Top 8 games that impacted the college football playoffs

            As another college football season comes to a close with the National Championship between number one Alabama and number three Georgia, there continues to be a call for expanding the playoffs to eight or even sixteen teams. Why? So, you can have more blow outs in the playoffs? Since the playoffs started in 2014, there has only been there, one-score-games in the semi-finals. We have even had blowouts in National Championship games. Expanding the playoffs would only lessen the regular season as; two- and three- loss teams would qualify for the playoffs.

Part of what makes college football so special is that the regular season actually matters. And its why rivalries have developed. Historically, the results of the major rivalries often determined who won their conference and who gets to go to a bowl game. Before today’s schedule of 40 bowl games, there were only a few for the conference winners. For example, back in the day, the winner of Michigan vs. Ohio State won the Big Ten and went to the Rose Bowl to play the PAC-10 Champion (now PAC-12), which would often be the winner of USC vs. UCLA. The winner of the Oklahoma vs. Texas game often won the Southwest Conference (Now Big 12).

Texas vs. Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl

            Now in the College Football Playoffs era, it’s simple, “win, and you’re in.” This year, there is only one undefeated team, Cincinnati. In previous year’s editions of the playoffs, there have been multiple undefeated conference champions, making the selection process easy. In theory, every team starts the season with a chance to make the playoffs. Lose one game, and every game after that becomes a playoff game. Get another loss and you are out (as it should be). We have yet to see a team with two losses make the playoffs. The highest ranked two-loss team this year in the final rankings was number six Ohio State. They lost by multiple scores at Michigan and lost by one touchdown to Oregon at home.

            Come with me as I look at the top eight games that affected this year’s playoffs. I hypothetically flip the result of each one of these games and explore the major impact they have in the playoffs. Now, the team that lost in real life might not necessarily make the playoffs themselves, but the opposite result would prevent the original winner from making the playoffs. In their own way, these games are a part of the playoffs.

            *note: rankings reflect rankings at the time of the game.

Number 8. 9/4/21, #5 Georgia (0-0) vs. #3 Clemson (0-0), Georgia 10 Clemson 3

Two southern powerhouse programs on a collision course at a neutral site (Charlotte, N.C) for week one of college football. SEC vs. ACC. Many pre-season predictions had this game as a preview of a potential playoff matchup. Clemson made the playoffs last year before losing to Ohio State in the semi-finals and Georgia made it in 2017, and they are one of the few SEC teams that can actually challenge Alabama. Clemson was replacing number one overall pick in the NFL draft, quarterback Trevor Lawrence with number one rated quarterback in the 2020 class, DJ Uiagalelei. Georgia had their own hyped-up quarterback, J.T. Daniels, a transfer from USC. What happened on the field was a defensive battle with Georgia winning 10 to 3, and Georgia’s defense scored the game’s only touchdown on a 74-yard interception return. For Clemson, this game was a preview of its struggles on offense this year, while still finishing the season 10-3 and number 19 in the rankings. For Georgia, the win over a perennial power solidified its position as a national title contender. J.T. Daniels would be replaced by Stetson Bennett at quarterback later in the season.


Flip the result and Georgia would be out of the final four with their loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship. With Georgia out, Cincinnati would have likely been number three instead of four, and Notre Dame would sneak in at number four. As a result, the matchups would have been number two Michigan vs. number three Cincinnati and number one Alabama vs. number four Notre Dame. I think Michigan’s defense neutralizes Cincinnati’s offense and their run-game smashes over Cincinnati’s defense. Had Notre Dame played Alabama in the playoffs, I think their playoff and New-years-six bowl game struggles would have continued, and I think Notre Dame would have gotten blown out. Then I think Alabama would have rolled Michigan for back-to-back National Championships. Ultimately for Clemson, had they won this game, they would not have been in the playoffs as they lost to ACC foes, North Carolina State and Pittsburgh, leading them to finish 3rd in the ACC Atlantic division (not making the ACC Championship).

#1 Alabama (12-1 SEC Champion) vs. #4 Notre Dame (11-1)

#2 Michigan (12-1 Big Ten Champion) vs. #3 Cincinnati (13-0 AAC Champion).

National Championship game: #1 Alabama (13-1 SEC Champion) vs. #2 Michigan (13-1 Big Ten Champion)

National Champion: Alabama

Number 7 . 9/11/21, #12 Oregon (1-0) at #3 Ohio State (1-0), Oregon 35 Ohio State 28.

