The College Football Playoff has been decided in the most “made for reality TV” format of all-time, with the final iteration of the 4-team playoff including Michigan, Washington, Texas, and Alabama, leaving out the undefeated Florida State Seminoles who went undefeated without their starting quarterback for the final two games. Who could have ever imagined that a 4-team playoff in a league with 5 power conferences that a team would be unfairly shanked in this system?
The NFL does not have this sort of problem in their current playoff system despite their being divisions that are unfairly balanced (we’re looking at you, NFC South). The reality is that if you’re psychotic enough to be a die-hard college football fan, you know that you have a death wish with how theatrical and comical the decision-making is.
That being said, WHAT IF the NFL had this sort of system as the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world? Would the world burn down if a top-tier, billion-dollar franchise was unfairly maligned by a committee politicking? Based on what we’ve seen this NFL season, let’s decide the “who’s who” of the dilemma that divided the sports world. Who is the Florida State getting shafted, and who are the four teams that would be included?
#1 Seed Michigan- San Francisco 49ers
The Michigan Wolverines got the #1 seed in the College Football Playoff by going undefeated (with and without Jim Harbaugh amidst recruiting scandals) by dismantling a soft non-conference and B1G while coming out of “the game” against Ohio State with a win for the third consecutive year. The skeptics will tell you that while they’re one of the premier college football powerhouses that made the playoff last year that they’ve done nothing but undress the inferior opponents and bully their way past Ohio State and Penn State by hiding their quarterback, JJ McCarthy, in favor of their running game and defense headed by Blake Corum, now just three rushing touchdowns away from the single-season record. However, they haven’t necessarily missed a beat and have therefore gotten the #1 seed with their pedigree.
After going into Philadelphia and brotherly shoving the Eagles into the loss column 42-19, the 49ers just won their “The Game” and cemented themselves as the great team in the NFL as it stands. In the same way that JJ McCarthy of Michigan’s “game-managing” is downplayed by the greatness of Corum, Brock Purdy may be unfairly maligned as the leader by being Mr. Irrelevant and benefiting from Christian McCaffrey, a Shanahan system that makes all of his weapons make his life easy, and the 5th overall defense in the league. There’s simply nothing to discuss at this point because the “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” debate of Purdy may not ever be able to be proven one way or the other, and he by far has driven the Shanahan car better than all of his predecessors, #1 in QBR, Passer Rating, top 10 in yards, and 14-3 as a starter with only one career game with a passer rating below 80. At 9-3 with their “prove it” game under their belt, they’d be the Michigan here.
#2 Seed Washington Huskies- Philadelphia Eagles
In the final year of the Pac-12 Conference before its unfortunate demise that featured Caleb Williams at USC, Bo Nix at Oregon, gritty Oregon State and Utah teams, and the media conglomerate of Coach Prime’s Colorado, only one team went unbeaten from end-to-end: bow down to the Huskies of Washington and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. While some of the wins were less-than impressive (barely scoring 15 points on Arizona State at home, a last-second field goal against Washington State, and a narrow 9-point win at Stanford while giving up 33 isn’t exactly glowing), going undefeated in a loaded Pac-12 by beating rival Oregon for the 2nd time as a 10-point underdog made it indubitably clear that the Huskies were deserving of a spot.
The Eagles have had that same sort of energy all year in that winning ultimately is a skill. They may have finally gotten exposed in their recent loss to San Francisco at home, but the best record at 10-2 in the league even while playing ugly is something scary to think about if Jalen Hurts performs comparably to how he was last year or if the secondary can finally get it together to put up whistle-to-whistle great game. They are winning their clunkers- a Hurts and Lane Johnson injury wasn’t enough to prevent an overtime win in Buffalo. They beat Mahomes in a defensive battle on the road in KC. They edged out their division rival Dallas at home. They have a large margin for error if Hurts hasn’t been able to throw the ball as well across the middle of the field because of his rushing capability and the defensive front on the other side of the ball carrying the load if one doesn’t have it.
They have the largest margin of error; there’s been plenty of it them season, but that hasn’t prevented them from continuing to find ways to win similarly to the Huskies at #2.
#3 Seed Texas Longhorns- Miami Dolphins
The exuberant “We’re back!” energy of the Texas Longhorns, the throwback powerhouse that the casual “helmet fans” of college football that claim the sport is better when they’re successful, has finally arrived. They crashed the playoff after beating Alabama in their own house early in the season by 10, arguably the best win in college football, and took home the Big 12 title before jumping ship to the SEC.
The Dolphins are a team that have gone through similar comedic curses one could compare to Texas- they’ve got the old school memorable season in their bag (the Dolphins the one undefeated season in 1972, the Longhorns the iconic Rose Bowl game) only to experience pain on and off the field, from not winning a title with Marino, to being a human meat shield to the Patriots in the division, to the shameless “tank for Tua” era, to tampering with Tom Brady. You decide which one of those is the Texas “Pole Assassin” story.
