We Just Saw the Greatest College Football Playoff Ever

We got not one but two amazing games. This has never happened before.

We’ve had the college football playoff in place since 2014, meaning we’ve now had 9 years of semifinal games–18 games in total.

Prior to this year, there were only three truly great, truly memorable games among them: 2014 Ohio State vs. Alabama, 2017 Georgia vs. Oklahoma and 2019 Ohio State vs. Clemson.

3 out of 16 games prior to this year were close, dramatic and not blowouts.

Pretty much everything else has been a blowout:

  1. 2014: Oregon 59, Florida State 20
  2. 2015: Clemson 37, Oklahoma 17
  3. 2015: Alabama 38, Michigan State 0
  4. 2016: Clemson 31, Ohio State 0
  5. 2016: Alabama 24, Washington 7
  6. 2017: Alabama 24, Clemson 6
  7. 2018: Alabama 45, Oklahoma 34
  8. 2018: Clemson 30, Notre Dame 3
  9. 2019: LSU 63, Oklahoma 28
  10. 2020: Alabama 31, Notre Dame 14
  11. 2020: Ohio State 49, Clemson 28
  12. 2021: Alabama 27, Cincinnati 6
  13. 2021: Georgia 34, Michigan 11

That’s an average margin of 24.5 points per game. It’s been blowout city in the semifinals.

The National Championship games have been better, but they’re still pretty hit or miss:

  • 2014: Ohio State 42, Oregon 20
  • 2015: Alabama 45, Clemson 40
  • 2016: Clemson 35, Alabama 31
  • 2017: Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT)
  • 2018: Clemson 44, Alabama 16
  • 2019: LSU 42, Clemson 25
  • 2020: Alabama 52, Ohio State 24
  • 2021: Georgia 33, Alabama 18

Still an average of 15.2 points per game. I’m not sure how well TCU will hold up against Georgia in the National Championship game, but we’ve already been treated to more incredible football in just the semifinal games than we saw in past CFPs. 2018, for example: the championship and the semifinal games were all blowouts. Same with 2020.

This year, we got not one but two all-time classic games that people will be talking about for years to come.

And this is what college football is all about. It’s about the best teams on the biggest stage laying it all on the line.

I think I can honestly say that yesterday, December 31, 2022, was the single greatest day of college football I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime. How crazy the games were, coupled with the fact that they were in the playoff–that was college football at its very best. If someone from another country wanted to know what college football was all about, I would show them those two games.

The Michigan-TCU game felt more sloppy and poorly-executed than anything else, whereas the Ohio State-Georgia game felt like a true heavyweight bout, but that’s okay. Both games were intense as shit, filled with drama and twists and turns, and were undecided until about the final minute. Both games will be talked about for a long time.

And these two games prove why we need an expanded playoff, too.

Alabama should’ve been in the playoff. That Clemson Tennessee Orange Bowl should have been a playoff game. Who cares if Hendon hooker was out? Joe Milton played a great game. And Ohio State once won a national championship with a third stringer. 

College football is a sport where teams often limp to the finish line in the regular season. We saw Ohio State play pretty terribly in the second half of the season, they were dealing with a multitude of injuries and generally just were not playing up to their potential. With a month off before the playoff game, they used the time to tighten up and heal up, and they came out looking like a completely different team against Georgia. After just one half of the game you could tell clearly that Ohio State was a much different team than the team that had been embarrassed at home by Michigan. I think the month off really helped them.

The bottom line is that teams are often not their true selves by the end of the regular season due to attrition. But you give them a month off to rest up, heal up, recharge their batteries, and get back in the lab, and you’re going to see, more often than not, a completely different team.

This TCU squad was winning games by the seat of their pants to close out the year. They even lost to K-State in the Big 12 Championship. But they like a totally different team in the playoff game. They really benefitted from the month off.

Alabama was also clearly a team that benefitted from the month off. It allowed Bryce Young to get healthy, and Bama looked like every bit of a playoff-caliber team in that Sugar Bowl win over K-State.

We’re going to see tomorrow how teams like LSU, Penn State, Utah and USC look when they play their NY6 games, but I’m sure there will be some great games on display, and we’ll all think to ourselves, “Man, it would’ve been awesome if these games were in the playoff with a championship on the line.”

I cannot wait for the 12-team playoff. It’s going to be insanity.

Ohio State fans are going to blame Jim Knowles and his defense for that game and it’s true to an extent, but Georgia’s defense played poorly as well. You think Georgia fans are happy that their defense got absolutely shredded on the back end? They’re supposed to be the program that’s known for defense.