Week two arrives in college football and another game, that the pre-season pundits believed to be of huge importance to the playoffs and the landscape of college football. Ohio State was favored to win the Big Ten and Oregon was favored to win the PAC-12, but as it would turn out, neither would win their conference. This game was also believed to be a potential playoff preview. Oregon came into Columbus with the expected top five pick in this year’s NFL draft, defensive end, Kayvon Thibodeaux, out with injury. For Oregon, they were able to pull off the upset without him. Ohio State could have used him on their side. Ohio State’s defense was unable to set the edge as Oregon ran for 269 yards on the ground with three touchdowns. For Oregon, this impressive win on the road raised their status in the rankings in the early part of the season. A month later, Oregon would lose to lowly Stanford and get dominated by Utah twice. For Ohio State, they weren’t out of the playoffs yet as it was a non-conference loss, and they could still win the Big Ten. Ultimately, they would lose to Michigan head-to-head (spoiler alert, we will check out this game later), knocking them out of the Big Ten Championship and the playoffs.


Had Ohio State prevented the upset, they would have finished the season 11-1. I think it is possible the committee could have picked a one-loss Ohio State over Cincinnati, because they aren’t a power five team. In reality, Ohio State finished ranked number six, in the final rankings, within striking distance of the final spot in the playoffs.

#1 Alabama (12-1 SEC Champion) vs. #4 Ohio State (11-1)

#2 Michigan (12-1 Big Ten Champion) vs. #3 Georgia (12-1)

National Championship game: #1 Alabama (13-1 SEC Champion) vs. #3 Georgia (13-1)

National Champion: Alabama

Number 6. 9/18/21 Western Michigan University (1-1) at Pittsburgh (2-0) WMU 44 Pitt 41

Western Michigan? Two unranked teams in September? I will explain, trust me, it isn’t author bias (WMU class of 2014). Hindsight is 20/20. I watched this game live with the expectation that WMU would lose to Pitt. What happened was WMU got in a shootout with Heisman trophy finalist Kenny Pickett and the Pitt offense. To be clear this wasn’t a last second come back for WMU. Pitt scored the first touchdown, then after that, WMU was either tied with Pitt or leading with the two teams tied at 27 at halftime. While the yards and points came easy for both teams, the WMU defense forced three turnovers while the WMU offense took care of the ball all game. WMU had a ten-point lead with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. It took a Pitt touchdown with three minutes left to bring the score within three points.


            At the time I was excited that WMU upset Pitt and that they were off to a great start to the season. I also didn’t think that this game would impact the rest of Pitt’s season let alone the playoffs. I figured that Pitt would be a middle-of-the-pack ACC team. I also thought that their quarterback could be a decent NFL quarterback, -we will see what happens in the draft in April. Turns out Pitt would go on to win the ACC and finish number twelve in the final rankings with a record of 11-2. Their second loss was to Miami (Florida) in October. Had Pitt won the game would they have made the playoffs? They would have been 12-1 as the ACC Champions. They did have major wins over, Clemson, Wake Forest, and Tennessee. I don’t think they would have been a lock, but it would have made for interesting playoff committee discussions between Cincinnati and Pitt for the final spot. This game is a great example of the importance of turnovers, playing defense and never overlooking an opponent.

#1 Alabama (12-1 SEC Champion) vs. #4 Pitt (12-1 ACC Champion)

#2 Michigan (12-1 Big Ten Champion) vs. #3 Georgia (12-1)

National Championship game: #1 Alabama (13-1 SEC Champion) vs. #3 Georgia (13-1)

National Champion: Alabama

Number 5. 10/2/21 #12 Ole Miss (3-0) at #1 Alabama (4-0) Alabama 42 Ole Miss 21

A three-score game? How? Alabama was up 28 to 0 at halftime. Again, hindsight is 20/20. This game also illustrates the importance of winning division games. Ole Miss finished with a 10-2 record ranked number eight in the final committee rankings. They also finished 6-2 in the SEC, one game behind Alabama in the SEC West.


Had Ole Miss, Lane Kiffin and Matt Coral pulled off the miracle of upsetting Alabama at home, they would have finished 7-1 in the SEC, securing the SEC West division and playing in the SEC Championship against Georgia, in Alabama’s place. Not before sending a thank-you-note to Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M (Texas A&M beat Alabama 41 to 38 a week after Alabama beat Ole Miss). Not only would this have knocked Alabama out of the SEC Championship, it would also knock them out of the playoffs. Had this happened, I believe Georgia would have won the SEC Championship, finished 13-0 and been number one in the final rankings. With Alabama out, I believe the rankings would have been,

  1. Georgia
  2. Michigan
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Notre Dame

Would Brian Kelly still be at Notre Dame, or would he still take the LSU job? It’s hard to tell because he took the LSU job before Championship weekend and the dust had settled. Money talks, but maybe he was tired of not being in a conference? This isn’t the last time we will deal with Brian Kelly. With this set of matchups, I think Georgia would beat Notre Dame with or without Brian Kelly. The two teams met in 2019 in Athens, Georgia as the Bulldogs won 23-17. I think the gap might be bigger this year. The second matchup would have been Michigan vs. Cincinnati, and I think Michigan would have won that matchup easily. Then we get a Georgia vs. Michigan National Championship. We know how that would have gone; this would have led to a Georgia National Championship. When Alabama doesn’t make the playoffs, the field opens up to more possibilities.

