The College Football Playoff in 2017 featured Clemson (12-1), reigning national champions and winners of the ACC, Oklahoma (12-1), winners of the Big XII, Georgia (12-1), winners of the SEC, and Alabama (12-1), SEC West runner-ups.
In its fourth season, the top four teams were pretty clear-cut. Ohio State, winners of the Big Ten, was ranked fifth due to their two losses to Oklahoma (the famous Baker Mayfield flag-planting game, 31-16) and Iowa (a massive road upset, 55-24).
#6 Wisconsin lost their only game to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, pushing them out of the fourth spot. Auburn, who finished ranked #7 at 10-3, had wins over Alabama (the Crimson Tide’s only loss) and Georgia, but lost the rematch to the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game. #8 USC won the Pac-12, but also had two losses.
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 Clemson (ACC Champ, 12-1)
#2 Oklahoma (Big XII Champ, 12-1)
#3 Georgia (SEC Champ, 12-1)
#4 Ohio State (Big Ten Champ, 11-2)
#5 USC (Pac-12 Champ, 11-2)
#6 UCF (American Conference Champ, 12-0)
#7 Alabama (SEC At-Large, 11-1)
#8 Wisconsin (Big Ten At-Large, 12-1)
#9 Auburn (SEC At-Large, 10-3)
#10 Penn State (Big Ten At-Large, 10-2)
#11 Miami (ACC At-Large, 10-2)
#12 Washington (Pac-12 At-Large, 10-2)
Number of Teams by Conference:
Big Ten: 3
Big XII: 1
The debate for the final spots was between Miami, Stanford, TCU, and Washington.
Stanford had the head-to-head over Washington, but also suffered four losses (two to USC). Three of those losses were by three points, whereas Washington only had two losses and capped off their season by beating a ranked Washington State, 41-14. TCU was also a strong candidate because of their win over Oklahoma State, who finished with 10 wins. TCU suffered losses to Iowa State and Oklahoma (twice). If they would’ve kept the Big XII Championship Game closer, they would’ve stood a better chance.
Miami started off the year 10-0 before losing a close game in Pittsburgh and getting throttled by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Washington didn’t play for the Pac-12 title due to their two close losses to Arizona State and Stanford. Their Apple Cup victory over 9-2 Washington State to end the regular season is what gives them the bid.
UCF was the lone undefeated team and was ranked 12th in the final CFP rankings, giving them the sixth automatic bid as a conference champion. Boise State (10-3) had a strong season as well, losing a triple OT game to Washington State while also falling to Virginia and Fresno State. They would avenge their loss to Fresno the following week in the Mountain West Championship Game.
First Round Rundown:
#12 Washington @ #5 USC
Los Angeles, California
USC and Washington never met in Pac-12 play this season, so this would have been a must watch classic and probably the night game for the first round. USC was playing as well as anybody toward the end of the season behind QB Sam Darnold. The Trojans would have likely taken this Pac-12 battle.
#11 Miami @ #6 UCF
This would have made for a fun in-state matchup in the first round. With Miami skidding off the path of their unbeaten season late in 2017, UCF was riding high. The Knights had one of the best offenses in the country and arguably would have been favored in this hypothetical matchup.
#10 Penn State @ #7 Alabama
The Nittany Lions were fantastic in 2017, only losing to Ohio State by one and Michigan State by three in back-to-back games. Alabama’s defense against RB Saquon Barkley would’ve been an interesting storyline.
#9 Auburn @ #8 Wisconsin
The Badgers and Tigers were both losers of their conference championship games. While the SEC West was better than the Big Ten West, both teams posted stout defenses in 2017. A northern winter game would’ve benefited Wisconsin in this defensive showdown.
#8 Wisconsin @ #1 Clemson
Clemson, South Carolina
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor and his offensive line would’ve been an awesome battle to watch against Clemson’s young, up and coming defensive front. The dynamic of this game would’ve pushed the needle to either side, especially with the strength of both defenses.
#7 Alabama @ #2 Oklahoma
QB Baker Mayfield’s 2017 Oklahoma team was the best shot that the Sooners had at winning a national title. A double overtime thriller against Georgia in the CFP semifinals showed just how competitive this offense was. Alabama, on the other hand, won the national championship over Georgia in overtime. Those three teams were probably the closest in talent that CFP teams have ever been, and a hypothetical home game for the Sooners could’ve given them a victory.
#6 UCF @ #3 Georgia
UCF capped off the actual 2017 season with a victory over Auburn, a team that Georgia was able to take out in the SEC title game after losing to them handily just three weeks prior. The Bulldogs and their trio of RBs Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and D’Andre Swift would’ve been favored over the upset-seeking Knights.
#5 USC @ #4 Ohio State
The Trojans and Buckeyes met in the actual Rose Bowl this season; Ohio State won that game handily, 24-7. OSU and QB J.T. Barrett would’ve clinched a semifinal berth in their home stadium.
#8 Wisconsin vs #2 Oklahoma
Rose Bowl: Pasadena, California
In a matchup that hasn’t been seen since 1970, the Sooners and Badgers would’ve met in a potential Rose Bowl matchup. Oklahoma would’ve been the favorite as they emerged as one of the more efficient all-around offenses in the country.
#4 Ohio State vs #3 Georgia
Sugar Bowl: New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s hard to imagine that this game would’ve been close for the Buckeyes, who struggled at various times throughout the season. The Georgia offense would’ve been the best that Ohio State has seen since Oklahoma’s in their week two loss.
CFP National Championship:
#3 Georgia vs #2 Oklahoma
Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Atlanta, Georgia
The Bulldogs won an instant classic in the actual 2017 Rose Bowl against the Sooners, which is one of the greatest semifinal games of the CFP era. In this hypothetical scenario, Georgia and Oklahoma meet again in Atlanta for the national championship.
CFP National Champions: Georgia Bulldogs