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What-if: Exploring the 2014 College Football Playoff revised under newly proposed format

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With a 12-team playoff format nearing approval, let’s take a trip down memory lane and see how the legendary 2014 Horned Frog team would fare in this scenario.

Photo courtesy of gofrogs.com
Michael Clements/TCU Media Relations

Nearly a full seven years have gone by since TCU was blatantly snubbed from a trip to the first ever College Football Playoff, and I believe I speak for all Horned Frog fans when I say I will NEVER forget what transpired on the final selection show of the 2014 football season.

Ever since then, it’s almost as if TCU paved the way for the playoff committee to justify minimizing opportunities to other smaller programs such as last season’s Cincinnati team or 2017’s undefeated UCF team.

I will admit I believe a playoff format is far superior to the #1 vs #2 championship format we had with the BCS, but the four-team system has had many, many faults. 2014 TCU, 2016 Penn State, 2017 UCF, arguably 2019 Memphis, 2020 Cincinnati and 2020 Coastal Carolina - the list of incredible seasons that are seemingly ignored by this 13-member “unbiased” group of athletic directors and commissioners we are just oh so lucky to have could go on forever.

As you could probably tell, I could rant about the four-team playoff format and the committee all day, but that’s not why I’m here. A new leaf has turned in the realm of college football as fans’ cries from all over the country have finally been heard. Last month a 12-team expansion playoff format was officially proposed to the entire group of FBS commissioners and has progressed to the next phase of approval.

This 12-team playoff would be made up of six of the highest ranked conference champions and six at-large teams, with the top four seeded conference champions receiving an automatic first-round bye. As for the rest of the field, seeds 5-12 will duke it out in classic tournament style where 5 plays 12, 6 plays 11, and so on and so forth.

Though nothing has been made official, and most likely won’t be until sometime this fall, the fact that the proposal even passed the first stage of approval is promising.

Before I go any further — it’s about damn time.

A large chunk of College football fans have been yearning for an expanded playoff field ever since the format was introduced in 2014. Our prayers have finally been answered.

Of course, even if this 12-team format is fully approved we will have to wait a few years before anything can be inaugurated due to the tricky television contracts. As of now, ESPN’s deal with the four-team playoff format runs until the 2026 season, though rumors are the 2023 season has been tipped as the earliest any change could be implemented.

The expanded playoff format is everything college football has been missing ever since the retirement of the BCS system. Opening the field from four teams to twelve teams will not only eliminate a large portion of the committee’s biased tendencies to favor larger alumni networks such as Ohio State, but it will also allow more opportunities to the group of five programs that would never have had a legitimate chance before the revision.

Moving from the top-four to the top-twelve will still leave room for debate as to who deserves the 12th and final spot, but I would much rather be arguing over which two-loss team to leave out rather than which 11-1 conference champion should take a seat for a second SEC team.

The door is wide open for smaller programs to prove to the committee they belong in some of these conversations.

Aside from just the opportunity to reach the playoffs, this potential transition could result in a massive transformation in the recruiting process. Of course it wouldn’t be completely devastating to the blue-blood programs, but the amount of blue-chip recruits that attend the same 10 or so schools is uncanny. This change could fluctuate those numbers.

Graphic via 247sports

For reference, when the four-team playoff began in 2014, no team had above a 75% blue-chip ratio whereas now we are seeing some of the highest blue-chip ratios of all time. There has been a trend of some sort of weird playoff inflation and the talent isn’t being distributed as evenly as it once was.

With a more open playoff field, talented recruits will be more apt to attend smaller schools as now the playoff could have more variety than just Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma every year.

With the possibility of a 12-team playoff being implemented as soon as the 2023 season, one can only wonder what would have been if the playoff had 12 teams every year. It’s nearly impossible to say the champion would have won out regardless each year, but one thing I do know is that the 2014 TCU Horned Frogs had as good a chance as anybody to hoist the trophy when it was all said and done. The committee was shakin’ in their boots at the thought of Trevone Boykin and the boys dropping 50+ on Alabama on prime time TV.

In lieu of the recent college football news and frankly, the lack of TCU sporting events over the summer, I’ve put together a “What-if” scenario for the 2014 season, where the Horned Frogs would have been slotted as the six seed in a 12-team field.

Before we dive too deep, the final 2014 rankings read as follows:

  • 1. Alabama, 12-1
  • 2. Oregon, 12-1
  • 3. Florida State, 13-0
  • 4. Ohio State, 12-1
  • 5. Baylor, 11-1
  • 6. TCU, 11-1
  • 7. Mississippi State, 10-2
  • 8. Michigan State, 10-2
  • 9. Mississippi, 9-3
  • 10. Arizona, 10-3
  • 11. Kansas State, 9-3
  • 12. Georgia Tech, 10-3

With the first few out being:

  • 13. Georgia, 9-3
  • 14. UCLA, 9-3
  • 15. Arizona State, 9-3

As debatable as these final rankings are, we’re rolling with it for this hypothetical scenario where the Horned Frogs would be matched up against Kansas State in round one.