#1 Georgia (13-0 SEC Champion) vs. #4 Notre Dame (11-1)

#2 Michigan (12-1 Big Ten Champion) vs. #3 Cincinnati (13-0 AAC Champion)

National Championship game: #1 Georgia (14-0 SEC Champion) vs. #2 Michigan (13-1)

National Champion: Georgia

Number 4. 12/4/21 #9 Baylor (10-2) vs. #5 Oklahoma State (11-1) Baylor 21 OSU 16

AT&T Stadium, home of the Big 12 Championship game

            Championship weekend brought a rematch from the regular season. Oklahoma State won the first matchup 24-14 in October at Stillwater. Both teams beat Big 12 traditional powers Texas and Oklahoma on their way to the Big 12 Championship game. Baylor had to turn to their backup Blake Shapen as their starter Gerry Bohanon was still dealing with a hamstring injury. Blake Shapen played excellently throwing three touchdowns. Oklahoma State came into the game with their experienced quarterback Spencer Sanders. He looked like the backup quarterback, throwing four interceptions. Oklahoma State almost prevailed despite the turnovers. The game came down to the wire. Oklahoma State, down by five, fourth and goal from the one-yard line with 30 seconds left in the game. In an epic demonstration of athleticism by both players, Oklahoma State handed the ball off to their running back and he runs for the corner pylon, but he is unable to beat the Baylor safety to the corner. Baylor holds on to win the Big 12 Championship and gives Oklahoma State their second loss.


Had Oklahoma State’s running back won the race to the end-zone, Oklahoma State would have won 23-21 and become the Big 12 Champions at 12-1. I think another win over a top ten would have launched Oklahoma State past Cincinnati for the fourth spot. In the semi-finals, I think Alabama would roll past Oklahoma State, Georgia would still have beaten Michigan, and we still would have end up with the Alabama vs. Georgia matchup for the National Championship.

#1 Alabama (12-1 SEC Champion) vs. #4 Oklahoma State (12-1 Big 12 Champion)

#2 Michigan (12-1 Big Ten Champion) vs. #3 Georgia (12-1)

National Championship game: #1 Alabama (13-1 SEC Champion) vs. #3 Georgia (13-1)

National Champion: Alabama

Number 3. 11/27/21 #2 Ohio State (10-1) at #5 Michigan (10-1) Michigan 42 Ohio State 27

            On a snowy day in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan beat Ohio State for the first time in ten years. Michigan not only beat Ohio State but dominated them rushing for nearly 300 yards on the ground with 6 touchdowns. This was a surprise to me and many others. Ohio State had won the last 8 straight (most likely 9, if Michigan hadn’t had COVID issues last year), with the last two years Ohio State putting up over 50 points on Michigan. Not to mention, Jim Harbaugh was 0-7 against Ohio State until this year. It was a big win for the program. Michigan would go on to win the Big Ten Championship convincingly against number thirteen Iowa and be ranked number two in the playoff rankings, getting a semi-final matchup with number three Georgia in the Orange Bowl.


What if Ohio State had continued their dominance over Michigan? Ohio State also would have dominated Iowa as well in the Big Ten Championship. They would also have been ranked number two with a date with Georgia. I think this matchup would have been a shootout with Ohio State ultimately prevailing. I think Ohio State’s impressive passing game with three potential NFL first round pick receivers would have exposed Georgia’s secondary. Just ask Utah, and they only had to worry about one of those receivers in the Rose Bowl. I also don’t think Georgia’s offense would have been able to match scores, even against Ohio State’s sometime suspect defense. I think in this National Championship scenario, it would also have been a shootout with Ohio State’s three receivers carving up Alabama’s secondary and Alabama’s Bryce Young making plays to keep pace with Ohio State. Remember, football is a game of position matchups. Of the different scenarios, I think this is the most entertaining scenario with the most potential points and star power from the Ohio State vs. Georgia and Ohio State vs. Alabama matchups. Remember what I said earlier about the importance of beating your rival? Ohio State could have had a completely different season.

