What If The College Football Playoff Was Implemented In 2011?

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The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) format implemented in college football from 1998 until 2013 was one of the most controversial systems ever practiced. The BCS was a system that relied on polls and and computer methods to create five bowl games between the top 10 teams in the country. Critics felt that the National Champions produced under this system weren’t really National Champions, as they didn’t have to face undefeated teams in some cases. As a matter of fact, there were more non-BCS championship teams that went undefeated than their counterparts in the last six season of the BCS.

A College Football Playoff has since been created, beginning in 2014. However, there was one year where a College Football Playoff would have been big. In 2011, the National Championship game was #1 LSU against #2 Alabama. These two had faced off earlier in the season in a game hyped up as “The Game of the Century” in which LSU won that affair 9-6 in overtime. Alabama got their revenge in the National Title game, prevailing 21-0. The teams behind them, #3 Oklahoma State and #4 Stanford, faced each other in the Tositios Fiesta Bowl, which was won by Oklahoma State in overtime.

The controversy here is about the #2 spot. Oklahoma State won the Big 12, whereas Alabama did not win their conference. There is an argument to be made about their records. Both were one loss teams, Alabama losing to LSU at home and Oklahoma State falling to Iowa State on the road. Alabama losing to a better team may have catapulted them into the #2 spot.

Regardless, we’re going to flash back to 2011, put the top four teams in a playoff, and see if Alabama can retain their championship. I will simulate this using WhatIfSports’ SimMatchup tool, which game descriptions coming from the tool’s play-by-play log.

#2 Alabama vs #3 Oklahoma State

Members of the 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide waiting in the tunnel before a game against the Florida Gators in Gainsville, Florida
Tim Casey/Gator Country

We start with the reason there is a controversy to begin with. Oklahoma State received the opening kickoff at the five yard line and brought it out to the 25. After the teams traded three-and-outs to begin the game, the Cowboys struck. On 2nd and 10 from the Alabama 15-yard line, Brandon Weeden threw a strike to his receiver Justin Blackmon for a score. Oklahoma State added a Quinn Sharp 49-yard field goal to take a 10-0 lead into the second quarter.

The Alabama defense had the Cowboys on a 3rd and 13 to begin the second quarter, but Weeden found Joseph Randle for a 21-yard gain, and the two finished the drive off with a 5-yard connection for a score. The Cowboys had a commanding 17-0 lead on the Crimson Tide, but there was still a lot of football left to be played. Alabama’s Eddie Lacy got them on the board with a 17-yard touchdown run. The momentum didn’t last, however, and the Cowboys added a score on a 7-yard pass to Michael Harrison. After they added another field goal, Oklahoma State lead at halftime, 27-7.

The defense for Alabama came out on a mission in the second half. They allowed a field goal in the third quarter, but that was it. Eddie Lacy found the endzone once again on a four yard run to cap off third quarter scoring. Oklahoma State entered the fourth up 30-14. After allowing another Justin Blackmon touchdown, the Crimson Tide offense responded with a touchdown pass of their own to Brad Smelley. The Cowboy defense proceeded to stop AJ McCarron’s attempt to find Smelley again on the ensuing two-point conversion.

After the two defenses each picked off the opposing QB, the Crimson Tide got the ball back with eight minutes to go. The Cowboys had the Tide held to a 3rd and 5, but McCarron found tailback Trent Richardson for a 19-yard gain through the air to keep the hopes alive. Alabama got the ball to the OK State 11-yard line, and after an illegal formation penalty on the offense, Smelley caught another touchdown pass. The Tide went for the extra point and got it. It was now 37-27.

Alabama forced a three-and-out to get the ball back with 3:24 to go. The biggest play on the drive came on a 3rd and 9 play. McCarron found Kenny Bell on a prayer of a ball and Bell came down with it. The catch was good for 31 yards and brought the Crimson Tide to the Cowboy’s 21-yard line. After a screen pass that ended in a loss of yardage, the McCarron-Smelley connection hooked up again for 19 yards to set up shop at the four-yard line. Trent Richardson rumbled into the endzone with 1:10 remaining, and the Tide kicked the PAT.

Alabama now trailed by just three, and decided to go for the onside kick. Unfortunately for them, Oklahoma State came up with it. Three plays and two timeouts later, Weeden kneeled to end the game.