However, now with Mike McDaniel taking over the helm in his second year, the offensive resurrection has been a revelation that has brought the franchise that many fell in love with in the 90’s back. It remains to be seen whether or not Tua is one of the best quarterbacks in the league in a similar Brock Purdy benefit by proximity situation, but the 70+ yard touchdowns to Tyreek Hill each week, a defense that is finally coming along to combat the “soft” label that candy-coated warm weather teams get, and a stable full of the fastest weapons for McDaniel to play with in his motion offense make them the worthy third team in this hypothetical playoff.
#4 Seed Alabama Crimson Tide- Dallas Cowboys
The “big brand” that won the SEC was never going to be snubbed out of getting into the playoff, right? Despite having a down year with a loss at home to Texas, squeaking by USF, and needing a miracle Hail Mary to get by Auburn in the Iron Bowl, the team that beat Georgia and has the reputation with Nick Saban on the sideline was never going to get left out of the playoff.
Similarly, if you think that a hypothetical NFL committee would leave out a 9-3 America’s Team with Dak in MVP candidacy out of the playoff, you are gravely mistaken.
The Cowboys have won their cupcake games in dominant fashion for their resume- what else are they supposed to do on their schedule when they’ve got Washington (45-10 win), Carolina (33-10 win), the Giants (49-17 and 40-0 wins), the Patriots (38-3 win), and the Jets (30-10 win)? It’s as impressive as ever on both sides of the ball with Dak accounting for a 26-6 TD/interception ratio and the Dan Quinn defense ranking in the top 5 overall headed by Micah Parsons and not skipping a beat with the Trevon Diggs injury as Daron Bland seamlessly came in and took over, setting the record for pick-sixes in a season.
However, just as it was seen as a down, more vulnerable year for Bama, the Dallas skeptics will point to two different factors: they’ve yet to win a game that they weren’t supposed to, losing 42-10 against the 49ers, 28-23 in Philly, and had numerous blunders in the postseason with multiple Niners losses and their “crown jewel” win being a victory against a dead in the water Tampa team that made it last year by proxy of winning a milquetoast NFC South.
The other factor they will bring up: do you really trust Mike McCarthy, a man who many perceived to be pre-fired, in a big spot to call this offense?
They may end up not being in the same tier of contenders as Philly or San Francisco, but to leave the big blue star out of the postseason is preposterous, just like the SEC champ.
The Bridesmaid Florida State- Baltimore Ravens
So, who is the team that gets hosed and does relatively what they’re asked to do only to not be considered in the elite top four teams in the NFL?
The 9-3 Baltimore Ravens, tied for the best record in the AFC.
The undefeated Seminoles were a product of unfortunate circumstances- losing Heisman-candidate Jordan Travis to a season-ending injury right before the end of the year. However, their two wins without him, despite using a second-string and third-string quarterback that were less-than eye-candy, if you will, still produced dominant defensive performances, allowing just 21 points over two games.
However, in a “subpar” ACC with their only marquee wins being a neutral site against LSU and a road win against an 8-4 Clemson team, the resume and the possible ceiling of a team backed by what would be their backup was held against them as they hung the banner of an undefeated season in a conference deemed less-than-thou. The scheduling of one tough SEC opponent ultimately amounted to nothing in an unprecedented fashion.
The Ravens have a similar aura to them this season. They’ve been able to win gritty, hard-nosed AFC North football games that force some of the most unwatchable games upon you, but they can also bring about dehumanizing beatdowns where both the offense and defense are humming together at once, as seen by their 38-6 deconstruction of the Lions and the 37-3 slaughter of Seattle.
However, the committee would also look at the previous iterations of this team and point out that
while Lamar is having one of the most unique seasons of his career, finally having a more passer-friendly offense under Todd Monken, having a threat in rookie Zay Flowers, and not having near as much asked of him in the game plan, they would likely also mention the reality that this is not the same MVP Lamar season that we’ve had and that the Ravens have let some teams back into games. They nearly let an Arizona team back in a meltdown, they DID let Cleveland come back to win on a last-second field goal in a meltdown, and the unfortunate reality is that their #1 rushing offense in the league, averaging 158.6 yards per game, would not be seen as “flashy” enough for a league that glorifies quarterback play.
It’s not sexy football, just as Florida State playing with a dominant defense and a backup QB is not an attractive entertainment product. It’s yet to be seen if the rushing attack of Baltimore could compete for a Super Bowl in the playoffs, but luckily for us, we don’t have a politicking committee voting on that.
Cheers to the NFL playoff format, one much less psychotic.