No, Jim Knowles shouldn’t be fired for failing to turn the Ohio State defense into the 2000 Ravens in one season. I know that was what Ohio State fans expected, but those expectations were always unrealistic. That’s just the truth. I know it feels good to demand somebody be fired, but you’re childish and stupid if you demand a guy be fired after one year. Even Nick Saban had a rough first year at Alabama.

And honestly, Jim Knowles deserves a lot of credit for making some great halftime adjustments in that game. The Ohio State defense looked completely lost in the first half, but in the second half, they actually played pretty great. Ohio State forced two punts to open up the second half, and then they held Georgia to a field goal attempt on their third drive, which they missed, and that drive began at the Ohio State 32! The Buckeye defense then forced a field goal on Georgia’s next drive after Georgia got the ball all the way down to the Ohio State 3 yard line.

The 76 yard touchdown Ohio State allowed to make it 38-35, that was just the DB tripping over his own feet in coverage. Can’t really pin that on the defensive coordinator, it’s not like Jim Knowles told him to trip.

And giving up that go-ahead touchdown drive late on Georgia’s final drive, I mean, yeah you’d obviously love to get the stop there, but it’s hard for any defense—college or pro—to get a stop in the last two minutes of the game going up against a great offense. Your defense is going to be gassed no matter what. Georgia’s defense let Ohio State get into field goal range in less than 54 seconds—they gave up a 27 yard run to Stroud. Both defenses were gassed by the end.

It came down to a missed field goal. That’s really it. Ohio State probably was the better team but their kicker just missed.

Ohio State fans should be damn proud of their team for the way they bounced back after that Michigan game. Everyone—including many people in the Ohio State fanbase—gave up on this team, but they didn’t give up on themselves, and that’s extremely admirable. 

They were missing their two best receivers (JSN and Marvin Harrison), their two best running backs (Treyveon Henderson and Miyan Williams) and they were down to their third string tight end after Cade Stover got hurt. The fact that the game was a close as it was is a testament to Ryan Day’s playcalling and CJ Stroud playing the game of his life.

And I do think now there can be no questions about CJ Stroud, whether he has that dawg in him, whether or not he’s a leader of men, whether or not he can get it done in the biggest moments. He was absolutely sensational in that game. 23/34 passing for 348 yards, 4 touchdowns and 0 INTs. 10.2 yards per attempt, QBR of 93.8.

CJ Stroud proved almost everyone, including myself, wrong with his performance in that game and he deserves nothing but respect. I also think he answered a lot of questions about his NFL potential as well. That Georgia defense was as close to an NFL team as he’s faced in college, and he looked like a high-level NFL quarterback out there. 

The CJ Stroud that we saw during the Michigan game was not a high first round NFL draft pick QB. The CJ Stroud we saw against Georgia absolutely was a high first round NFL quarterback, and in my view he may have even turned himself into the #1 overall pick. That’s how good he was. He was calm and collected in the pocket, he was able to sidestep and avoid pressure on all but like one play. He made throws with touch and accuracy. And when the moment called for it, he didn’t hesitate to tuck it and run. It was a masterclass by Stroud. I can’t talk enough about how great he was in that game.

CJ Stroud did enough for Ohio State to win that game. He overcame his defense playing poorly in the first half. He overcame the fact that he was missing so many of his best offensive skill players. The Ohio State kicker just missed.

I know Ohio State fans are going to want to point the finger and fire somebody, anybody, as if it will change the outcome of the game but it really just came down to the kicker missing.

When a game comes down to a field goal at the end, that means by definition you were good enough to win on both offense and defense. You were in position to win the game. 84 of the 85 guys on your roster did enough to win, the kicker just missed.

I know people are going to say, “But it shouldn’t have come down to a kick, we should’ve been up by more!” Georgia fans can say the same thing, too.

Certainly Ohio Staten fans have a bit of a valid complaint about losing Marvin Harrison. Initially the refs called targeting but then overturned the call, which not only forced Ohio State to kick a field goal as opposed to getting a fresh set of downs inside the two yard line, but knocked their best player out for the game. You could tell Ohio State’s offense wasn’t the same without him.

But the real issue there is with the definition of targeting itself. The hit on Marvin Harrison wasn’t targeting. It just wasn’t. It did not fit the rulebook definition of targeting. Targeting is when you lead with the head—basically spearing. The Georgia DB Bullard didn’t lead with his head. He led with his shoulder. 

