Ohio State
  5. Baylor
  6. TCU
  7. Mississippi State
  8. Boise State

Quarterfinals

1. Alabama def. 8. Boise State 42-13 
2. Oregon def. 7. Mississippi State 37-17
3. Florida State def. 6. TCU 34-31 (OT)
4. Ohio State def. 5. Baylor 42-24
Semifinals
4. Ohio State def. 1. Alabama 38-35
3. Florida State def. 2. Oregon 40-24

Championship

3. Florida State def. 4. Ohio State 35-30

The Summary

We do get a new champion in our first year with an 8-team playoff, and I really see a distinct reason for that happening. Jameis Winston and his defending champion Seminoles seemed to really coast through an undefeated season and were simply unprepared for Oregon in the semifinals. In this simulation, they get their wakeup call in the quarterfinals, where they are still talented enough to escape with a come-from-behind OT victory. TCU awakens the beast that is FSU, and they thump Oregon in the semis to reach the championship against Ohio State, who replicated their underdog run with Cardale Jones under center. FSU wins a classic, with Winston throwing for three touchdowns and Dalvin Cook rushing for two, leading the Seminoles to back-to-back titles. 

2015

The Field

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Michigan State
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Iowa
  6. Stanford
  7. Ohio State
  8. Houston

Quarterfinals
1. Clemson def. 8. Houston 27-18
2. Alabama def. 7. Ohio State 24-20
6. Stanford def. 3. Michigan State 28-27
4. Oklahoma def. 5. Iowa 28-13

Semifinals

1. Clemson def. 4. Oklahoma 37-28
2. Alabama def. 6. Stanford 35-16

Championship

2. Alabama def. 1. Clemson 30-13

The Summary

Despite the same champion, this was an interesting plug for an expanded playoff. Eighth-seeded Houston led Clemson at halftime and pushed the Tigers for most of the game, while Alabama and Ohio State played an instant-classic in the 2 v. 7 match-up. We also saw our first quarterfinal upset, courtesy of Christian McCaffrey and the Stanford Cardinal, which gave us a different look in the semis, but ultimately, Alabama vs. Clemson (Episode 1) was not to be denied. The championship game was definitely less close than the championship, although the game was actually 16-13 entering the fourth quarter, but Deshaun Watson didn’t have the fourth quarter touch, allowing Jake Coker and the Tide to seal the deal. 

2016

The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Ohio State
  4. Washington
  5. Penn State
  6. Michigan
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Western Michigan

Quarterfinals
1. Alabama def. 8. Western Michigan 45-17
7. Oklahoma def. 2. Clemson 42-31
6. Michigan def. 3. Ohio State 33-24
4. Washington def. 5. Penn State 40-21

Semifinals
1. Alabama def. 4. Washington 37-34 (OT)
6. Michigan def. 7. Oklahoma 30-24

Championship
6. Michigan def. 1. Alabama 29-28 (OT)

The Summary

Wow. What a stunning result in the 2016 simulation. If you remember, Michigan was left out of the CFP due to their gut-wrenching loss to Ohio State that involved the infamous “J.T was short” play. With the extended field, the Wolverines get a rematch of The Game in the quarterfinals, and they break their losing streak against Ohio State. Meanwhile, Oklahoma stuns Clemson in the quarterfinals, ending Deshaun Watson’s championship run before it started, as Baker Mayfield simply torched the Tigers. Alabama returned to the championship game, but even with Clemson out of the way, they couldn’t rise to the top, as Michigan took them to OT, and then shocked the world and went for two and the win after their overtime touchdown – “It’s Speights, rolling right, fires to Chesson and it’s caught! Michigan wins!” (My electric play-by-play call that I had in my head as I typed this article). Michigan stuns everyone and grabs the national championship. 

