By: Vinny Mixon (@VinnyTrill)
The regular season has come to an end and it has left us with the final 16 teams competing to be the last team alive. One goal in mind for each team and that’s win a national championship. There are many storylines across the board with familiar faces and new faces in these playoffs. We are going to dive into each of the 16 playoff teams to see how they got here and what it’ll take to bring home the title.
The SEC champion started their season off with out-of-conference losses to the Boise State Broncos and the Texas Longhorns. It would be Week Three against the Florida Gators they would see their first win of the season and wouldn’t look back. After that, they would go on to win their next five games each by at least three scores. The statement win of the season came in their dominating performance against the Miami Hurricanes where it felt that the Crimson Tide had full control of that game from start to finish.
So now the question becomes how does Alabama win it all? It’s going to come down to Cece Range and taking care of the ball. Range has 20 turnovers on the season with ten of them coming in the first three games. As long as Range is feeding the ball to playmakers like Lincoln Martin and Titus Price, the Tide offense will light up scoreboards and drive them to that national championship.
The B1G champion would also begin their season with a loss coming to the Florida Gators. They would go on to win their next two games against Ohio State and NIU before suffering another loss this time at the hands of rival Texas. The turning point in their season would come in Week five as they traveled to take on Notre Dame and former Oklahoma AD Dustin Hall. The Sooners would leave South Bend victorious and would finish the season on a four-game win streak including a win over defending champions Oklahoma State in a game that would end up being the de facto B1G championship game.
So what was the difference maker for the Sooners in big games? The variety of players they used on offense. By no means was the win streak pretty for the Sooners, every game the Sooners won this season came because the offense had scored 40 or more points. Oklahoma had seven players find the end zone four or more times. If the Sooners can continue to mix up their attack, they’ll be well on their way toward that title.
We’ve come to our last conference champion as we have the Toledo Rockets, champions of the MAC. Toledo began their season against 3 P2 schools that had made the playoffs the prior season they would lose their first two games by a combined 92 points before getting their first win against the Pitt Panthers in a 59-27 victory. The Rockets would seemingly cruise through MACtion with their smallest margin of victory being 13 points. They would close the regular season with a 70-point outing by their offense in the battle of I-75 over rival Bowling Green.
The question that everyone is going to ask is does a MAC team have a shot at a title? My answer would be yes. Unlike most MAC teams that want to throw the ball around the field all game, Toledo wants to be a physical team. They had more rush attempts than pass attempts with QB Sam Dobbins and HB Toby Knerr combining for 2,184 yards and 31 touchdowns on the ground. If the Rockets can control the time of possession and make these P2 schools dig deep in their depth the Rockets have a chance at finding themselves being the first MAC school to win a national championship.
#2 OKLAHOMA STATE
The defending champions ended up with the 2 seed in the B1G after they started their season off with a loss to Miami but would rattle off a five-game winning streak before suffering losses against Texas and Oklahoma to finish the regular season. Oklahoma State was 3-1 this season when holding opponents under 25 points. The loss came by 7 points to Texas. On the flip side, they are 2-2 when giving up over 25 points in a game with both of those losses coming by more than 20 points. As long as the defense plays to its best ability, Oklahoma State will have its best chance to win 3 of the last 4 titles.
#3 NOTRE DAME
The dthall era for the Fighting Irish began with Notre Dame getting the third seed in the B1G. It was a 4-0 start for Notre including a 28-point comeback against the Florida State Seminoles. The Irish would have two losses over the next four games to end the season. The losses would come to the two higher-seeded B1G teams.
The key issue the Irish have seen all season is the defense. Notre Dame only kept one opponent under 30 points this season however, Only once did their offense score under 40 points this season as they were the highest-scoring team this season. Expect the offense for Notre Dame to be there. Can their defense keep teams off the scoreboard? If they can they’ll be on their way to the fourth title in school history
The season 17 runner-up would finish season 18 with a 4-4 record but all 4 wins came over B1G teams including the 3 teams seeded lower than them giving the Wolverines the tiebreaker. The signature win of their season came in a 45-14 victory over Texas where the Wolverines defense came away with 6 takeaways. Michigan will need their DBs to be playmakers in these playoffs if they are looking to bring that first-ever title to Ann Arbor.
After going 3-6 in season 17, the Longhorns bounced back with a 6-2 regular season while going 4-2 in conference play with wins over the conference champion Oklahoma and the #2 seed Oklahoma State. Texas would also get an early win against SEC champion Alabama.
Texas is at its best when it can keep defenses guessing with their offensive playcalling. Texas does a great job of working various formations while keeping a balance of the run and pass. If the Longhorns want to win it all this year they will need to continue eating up each level of the field.
The Fighting Illini joined the CFSL in Season 15 and Season 18 they had their first regular season finishing above .500. Illinois would start their season out 3-1 including a victory over Boise State before they would go on to lose their next two games against Oklahoma State and Michigan before closing the season with wins over Ohio State and Oregon.
The big key for the Illini has been the improvement of QB Dylan Shumate and HB transfer Josiah Henry. The two have become a very efficient duo that control the game on the ground and let their WRs make plays through the air. Let’s not forget Illinois has the best scoring defense in the B1G as well. As long as the Fighting Illini can control the line of scrimmage they will have a very good shot at putting that first title trophy in the case at Champagne.