That said, it was still a blow to the head of a defenseless receiver. Harrison got a concussion on the play. So clearly something should’ve been flagged. But that’s just the problem: in college football the call was for targeting, which is a very specific action. In the NFL they can just throw a flag for general unnecessary roughness, which is probably what that hit on Harrison qualified as. But I might be wrong, college football doesn’t have unnecessary roughness; just targeting. And it really is a problem for the sport, because that hit should’ve been flagged, but since it wasn’t targeting, it was technically a clean play per the refs.

In the NFL it would’ve been a flag for unnecessary roughness, blow to the head. In the NFL they don’t care if you lead with your head or your shoulder, if you hit a defenseless receiver in the head it’s a 15 yard penalty. So college football refs kind of have their hands tied with having to adhere to the targeting definition.

If Ohio State had gotten that call, they probably win the game. They were unstoppable on offense all game and would’ve had a first and goal from the 1 or the 2 up 35-24. They score a TD and go up 42-24 in the 4th quarter and it’s probably ballgame. Because they later got a field goal, which put them at 41. But if they’d gotten the TD instead of the field goal after the Harrison hit, it would’ve been 45 instead of 41.

If you want to pin the game on somebody other than the kicker, blame the NCAA rules for being so convoluted when it comes to targeting. They should just have a more general unnecessary roughness flag that doesn’t have a very specific definition. It would be like the old definition of pornography: I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.

The bottom line is that it wasn’t targeting if you go by the book definition. It simply wasn’t. It should’ve been flagged regardless but the way the rules work in college football, they don’t flag guys for unnecessary roughness. They only flag targeting. And targeting has a very narrow and specific definition. It’s a major blind spot for the sport because essentially you can hit a defenseless receiver right in the head and cause a concussion, and it won’t be flagged if you didn’t lead with the head.

It’s why the targeting rule is broken.

This one is going to hurt for a long time for Ohio State fans. It’s going to hurt even more than the 2019 semifinal loss to Clemson, because in this one, Ohio State had a 38-24 lead going into the 4th quarter. They had it in the palm of their hand. There was a point early in that 4th quarter where I was thinking to myself, “So Ohio State is going to win the National Championship, then.”

And let’s be real here: this game was the real National Championship. Georgia isn’t losing to TCU, nor would Ohio State have lost to them, either.

In 2019, Ohio State, even if they did beat Clemson in that semifinal game, they were still going to have to face Joe Burrow’s LSU squad in the National Championship. And I don’t think anybody was beating them that year.

This year, though, the National Championship would’ve been Ohio State’s to lose. Georgia has already opened up as a 13.5 point favorite over TCU, and Ohio State probably would’ve been around there as well.

I said it when the playoff field was first announced: whoever won the Georgia vs. Ohio State game was going to win the National Championship.

Look, TCU is an amazing story. I don’t want to take anything away from them at all. I like Georgia a lot personally, but obviously I’m going to be pulling for TCU in the Natty because Georgia won it last year and it would be an incredible story if TCU were to win the whole thing. But TCU can’t beat Georgia. Georgia is just on a completely different level than Michigan.

I’ve been saying all season long that Michigan is fraudulent, they just hadn’t played anybody capable of exposing them. Finally, they got exposed.

I mean, when a team makes its name on playing suffocating defense and only allowing 13 points a game all season, and then they give up 51 in the playoff, that means they were fraudulent. There’s no way around it.

We heard all season about how NOBODY scores on Michigan in the second half of games, but TCU scored 30 points on them in the second half of that game. I guess technically it would be 23 because TCU had a pick six in both the first and second halves.

Michigan gave up 263 yards on the ground to TCU. 6.4 yards per carry. That is not some elite Michigan defense. That’s a defense that just hadn’t been tested all year.

Yes, I know they largely shut down Ohio State, but I went over that game in depth: that game more about Ohio State playing like shit than anything else.

I tried to say it right after the Ohio State-Michigan game, but Michigan fans didn’t want to hear it. They wanted to believe that they just manhandled Ohio State and were head and shoulders above Ohio State and blah blah blah.

I think these semifinal games prove Michigan’s win over Ohio State was a fluke. You cannot have watched those two games and concluded that Michigan was a better team than Ohio State. No way. I wish we could’ve seen Michigan go up against that Georgia team just so it could’ve been proven beyond all doubt: there is no way that Michigan offense, which basically relies on busted coverages in the secondary to score most of their points, would have scored on Georgia’s defense.

This one is going to sting for Ohio State and Michigan fans, for sure.