If a 12-team format was in play in 2014, I wholeheartedly believe the committee would have kept TCU and Baylor at #3 and #4 in the final rankings because their thirst for the Buckeyes would have been quenched at the five-seed, but I digress.

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State would receive the first round bye in this scenario with the first-round matchups as follows:

  • No. 5 Baylor vs No. 12 Georgia Tech
  • No. 6 TCU vs No. 11 Kansas State
  • No. 7 Miss. St. vs No. 10 Arizona
  • No. 8 Mich. St. vs No. 9 Ole Miss

I took the liberty of filling out a complete bracket including final score predictions of every game in this hypothetical playoff bracket. I tried to eliminate any sort of bias in my selection process, but considering the 2014 TCU team was (in my opinion) the best team in program history, of course I’m rockin’ with the Horned Frogs!

The majority of my first round picks are self explanatory. 2014 Ole Miss is the same team that handed Alabama their only loss of the year, so I have them advancing and giving the Crimson Tide a run for their money in the second round.

Mississippi State is another obvious first-round pick in my opinion. Led by current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, this Bulldog team spent three weeks as the No. 1 ranked team; good enough for the fourth most time spent at No. 1 in the playoff era.

Unfortunately for Mississippi State, they lost two of their last three regular season games to drop in the rankings which is exactly why I think they would be an underrated squad for this scenario.

Down goes Oregon, Hail State.

The only major upset of the first round I picked is 12-seed Georgia Tech over 5-seed Baylor. This Georgia Tech team was two fluke one-possession losses from a perfect regular season and I will gladly advance them over the group that tarnished the Horned Frogs undefeated run.

Sadly, the underdog run would end in the second round as I doubt Georgia Tech would have a shot of keeping up with the 2014 Buckeyes.

For TCU’s first round matchup against Kansas State, this one is a no brainer. The Frogs beat the Wildcats handily in their regular season meeting 41-20, and I don’t see anything different panning out in the postseason. Frogs by two possessions at least.

This would lead to a matchup against Mr. Crab Legs himself — Jameis Winston. Don’t get me wrong, the 2014 Seminoles are a phenomenal football team, but Coach P and co. would have thrown out offensive schemes Jimbo Fisher could only dream of seeing in the ACC.

I think the game would go down to the wire, but I have the 2014 Frogs winning by two and coming up with a big defensive stop late in the game to eliminate the possibility of a last second field goal.

For the semifinal matchups, we’ve got:

  • No. 1 Alabama vs No. 4 Ohio State
  • No 6. TCU vs No. 7 Mississippi State

Considering Alabama and Ohio State met in the actual 2014 playoffs, I simply copy and pasted the final score from that game where Cardale Jones shocked the world.

As for the other semifinal game, I still have dreams about this potential matchup. Trevone Boykin and Dak Prescott sharing the field would have been amazing to see, and I’m sure it would have called for one hell of a game.

As dominant as the Bulldogs were for the majority of the 2014 regular season, they showed some faults late in the year whereas the Horned Frogs seemed to improve every week after their 61-58 loss to Baylor (gross).

I believe this would be a close game determined by whoever makes the most mistakes. In my hypothetical scenario, I have the Horned Frogs sneaking away with a four-point win and reaching their first national championship game since before anyone reading this was born.

Buckeyes. Horned Frogs. The hypothetical national championship game is set. This matchup would have been an instant classic. Of course, I have TCU winning the national championship in a 58-51 shootout over the Buckeyes with Boykin putting up a smooth 400 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns.

Again, everything in this scenario is hypothetical, but if this were to play out in real life I guarantee Coach Patterson and the Frogs would approach this game with a chip on their shoulder wanting to prove to the committee they belonged in the top four.

I will go to my grave knowing for a FACT that TCU was snubbed a national championship title; though in reality Horned Frog fans only have these “what-ifs” and “what could have been” to keep us sane.

Whether you agree or disagree with my 2014 12-team playoff bracket, the overall intention of this was to showcase how crazy, entertaining and unpredictable a 12-team format could be. This is what college football fans have been asking for for years, and it’s about time the NCAA listens.

Even though this 2014 scenario doesn’t include any true Cinderella teams such as the 2020 undefeated Coastal Carolina squad, a 12-team format would allow for these breakout group of five programs to prove their worth.

I’m curious to hear what your predictions would be/would have been if the 2014 college football playoff was expanded to 12 teams! Also, how do you feel about this potential new format in general? Let me know in the comment section below!