#7 BOISE STATE
Starting the season off with a bang, the Broncos would beat eventual SEC champion Alabama in Week One of the season. The rest of the season wouldn’t be so kind to Boise State as they would only win two more games in the regular season. The Broncos by no means were outmatched, they lost three games this season by one score.
The big issue for the Broncos has come on third down. Only one game this season did the Broncos achieve higher than a 40% conversion rate on third down. There is talent throughout the Broncos roster including Season 17 OPOTY McKade Alber. If the Broncos get those third down issues solved, they will be seeing a long road on their way to the first title in school history.
Wild first half of the season for the Wildcats. Starting the season off with back-to-back mercy-ruled games against West Virginia and Toledo before getting shut out by Oklahoma State followed by a 21-point loss to Alabama. It would be Week Five of the season when Kentucky nabbed their signature win in a 43-14 shellacking over the Miami Hurricanes.
The Wildcats enter the playoffs on a four-game-win streak. They also enter the playoffs with the best scoring defense in the CFSL only giving up 19 points a game on average. Only three teams were able to score more than 28 points against the Wildcats, they went 1-2 in those games. If this Kentucky defense rocks their A-game throughout the playoffs they’ll have their second championship in three seasons.
#3 FLORIDA STATE
If you like offensive games, the Seminoles have been the team to watch for you. Boasting the second-best scoring offense this season they complemented that with the worst-scoring defense of all P2 schools. Their best showing came against the Miami Hurricanes as that was the only game the Seminoles held an opponent under 30 points.
So how does Florida State win its first title since Season 14? They light up scoreboards. I’ll give them a little credit as their defense looked better for the second half of the season but giving up 80 points in a week Seven game against the Florida Gators showed that the defense still has a lot to work on. Their offense is gonna have to operate at full understanding that they’ll have to put up points every drive.
#4 WEST VIRGINIA
Just the second playoff appearance for the Mountaineers who joined the CFSL back in season 13. After taking a beat down in Week One against Kentucky and a scare against Kent State in Week Two, West Virginia seemingly found their identity as they would go on a three-game win streak with a win over Auburn and a surprising upset over Florida.
West Virginia isn’t a team that will beat you with flashy plays. They are a gritty team that will grind the ball and the clock. If they can keep themselves ahead of the chains and control the line of scrimmage, defenses will have to dig into their depth to try and stop HB John Paul Smith who seems to never get tired.
The Gators would begin their season with dominant wins over Oklahoma and Michigan. However, it was the middle of the season where the Gators would suffer three straight losses. Florida would right the ship by closing the season on a three-game-win streak headed into the playoffs. Their most impressive win of the season came in an 80-31 beat down over rival FSU.
So now the question is what will it take for the Gators to win it all? Florida thrives when their defense can pin their ears back and let their front seven attack the QB. This Gator defense leads the CFSL in sacks and takeaways and it starts with the pressure they can generate from all angles. If offenses can’t identify the pressure pre-snap, Florida will be blitzing their way into a championship.
#6 NORTH CAROLINA
North Carolina would have a rocky regular season. It started with a 41-44 loss to Notre Dame but would turn that around and go on a three-game win streak including a win over FSU. The second half of the season would be a different story for the Tar Heels as they would go 1-3 to close out the regular season however, that one win came over the Miami Hurricanes to help the Tar Heels with playoff seeding.
If North Carolina is to bring their first title home to Chapel Hill they’re going to have to control the skies. Their offense has a slew of playmakers such as Cadbury Wellington, Tatiana Hoops, and Cooper Wiersema. They have playmakers on the defensive side of the ball as their defense led by Trevor Austin and Wes Finy came away with 17 ints with three of them getting returned for touchdowns. If Ayden Martinez can take care of the ball and this defense remains the ball hawks they are, UNC will be ready to party.
Every team Miami faced this season will be in the playoffs. So how did the regular season go for Miami? That might depend on who you ask. During the first four weeks of the season, Miami nearly looked like world beaters. They opened with a 59-34 win over defending champs Oklahoma State. They then carried that momentum with wins over Georgia, Boise State, and Florida.
Week Five was when it all changed. The Canes would travel to Lexington to take on the Wildcats where they would suffer a 14-43 loss. Miami would go on to lose their next three games as well. The big issue came from their defense. In those losses, Miami would give up 15 more points per game on average than in games they won. The Hurricanes are going to need their defense to get stops early in games to allow the thoroughbreds they have at WR to work freely and bring home title number two to Miami.
Georgia was voted in the final playoff spot by the fans this season. The Bulldogs were off to a hot start in Season 18 with a 4-1 record before closing the regular season on a three-game losing streak. What was the difference? 12 of the 17 turnovers that Ludwig Friedman had this season came in that losing streak. If Friedman can cut down on the turnovers and get back to letting WRs Matthew Cherry and Brandon Oliver be the playmakers they are, then this Georgia team can get it turned around for the Bulldogs to bring that first title into Athens.
As the playoffs begin I would suggest that everyone get their popcorn ready. In my eyes, every team can bring home that Season 18 championship. Who stands alone at the top of the mountain when it’s all over? We’ll find out in the coming weeks.