Michigan perhaps in particular because I think there’s a very good chance Jim Harbaugh leaves for the NFL after this year. This might be their last best chance with him. Michigan will return a lot of good players next season, but if they don’t have Harbaugh, all bets are off. Who knows how many of those guys will transfer out?

As for Ohio State, I don’t think they’ll ever get over this game, truly, because they had it and then lost it.

However, on the flip side, Ohio State will probably be in the playoff 9 out of every 10 years at a minimum now that it’s expanding to 12 teams in 2024. It’s possible they’ll miss it next season just because they’re losing Stroud and a few other key players, and next year is still the 4-team format, but Ohio State also has a lot of their best players as sophomores or redshirt freshmen, so they’ll be loaded again next year. They’ll probably be better on defense if anything, so honestly they could win it next year.

But once the playoff expands, Ohio State is rarely if ever going to miss it.

I did the research on how a 12-team playoff would’ve looked in every year dating back to the start of the BCS in 1998: Ohio State would’ve only missed a 12-team playoff three times over the past 20 years. Once would’ve been in 2004, when they went 8-4 and finished ranked 20th, again in 2011 after Jim Tressel had to resign over the tattoo thing and they went 6-7, and then in 2012, but only because they were under a bowl ban by the NCAA.

So Ohio State will have plenty of chances to avenge this loss. I really do think Ryan Day will get a Natty sometime soon here. He was so, so close this year, and while this loss is going to sting badly for a long time, I do think Day will get there eventually.

Ohio State fans think the sky is falling because they’re lagging behind in the NIL department, but does anybody really think Ohio State won’t get it figured out? They have the richest athletic department in the nation, one of the largest alumni networks in the nation, and they are one of the most prestigious and storied college football programs in the nation. They are not about to fall off because they can’t figure out NIL.

Now I’d like to circle back and talk about how much better the playoff would’ve been if it were a 12-team format this year.

This is what it would’ve looked like:

  1. Georgia, 13-0 (SEC Champion)
  2. Michigan, 13-0 (Big Ten Champion)
  3. Clemson, 11-2 (ACC Champion)
  4. Utah, 10-3 (Pac 12 Champion)
  5. TCU, 12-1 (at large)
  6. Ohio State, 11-1 (at large)
  7. Alabama, 10-2 (at large)
  8. Tennessee, 10-2 (at large)
  9. Kansas State, 10-3 (Big 12 Champion)
  10. USC, 11-2 (at large)
  11. Penn State, 10-2 (at large)
  12. Tulane, 11-2 (AAC Champion)

So then the playoff field for the first round would have been:

  1. (12) Tulane at (5) TCU — Winner plays (4) Utah
  2. (11) Penn State at (6) Ohio State — Winner plays (3) Clemson
  3. (10) USC at (7) Alabama — Winner plays (2) Michigan
  4. (9) K-State at (8) Tennessee — Winner plays (1) Georgia

Georgia, Michigan, Clemson and Utah would’ve had first round byes.

I think those would’ve been some fun games. TCU probably would put Tulane away pretty easily. But Ohio State and Penn State played a really good game earlier in the season that was close until late. Bama probably would beat USC by 10-14 but USC would’ve put up some points. And then K-State vs. Tennessee would’ve been a good matchup.

In the quarterfinal round, we’d have (5) TCU vs. (4) Utah, (6) Ohio State vs. (3) Clemson, (7) Alabama vs. (2) Michigan and (8) Tennessee vs. (1) Georgia.

In my opinion, our final four would’ve been TCU vs. Georgia and then Ohio State vs. Alabama.

A 12-team playoff would have been better than this year’s 4 team playoff simply because there would be more games. More games = more opportunity for great games.

Now, this year was a bit unique in that there wasn’t any single team that was head and shoulders above the rest of the country. Even the four playoff teams were all flawed. There was a lot of parity this season, and that’s not usually the case.

If you’ve been reading my site, you know I’m a big believer in the idea that a 12-team playoff will bring more parity to the sport by design, because it will alleviate the bottleneck that forces all the talent to the top 4-5 programs.

But regardless, more games = more opportunities for great games. It’s as simple as that.

As great as this playoff was, it would’ve been even greater if there were 12 teams instead of 4.

We’d get four weekends of playoff games instead of just 2.

That comes out to 11 total playoff games instead of just 3.

I don’t understand how on earth anybody could say no to EIGHT MORE of these playoff games than we currently have.

You’d honestly have to hate football to not want an expanded playoff.

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