Season 20 Quarterfinal Preview

LightningDragon · July 8, 2024


By: Cole Mantell (@lightningdragon)

There are just two weeks until Hangout in Tampa, Florida! This year, four teams will be represented at Hangout as we will watch the Semifinals and Finals live from the Sunshine State!

Eight teams are competing Monday and Tuesday for the right to compete live. These teams passed tough challenges last week in the first round, so let’s preview their next challenges for the Quarterfinals.

#14 Alabama vs #6 USC

Of the four quarterfinals, this one has the potential for the most fireworks. The story of this game starts with the Crimson Tide. An exhilarating 44-43 upset of Texas in Austin last week proved the experience and mettle of the team. It hasn’t been a smooth sailing season for Alabama, but none of that will matter if they pull another upset off again Monday night. USC will be a tougher opponent to Alabama as well. The Trojans had a lot to handle on their own at home against Florida State last week. While FSU isn’t as strong this season as in previous iterations, AD Tom Pence is well-known for excellent postseason performances. USC did well in a close high scoring a 59-52 victory. 

This matchup has the potential for plenty of scoring. USC has scored 30 or more points in four games in a row dating back to the regular season. Alabama has scored 30 or more points every game this season except for one. That’s not to discount some great defensive talent on each team but expect the game to come down to who can score the most, especially in the second half. USC will be a slight favorite, but if Alabama can win the turnover battle or get a few crucial stops in the second half, the Crimson Tide will certainly be capable of generating another huge upset win.

#13 Penn State vs #12 Cincinnati

While upsets are not too uncommon in the CFSL playoffs, it is very rare to see two double-digit seeds. That will likely be the prevailing narrative of this matchup. Which underdog can make the next jump in a jumbled part of the bracket? However, that will be a disservice to one of the competitors in this matchup. Penn State entered the playoffs at 5-3. Due to the automatic qualifier system, the Nittany Lions had to rely on the vote-in system, getting them the top spot in said vote. They deserved every bit of it. While losses to all top 3 teams in the BIG 10 during the regular season posed some questions about their mettle against top contenders, TJ Smith has done an excellent job as AD since the team returned last season to the CFSL. I would not be surprised to see Penn State as the road favorite in the sportsbook come Monday. They played well in a 59-38 demolition of UNC last week.

That’s not to disavow the Bearcats in any form. Cincinnati deserves to be here just as much as Penn State. There are a few positives for this team entering this matchup. First is that due to the Nittany Lions’ seed, the Bearcats will enjoy their second-ever home playoff game in team history. They lost to Notre Dame at home last season 30-20 in the playoffs, for reference. The second is that the Bearcats have played well as the underdogs these playoffs. It started in an upset win over LSU last week. Freshman QB Saint Major threw for over 350 passing yards and 4 touchdowns last week. They’ll need a similar performance to win here as well. Turnovers kept the game close against LSU, with the Bearcats generating 4 to LSU’s 2 interceptions. Cincinnati will need to win the turnover battle again here to prevail against Penn State. This should be another close matchup to cap off Monday night of the Quarterfinals.

#10 Kentucky vs #2 Michigan

There are plenty of similarities on the surface for both Tuesday Quarterfinals. Both have a BIG 10 vs SEC matchup. Both feature frontrunners against relative underdogs. But there are a few key differences as well. We’ll get the obvious out of the way first. Michigan is the #2 seed for key and obvious reasons. They finished the regular season 7-1. They demolished an Illinois team in the first round 62-34, which they had only beaten by one score previously in the regular season. Their last loss was all the way back on May 27 against Miami. Michigan has not lost to an SEC team since last season when they lost to Kentucky 33-22 in the playoffs. The last time Michigan lost at home to a SEC team? October 24, 2023, in a 42-39 playoff loss to the Florida Gators. 

Kentucky is no underdog either in most situations. Even if they end up one here, the team went 5-3 this season and are the defending National Champions. The team is looking for an unprecedented four in five seasons. This will be their toughest test yet towards that goal. The Wildcats did well in dispatching WVU 40-10 last week. Now they’re on the road again heading to Ann Arbor. Also of note, Kentucky has not lost a road playoff game since July 17, 2023. That was almost two years ago, mostly because the Wildcats have been favorites for so long. They lost 37-17, to an Oklahoma State team that is no longer even in the CFSL. History is on the line for both teams to start Tuesday night.

#9 Oregon vs #1 Auburn

The final Quarterfinal will be just as impactful, if maybe with a tad less history. Oregon is playing for their first National Championship since Season 11. Auburn since Season 6. Oregon under AD Gavin Lussier has been a new team since he took charge. Not counting the PX1 Invitation Tournament, Oregon’s last playoff win was a 41-29 win over Missouri on October 19, 2021. That changed with last week’s 35-23 upset over Miami. The team has taken concrete steps forward this season and become a bona-fide playoff contender, led by leading rusher Ryan Ralosky’s 1148 rushing yards on the season. It’s a feel-good story for the team and they will play Auburn closer than Georgia did last week.

But while that is a nice story, it is hard to not see Auburn as maybe the largest favorite in the Sportsbook this week. Anything is possible in the CFSL, but this Auburn team has made mincemeat of most of the competition. Take Georgia for example. The Bulldogs played Auburn close in the regular season, with Auburn taking the win 63-54 in the end. That game in Week 7 marked just the second time this season Auburn had won a game by less than 10 points. Since that game? Auburn beat hated rival Alabama 54-7, then played Georgia again and beat them 45-20. Oregon will be a tough test, they could even win. However, Auburn is now 9-0. They remain the only undefeated team in the CFSL for a reason. This team will be the betting favorites for the National Championship at Hangout. That’s what makes Oregon dangerous. If they catch Auburn sleeping, their rushing attack can demolish teams. Auburn will have to stop the run to win here and move on to Tampa.


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