It’s only been about a week and half, and the lack of college football has already left a void in our hearts. That is why over the next few weeks (or months) looking back at every college football season to assess how history may have been changed if a four team playoff system would have been implemented, starting in the 1998-99 season, rather than the awful BCS.
The actual playoff matchup this season saw the 12-0 Tennessee Volunteers recover from the loss of Peyton Manning after the prior season to defeat the 11-1 ACC Champion Florida State Seminoles, led by the legend Bobby Bowden himself.
That season, Tennessee racked up many impressive victories, but almost seem like a “luck-runs-out” team as they won 6 of their 13 games that year by ten points or less. This is not to discredit Tennessee, but Tee Martin was no Peyton Manning. By Bill Connelly’s Off S&P+, the Volunteers had the #15 offense that year to go along with the #7 defense, led by future Pro Bowl linebacker Al Wilson.
On the flip side of the national championship game you had Florida State. Prior to losing the natty, they dropped an odd afternoon stunner to the eventual 7-5 NC State Wolfpack in week two. At this point, the future 2000 Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke was entering his first season as the FSU starting QB. While not having an amazing season, you could kind of tell that Weinke could be on his way to stardom. Unfortunately, the somehow 26-year-old (yes, you read that right) Weinke went down in the last game of the regular season due to injury and would not be able to return for the championship, leaving FSU without their QB to lose 23-16.
Elsewhere in the country, Ohio State was dominate until they suffered an inexplicable home loss to a conference opponent (sound familiar?), the 6-6 Saban-led Michigan State Spartans. Because of this one loss, Ohio State was kept out of the top two and sent to the Rose Bowl. Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats lost in a 2OT thriller in the Big 12 Championship, kicking them from the top two and actually completely out of a BCS Bowl due to not having a conference championship victory. UCLA could’ve been considered for the final spot in the playoff due to winning their conference championship, but Kansas State played a far more difficult schedule, so I’m sticking with the Wildcats.
No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 4 Kansas State
In this now highly unlikely matchup, I’ll take the balance and overall talent of Tennessee. The Kansas State offense was deadly, being No. 2 in the country, but the Mike Stoops led defense was the worst among the playoff teams (also sound familiar?) by being ranked 28th.
No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Ohio State
If Weinke was playing (and this hypothetical scenario was even real), we may be looking back at this matchup as one of the greatest playoff games of all time. The #16 offense and #1 defense of FSU vs. the #11 offense and #3 defense of Ohio State. I would’ve loved for this to be the championship game. With the Weinke injury I just can’t pick Florida State and I’ll say that the Buckeyes roll onto the Fiesta Bowl.
National Championship Game
No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Ohio State
This is where the luck would run out for Tennessee. The best defense Tennessee would face all year, led by Antoine Winfield, would end up giving Tee Martin and OC David Cutcliffe fits. Meanwhile, the Tennessee defense wouldn’t be able to stop the passing attack of the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Joe Germaine. His senior leadership would win out and he’d end up being remembered in the history books instead of being a name no one remembers twenty years from then.
Now here is where we really get crazy. The national championship win by John Cooper would have been the crowning moment on his Hall of Fame head coaching career. Ohio State ended up going 6-6 the next season and just 8-4 the year after that, causing Cooper to eventually lose his job. One would have to assume that Cooper may have had a longer leash if he was just two years removed from a national championship. Upon not (hypothetically) being fired after the 2000-01 season, the Buckeyes never would have hired a young up-and-comer by the name of Jim Tressel. I’ll let your imagination go from there.