What If There Was A Playoff? ... 2004
USC WR Steve Smith
USC WR Steve Smith
Posted Jan 14, 2012

With all the fun every year with March Madness and the NFL Playoffs, it's a shame college football isn't able to come up with a similar way to crown a champion. What if there was an eight team college football tournament in 2004? What likely would've happened? CFN tries to figure out how a playoff would've gone.

If There Was A Playoff ... 2004

What If There Was A Playoff ...
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It's that time of year ... the second guessing season.

What might happen if Oklahoma State got its shot? How would TCU have done if it got its shot at Auburn at the end of the 2010 season? How about if Boise State got a chance at Alabama in 2009 or if several other BCS fiascos were decided on the field?.

Forget basketball's gimmicky post-season, where a seventh best team in a conference gets a shot to play for the national title, rendering the regular season relatively meaningless. CFN has created the best of all possible worlds for a playoff to make sure the regular season still holds the weight it does now, if not more, while providing the solution everyone wants (outside of Bill Hancock, the college presidents, the yellow-jacket bowl kids, and 99% of the coaches). Here’s the plan …

Take the six BCS conference champions and give them automatic bids. Take the highest ranked non-BCS league champion (Notre Dame included), and give it an automatic bid. The eighth and final slot would be a Wild Card, which would go to the top ranked team in the BCS that isn’t already in.

We'd have to keep this in the land of the real with the geographic and economic concerns in mind by rewarding the top four teams with a first round home game - fan bases aren't going to travel to three neutral field sites if their team goes to the national championship.

The seeds wouldn’t necessarily go according to BCS ranking, again, with the idea to put teams close to the right region to make sure the opposing fans can get there as easily as possible.

The Final Four games would be held in Pasadena and New Orleans, and the national title would rotate sites like it does now. Meanwhile the rest of the bowl system would be kept in place. If you watched the Liberty Bowl before, you’d still watch it if there's  an eight team playoff.

So what would’ve likely happened had the CFN system been in place since the BCS was in place in 2004? Here’s the best guess with the seedings and the results.

Final BCS Ranking In Parentheses

ACC – Virginia Tech (8)
Big East – Pitt (21)
Big Ten – Michigan (13)
Big 12 – Oklahoma (2)
Pac 10 – USC (1)
SEC – Auburn (3)
Non-BCS – Utah (6)
Wild Card – Texas (4)

Bubble Busted: California (5), Boise State (9), Louisville (10), Iowa (12)

There would’ve been some tremendously disappointed teams that deserved a spot in the playoffs more than some of the automatic choices. 10-1 Cal would prove it wasn’t all that great with a loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl, but Bear fans would’ve gone ballistic with the lone regular season loss coming to USC (23-17). Iowa would’ve been a little bit upset after finishing ahead of Michigan in the BCS even after losing the head-to-head battle. Boise State was 11-0 and Louisville 10-1, with the lone loss a 41-38 thriller at Miami, but they picked the wrong year to be great; Utah was the obvious non-BCS pick. The Broncos and Cardinals played an amazing Liberty Bowl with Louisville winning 44-40.

First Round Matchups

No. 4 Texas vs. No. 5 Michigan
No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 6 Utah
No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech
No. 1 USC vs. No. 8 Pitt

Matchup Analysis:
The Texas – Michigan showdown would’ve been a thriller. Vince Young was just a wee bit better than Braylon Edwards in the Rose Bowl shootout, the Longhorns won 38-37, but with Michigan getting a bit more of a home field advantage, the razor-thin edge would’ve likely have tipped the other way. Auburn was the team left without a chair when the music stopped in the national title chase in 2004, and Jason Campbell, Cadillac Williams, and Ronnie Brown’s offense would’ve been expected to show up and shine in the tournament.

There have to be upsets somewhere in the tournament, and Utah’s spread attack, coached by Urban Meyer and led by Alex Smith, would’ve been the perfect team to pull it off. Sound crazy? That Utah team was better than the one that ripped through Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, and 2004 Auburn struggled against Virginia Tech in the Sugar. The other big upset call would be Virginia Tech over Oklahoma. The Hokies were just good enough on defense to keep Jason White and the high-powered Sooners (who didn’t blow up on many defenses with pulses) from exploding, while Bryan Randall and the inconsistent Tech offense was just flaky enough to come up with one big game to pull off the shocker. USC would’ve blasted Pitt by 40.

Projected Final Four

Rose Bowl – No. 1 USC vs. No. 5 Michigan
Sugar Bowl – No. 6 Utah vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech

Matchup Analysis:
Michigan had the talent to hang around with USC, but it wouldn’t do it. Matt Leinart and the Trojan attack would’ve hung 40+ on the board and the Wolverines wouldn’t have been able to keep up. Virginia Tech’s defense would’ve given Smith and the spread a hard time for about a half, but Utah was the real deal. Remember, in 2004 no one had quite figured out the spread yet and Utah was running it with tremendous speed and precision.

Projected National Championship:
No. 1 USC vs. No. 6 Utah
Projected National Champion: No. 1 USC

Matchup Analysis:
Utah was good, really good, but USC would’ve been on a big game mission. The Trojans struggled at times throughout the season, most notably in a battle with UCLA at the end of the regular season, but they would’ve been focused and workmanlike to win the national title in a fun shootout.

What If There Was A Playoff ...
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