The Sweep: Imagining a playoffs

Lennon imagined world peace, no religion and no possessions. We imagine no BCS, not that we're shallow by comparison or anything. Seed 24 teams using this weeks' rankings exclusive to The Sweep and bracket them up against each other. Stanford's hypothetical path is Iowa, Cincinnati, TCU, Florida and Texas should they keep winning -- how far do we think the Card could go?

2009 Week 14 Top 25
1. Florida
2. Texas +1
3. Alabama -1
4. TCU
5. Cincinnati
6. Boise State
7. Oregon
8. Ohio State +2
9. Penn State +2
10. Georgia Tech -3
11. Pittsburgh -2
12. Iowa
13. Oregon State +1
14. Virginia Tech +5
15. BYU +1
16. LSU -1
17. Miami
18. Cal
19. USC +4
20. Nebraska +4
21. Stanford +4
22. Oklahoma State -9
23. Wisconsin +2
24. Utah +1
25. West Virginia +1

Questions, comments, concerns? Dannovi on this site or daniel@thebootleg.com.

Imagine a playoff
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

That's Lennon's version. We'll leave the parody BCS version to that poster who writes epic poems about upcoming Stanford games. But whatever words you use, what's unmistakable is that this would be one heckuva post-season if there were a playoff this year.

That's doubly true for us Cardinal fans. Say there were a 24-team playoff. (Most proposals I've seen have 2-8 teams, but remember, we're imagining.) Teams that are ranked in the high teens or low 20's have the talent to hang with all but the top three teams in the country, and if any of those teams at the bottom of the polls have gotten hot at the right time, they could be a mighty scary out in such a playoff. A team ranked in the low 20's that's getting hot right now? Oh yeah, that sounds like Stanford. Imagine the havoc we could wreak in such a playoff system. Using our rankings, the bracket would look like this.

24-Team Playoff, 2009

First round

Teams No. 1 – No. 8 receive a bye.
24. Utah at No. 9 Penn State
23. Wisconsin at 10. Georgia Tech
22. Oklahoma State at No. 11 Pittsburgh
21. Stanford at 12. Iowa
20. Nebraska at No. 13 Oregon State
19. USC at No. 14. Virginia Tech
18 Cal at No. 15 BYU
17. Miami at No. 16 LSU

Stanford has won three of its last four in one of the toughest four-game gauntlets any team can face. Iowa had a Cinderella start to their season, but is coming up pumpkin of late, having lost their QB Ricky Stanzi to injury and having lost outright to Northwestern. Seeing as we didn't lose to Northwestern, I think Stanford would beat Iowa.

I think Nebraska's defense would be able to shut down Oregon State's run game and USC would be able to outscore a VT team that has trouble putting points on the board. I also like Cal against BYU and Sagarin agrees. So I'll go with those upsets to avoid all chalk. Here's our resultant Round 2.

Second round
16. LSU vs. 1. Florida
No. 18 Cal vs. 2. Texas
No. 19 USC vs. 3. Alabama
No. 20 Nebraska vs. 4. TCU
No. 21 Stanford vs. 5. Cincinnati
No. 11 Pittsburgh vs. 6. Boise State
No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. 7. Oregon
No. 9 Penn State vs. 8. Ohio State

Instead of being at the higher-seeded team's stadium, these games are neutral site, as they'd be played as the minor bowl games in Shreveport, La. and Mobile, Ala. and Toronto and Houston and El Paso and all the rest. Stanford in this hypothetical gets a really nice draw (which, if history is any guide, is how you know it's a hypothetical), because Cincinnati is No. 5 in name only. Heck, they're not even favored against two-loss Pitt this weekend. Their defense has given up 45, 21 and 36 to three so-so teams the last three weeks and is especially weak against the run. Stanford's big boys would eat them up and I say the Card win in a 45-42 shootout akin to this past Saturday.

In other games, Florida and Ohio State have already beat LSU and Penn State, and I don't think Cal, Nebraska or Georgia Tech would have a fighting chance. I'll go with the upset of USC finally putting it together and getting past Alabama – heck, they'd only need 17 points to do it – and let's say Pitt knocks those Cinderella slippers off Boise. Chalk otherwise.

Third round

No. 8 Ohio State vs. 1. Florida (Sugar)
No. 7 Oregon vs. 2. Texas (Cotton)
No. 11 Pittsburgh vs. No. 19 USC (Holiday)
4. TCU vs. No. 21 Stanford (Fiesta)

And then there were eight. Florida/Ohio State is an obvious call after the beatdown of three years ago and the teams' respective BCS histories. This USC nonsense has gone on long enough, let's put Pitt through to the Final Four. I'd feel better about Pitt basketball's chances at the Final Four, but hey, that's how the bracket turned out. Oregon and Texas would be another shootout, but I trust Colt McCoy more than anyone else on that field, and so I think Texas would find a way to eke out a thriller.

Finally, of course, would be Stanford/TCU, and while the teams have history, neither of these teams are the same as the squads that met in 2008 and 2007. Now, as before, TCU's rush defense is pretty close to No. 1 nationally. Now, in marked contrast to before, Stanford's rush attack ain't too far from No. 1 nationally either. It'd be strength against strength and an absolutely amazing game. Honestly, I think TCU and Stanford battle to a draw when the Card have the ball, so maybe Stanford has a good-but-not-great day offensively, like they did against Cal. I don't know much about TCU's offense, but I do know plenty about our defensive woes this year, and so I think TCU gets enough points to hang on, and enough crucial first downs in the fourth quarter to run out the clock. But it would be close and we'd walk away proud of our team for fighting in an epic game.

Semifinals
No. 4 TCU vs. No. 1 Florida (Rose)
No. 11 Pitt vs. No. 2 Texas (Orange)

Texas is the no-brainer. TCU I think really gives Florida a run for its money because the 2009 Gator offense is not as good as people think it is, and there's something to that cliché about defense winning championships. Still, the superior athleticism of the Gators wins out in the end. Afterwards, TCU players talk about how much Stanford knocked out of them the week before and so they didn't have their legs in the fourth quarter. Florida's win sets up a national title game that's not that far-fetched at all.

Finals No. 2 Texas vs. No. 1 Florida (Rotates)

The national title game could continue to rotate among the four major bowls as it does now. Indeed, here's where fantasy and reality merge, as the chances are rather high that we do see a Texas/Florida title game in short order. I have no idea what's going to happen, but one team won last year's national title and returned all 11 defensive starters, and it wasn't Texas. The call is for Florida to repeat as national champs to cap what would be an undoubtedly phenomenal month of college football.

I think sometimes in the playoff/BCS debate, we lose sight of exactly what we're missing out on. It's one thing to abstractly argue for or against the concept of a playoff, or whether a four-team or eight-team pool would be optimal, or whether a committee of writers or coaches could ignore their biases fairly seed the field, but it's another to think "Okay, Stanford at Iowa in a chance to send a major message to Midwest recruits, and Stanford vs. Cincinnati in Las Vegas or some other warm weather clime and Stanford vs. TCU in the Fiesta Bowl – that's precisely what we're missing out on by not having a playoff." Hopefully the BCS won't be around for too much longer, because every year that passes is another year in which we're missing out on some killer would-be games. And now, given Stanford's resurgence, the debate is starting to affect Cardinalmaniacs like never before.


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