The inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014 featured Alabama (12-1), winners of the SEC, Oregon (12-1), winners of the Pac-12, Florida State (13-0), reigning national champions and winners of the ACC, and Ohio State (12-1), winners of the Big Ten.
In its first season, there were already debates as to who should be the four teams in the playoff. A lot of the debate centered around Ohio State, who had a bad loss to Virginia Tech early in the year, getting in the playoff over one-loss Big XII co-champs Baylor and TCU.
Even though Baylor beat TCU in the regular season, the Big XII gave both teams a share of the league title (The Big XII did not have a conference championship game from 2011 to 2016). The move by the Big XII certainly didn’t help the conference’s playoff chances, but fortunately for the playoff committee, the four-seed Ohio State Buckeyes won the whole thing.
For this hypothetical, we’ll give the top six conference champions the top six seeds, with six at-larges being the seven through 12 seeds. We’ll also add in a re-seeding process after each round, just like the NFL playoffs.
#1 Alabama (SEC Champ, 12-1)
#2 Oregon (Pac-12 Champ, 12-1)
#3 Florida State (ACC Champ, 13-0)
#4 Ohio State (Big Ten Champ, 12-1)
#5 Baylor (Big XII Champ, 11-1)
#6 Marshall (Conference USA Champ, 12-1)
#7 TCU (Big XII At-Large, 11-1)
#8 Michigan State (Big Ten At-Large, 10-2)
#9 Ole Miss (SEC At-Large, 9-3)
#10 Mississippi State (SEC At-Large, 10-2)
#11 Georgia Tech (ACC At-Large, 10-3)
#12 Kansas State (Big XII At-Large, 9-3)
Number of Teams by Conference:
Big XII: 3
Big Ten: 2
Conference USA: 1
The debate for the final spots was between Arizona, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, and UCLA.
Arizona and UCLA both had three losses, with the Bruins winning the head-to-head contest during the season. Neither team finished the season strong as UCLA lost to Stanford by three touchdowns to prevent them from playing in the conference championship game while Arizona got pummeled by Oregon in their place.
Georgia Tech had a memorable season and almost pulled off the upset over undefeated Florida State for the ACC title. Kansas State only lost to Baylor, TCU, and Auburn, but played all of them tough. For those reasons, Georgia Tech and Kansas State received the final two bids.
Boise State finished ahead of Marshall in the final CFP rankings in 2014, but the Broncos had two losses (to playoff bound Ole Miss and an Air Force team that finished 10-3). Marshall’s lone loss was a 67-66 overtime classic against Western Kentucky.
First Round Rundown:
#12 Kansas State @ #5 Baylor
The first round consisted of a rematch between Kansas State and Baylor, which gives the Bears the head-to-head edge based on the regular season result.
#11 Georgia Tech @ #6 Marshall
Huntington, West Virginia
Georgia Tech played all of their ACC opponents tough in 2014, giving them the edge over Conference USA’s Marshall in Huntington.
#10 Mississippi State @ #7 TCU
Fort Worth, Texas
QB Treyvon Boykin’s TCU offense was simply too prolific for Mississippi State and QB Dak Prescott, who began to slip at the tail end of the season after being the first top-ranked team in the CFP’s initial rankings; granted, the Bulldogs played a monstrous schedule.
#9 Ole Miss @ #8 Michigan State
East Lansing, Michigan
In the final first round game, Ole Miss and Michigan State would meet in a tossup that favors the Spartans, whose two losses came at the hands of Oregon and Ohio State – both played in the actual CFP final that year.
#11 Georgia Tech @ #1 Alabama
After the reseeding, Georgia Tech would run into the buzz saw that was Alabama’s offense. With NFL talents in WR Amari Cooper and RB Derrick Henry, the Yellow Jackets would not be favored to win.
#8 Michigan State @ #2 Oregon
Michigan State would rematch with QB Marcus Mariota’s Oregon, but would have a difficult time overcoming the 19-point defeat they suffered in early September.
#7 TCU @ #3 Florida State
TCU was on fire in 2014 while Florida State won four straight one-possession games to close their season. Despite the Seminoles’ unblemished record, TCU would have the advantage in a hypothetical quarterfinal.
#5 Baylor @ #4 Ohio State
Baylor and Ohio State would be an interesting matchup, but RB Ezekiel Elliot finished the actual 2014 season with 200+ yard rushing performances against Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon. The mid-2000s was the peak of the Big XII stereotype that the conference played bad defense. This Baylor team was no exception.
#7 TCU vs #1 Alabama
Sugar Bowl: New Orleans, Louisiana
TCU didn’t have the defense that Alabama had, so they would’ve had to rely on a shootout to get the win over the Crimson Tide. This game has the hypothetical logic of being close, but the odds go in favor of number one.
#4 Ohio State vs #2 Oregon
Rose Bowl: Pasadena, California
Ohio State played Oregon in the first ever CFP national championship, winning 42-20. The head-to-head matchup that occurred in the postseason is valid information to use for a potential semifinal match, which would have been a perfect Big Ten / Pac-12 Rose Bowl.
CFP National Championship:
#4 Ohio State vs #1 Alabama
AT&T Stadium: Arlington, Texas
The Buckeyes rallied to come back from 15 points down in the 2014 semifinal Sugar Bowl against Alabama behind RB Ezekiel Elliot and an efficient Cardale Jones at QB. The dynamic of winning two playoff games before the national championship certainly could’ve altered that result, but Ohio State was too much for Alabama in the second half in 2014.
CFP National Champions: Ohio State Buckeyes