#1Alabama (12-1 SEC Champion) vs. #4 Cincinnati (13-0 AAC Champion)

#2 Ohio State (12-1 Big Ten Champion) vs. #3 Georgia (12-1)

National Championship game: #1 Alabama (13-1) vs. #2 Ohio State (13-1)

National Champion: Ohio State

Number two. 10/2/21 #7 Cincinnati (3-0) at #9 Notre Dame (3-0)

Cincinnati 24 Notre Dame 13

            Don’t let the score fool you, Cincinnati was in control of this game on the road. They led Notre Dame 17-0 at halftime. This was a big win for Cincinnati, legitimizing their case to make the playoffs after back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. The committee would have had a very hard time leaving out the 13-0 AAC Champions. This was Notre Dame’s only loss of the season, but this was where Notre Dame not being in a conference hurt them. At 11-1 hypothetically, they would have been in a conference championship game to further make their case for the playoffs.


Here’s where the chaos begins. Had Notre Dame won, they would have finished the season 12-0 and been a lock for the playoffs. A loss by Cincinnati would have almost guaranteed that they wouldn’t make the playoffs, likely settling for a New Year’s Six bowl game. I think an undefeated Notre Dame with another playoff chance would have kept Brian Kelly at Notre Dame and LSU would have had to find someone else to be their head coach. This scenario would also have made a big shake up in the rankings. I believe the committee would have ranked Notre Dame number two behind number one Alabama with their impressive win over Georgia. This would also have bumped Michigan down to number three, instead of two and moved Georgia down to number four. Number two Notre Dame vs. number three Michigan would have been an interesting twist to the historical rivalry. I think Michigan would have won with their power running game and the twin terrors of Hutchison and Ojabo wrecking the Notre Dame offense. Jim Harbaugh has also done well against Notre Dame. Alabama-Georgia again back-to-back. I think playing Alabama twice is too much for Georgia. It would be for any team. In the hypothetical National Championship, I think Alabama’s front seven would have been too much for Michigan’s offensive line to handle. Alabama would have won again.

#1Alabama (12-1 SEC Champion) vs. #4 Georgia (12-1)

#2 Notre Dame 12-0 vs. #3 Michigan (12-1 Big Ten Champion)

National Championship game: #1 Alabama (13-1 SEC Champion) vs. #3 Michigan (13-1 Big Ten Champion)

National Champion: Alabama

Number one. 12/4/21 #1 Georgia (12-0) vs. #3 Alabama (11-1) Alabama 41 Georgia 24

Mercedes Benz Stadium, home of the SEC Championship

            A clash of familiar foes, Georgia-Alabama. What does Georgia have to gain? A win secures them as The team to beat in the playoffs, shakes off past Alabama demons, knocks Alabama out of the playoffs and win the SEC title. For Alabama, it was pretty simple, -win and you are in, lose and you are knocked out. As we saw, Georgia could afford to lose and still make the playoffs as the three seed. Going into this game it was believed that we could see this matchup again. Would you look at that? First in the SEC Championship and now in the National Championship. After this game was over there was talk of how the committee would rank Alabama and Georgia. Would the committee purposefully rank them in a way that they wouldn’t meet in the semi-finals. They ranked Alabama number one and Georgia number three, preventing this from happening, was it on purpose? We will never know.


Georgia winning the SEC title game would have knocked Alabama out of the playoffs, giving themselves and the other three teams a better chance. Georgia would have been the undisputed number one team in the playoffs. With Alabama out, Cincinnati would have moved up to number three and Notre Dame would have come in at number four without Brian Kelly. Brian Kelly left for LSU on November 29th before the SEC Championship game. Had this scenario played out, it would have been odd that a team that made the playoffs without their head coach. Now back to the games, I think Georgia would have imposed their will on Notre Dame with their elite defensive line suffocating the Notre Dame offense. On offense, Georgia would have likely been able to do whatever they wanted, similar to the game against Michigan. On the other side of the bracket. Michigan’s power run game would be too much for Cincinnati and Michigan’s defensive ends Aiden Hutchinson and David Ojabo would have made Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder’s life very difficult. For the National Championship scenario, Georgia vs. Michigan, Georgia would once again dominate. For Georgia this season, Alabama was their only obstacle to dominance with them out of the playoffs, the path to the Championship would have gotten easier.

#1 Georgia (13-0 SEC Champion) vs. #4 Notre Dame (11-1)

#2 Michigan (12-1 Big Ten Champion) vs. #3 Cincinnati (13-0 AAC Champion)

National Championship game: #1 Georgia (14-0) vs. #2 Michigan (13-1) National Champion: Georgia

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