2017 

The Field

  1. Clemson
  2. Oklahoma
  3. Georgia
  4. Alabama
  5. Ohio State
  6. Wisconsin
  7. USC
  8. UCF


Quarterfinals

8. UCF def. 1. Clemson 37-27
7. USC def. 2. Oklahoma 49-34
3. Georgia def. 6. Wisconsin 30-21
5. Ohio State def. 4. Alabama 24-14

Semifinals
5. Ohio State def. 8. UCF 34-20
3. Georgia def. 7. USC 33-30

Championship
5. Ohio State def. 3. Georgia 31-27

The Summary

Another year, another wild result with our expanded playoff simulation. 2017 Clemson was probably the weakest of their ongoing dynasty, and they ran into probably the best Group of 5 qualifier of the CFP era in unbeaten UCF, resulting in our first 8 over 1 upset. Sam Darnold put seventh-seeded USC into the semifinals, and #5 Ohio State rolled the Tide in the first round to set up a wild second round. A little bit of normalcy was restored in the semis, with #3 Georgia edging USC, and Ohio State thumping UCF to set up a more traditional championship, where the Buckeyes rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out a national championship, their first in the CFP era after they lost the 2014 title game. For the second straight year, our national champion is a team that didn’t even qualify for the CFP in reality. 

2018

The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Georgia
  6. Ohio State
  7. UCF
  8. Washington

Quarterfinals

1. Alabama def. 8. Washington 38-23
2. Clemson def. 7. UCF 66-24
3. Notre Dame def. 6. Ohio State 28-24
4. Oklahoma def. 5. Georgia 41-35

Semifinals

1. Alabama def. 4. Oklahoma 42-37
2. Clemson def. 3. Notre Dame 45-23

Championship

2. Clemson def. 1. Alabama 40-34

The Summary

There were a few notable storylines, but ultimately there were no upsets and nothing changed from the actual CFP in 2018. We got to see Notre Dame prove they were worthy of a semifinal spot by edging Ohio State, giving the Irish a needed win in a big game. We finally saw a Group-of-5 team get better than an eight seed, only to watch Clemson absolutely unload on UCF in a revenge game, and an instant-classic in the Oklahoma-Georgia quarterfinal. Once we got to the semis, it was pretty much a familiar story; Tua and the Tide edged out Kyler Murray and Oklahoma (by a slightly smaller margin than in reality) and Clemson thumped the Irish. The title game was closer than it was two years ago, but Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers emerged victorious and take home their first title of the CFP era. 

2019

The Field

  1. LSU
  2. Clemson
  3. Ohio State
  4. Oklahoma 
  5. Georgia
  6. Oregon
  7. Baylor
  8. Memphis

Quarterfinals

1. LSU def. 8. Memphis 42-33
2. Clemson def. 7. Baylor 42-20
3. Ohio State def. 6. Oregon 30-23
5. Georgia def. 4. Oklahoma 35-20

Semifinals

1. LSU def. 5. Georgia 38-31
2. Clemson def. 3. Ohio State 24-20

Championship

1.  LSU def. 2. Clemson 30-27

The Summary

2019 LSU continued to be a machine, although they survived a few scares in this expanded playoff. They dealt with a feisty Memphis offense that, last season, posted 39 points on Penn State’s elite defense. They had to beat Georgia for a second time, and the Bulldogs proved far more competent, particularly with their second crack at LSU’s defense, but Burrow and Co. still emerged victorious. Ultimately, the only changed result was Georgia walloping Oklahoma in the quarterfinals to keep the lackluster Sooners out of the semis, while we also saw an Ohio State-Oregon thriller in the first round. Clemson edged out the Buckeyes in the semis once again, and they pushed LSU to the edge, leading into the fourth quarter, but Burrow put the Tigers on his shoulders and grinded out the victory. 

The 6-year Recap

Ultimately, with six years of an 8-team playoff, we saw three different champions crowned (in 2014,2016, and 2017).We saw just two editions of the Bama-Clemson rivalry and a few shocking quarterfinal upsets, including UCF’s stunner over Clemson, and a pair of victories from the #7 seeds. We witnessed a miracle championship run from #6 Michigan in 2016, before ending our simulation with two of the greatest teams of all time triumphing over expanded fields in 2018 and 2019. 

The initial results of the addition of quarterfinals to the Playoff seemed not great on the surface as only 25% (6/24) first-round contests were decided by one possession. However, even if the quarterfinal clashes were somewhat lopsided at times, they led to more competitive semifinals, as 7 of our 12 semifinal games were decided by 8 points or less. To this date, only three of 12 actual CFP semifinals have been decided by a single score. This note, plus the fact that two of our simulated champions were teams that were actually left out of the Playoff, serves as yet another plug for the Playoff to be expanded in the near future.

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