Final Score: Oklahoma State 37, Alabama 34


#4 Stanford vs #1 LSU

Stanford wide receiver Griff Whalen during a game against Colorado in October 2011
Paul Sakuma, Associated Press

LSU received the opening kickoff at the 12 and returned it to the 40-yard line. They marched into Stanford territory, but the Cardinal defense held, and LSU kicked a field goal to go ahead 3-0. Stanford also drove down the field, but the Tigers held them to a field goal. Quarterback Andrew Luck threw a screen to wideout Griff Whalen, and Whalen stretched it for a 55-yard gain. Despite this, Stanford could not find the endzone, and Stanford settled for a field goal. They lead 6-3 going into the second quarter.

LSU started with the ball, and on the first play from scrimmage, tailback Alfred Blue ran 26 yards for the first touchdown of the game. They added to this later on in the quarter when Spencer Ware ran it in from 19 yards on a draw play. Stanford cut the lead to four when Stepfan Taylor ran it in from seven yards out, but LSU soon responded. The Tigers made it a 24-13 game thanks to a Kadron Boone touchdown reception and looked to enter halftime with this lead. However, Taylor found a lane to run through and as time was expiring, he ran 58 yards for a touchdown to go up 24-20 at half.

Stanford received the ball to begin the second half, but their opening drive frizzled out. LSU’s first play of the third quarter was a 63-yard run by tailback Michael Ford for six. Ford was the third LSU back to score a touchdown in this game, and the Tigers again found some breathing room up 31-20. Stanford was held at bay for most of the third quarter, and didn’t allow another LSU score. The Cardinal would get on the board again towards the end of the third quarter, as Taylor ran 16 yards for his third touchdown of the game. LSU was holding onto a 31-27 lead as we headed to the fourth.

The fourth play for LSU from scrimmage in the fourth was a Spencer Ware 28-yard touchdown run to increase the lead to 11. Stanford added a field goal with 7:30 to go, and they spent the rest of the fourth trying to score. They failed, but were able to block a LSU field goal with :59 remaining. Down by eight, Andrew Luck had a chance to lead the Cardinal to the endzone. On 1st and 10, Luck scrambled, but was sacked by Bennie Logan. With no timeouts remaining, Luck had to hurry to the line and spike the ball. On 3rd and 17, Luck attempted to heave a deep ball to Ty Montgomery, but he couldn’t haul it in. On 4th and 17, Luck again was pressured and had to scramble, but the LSU defense came up big. One kneel down later, LSU was moving on.

Final Score: LSU 38, Stanford 30


National Championship: #3 Oklahoma State vs #1 LSU

Members of the 2011 Oklahoma State Cowboys defense swallow up a would-be scrambling quarterback during a game
Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News

LSU received the opening kickoff and set up shop on the 23-yard line. The Tigers gave the ball to Michael Ford on a 3rd and 2, but he fumbled after gaining a yard. The Cowboys came up with it, but were held to a Quinn Sharp field goal. On the ensuing LSU drive, quarterback Jordan Jefferson lead the team down the field and into position for Drew Alleman to tie the game. His attempt from 36 yards out was wide left, however. Brandon Weeden lead a pass attack that would result in a 29-yard touchdown to Josh Cooper. Alfred Blue cut the OK State lead to three as time expired in the first.

Cooper found the endzone once again a few minutes into the second quarter to reclaim a 10-point lead. After forcing a three-and-out, Oklahoma State got the ball back, and their first play from scrimmage was a 78-yard touchdown to Joseph Randle on a screen. Spencer Ware brought the Tigers closer to striking distance with a touchdown from seven yards out, but the Cowboys responded in kind. Justin Horton caught a 14-yard pass for six, but Sharp missed the extra point. The Cowboys still held a commanding 30-14 lead at half time.

Oklahoma State had ample scoring opportunities, but they only came away with a field goal. The Cowboys defense also came to play, holding the LSU offense at bay as they had for the majority of the game so far. Both teams were held to a field goal, and as we head to the fourth, it is 33-17 in favor of the Cowboys.

LSU began the fourth quarter with an Alleman field goal to make it a 13-point game. Both teams traded failed offensive drives for the majority of the quarter. Oklahoma State added some breathing room on Quinn Sharp’s third field goal of the game. After an offsides call on the ensuing kickoff, LSU had some decent field position with the drive starting near the 40-yard line. On first down, Jordan Jefferson looked and dumped the ball to the flat, but Michael Ford couldn’t come up with it. After a nine and two-yard gain on second and third down, Jefferson scrambled on first down for seven yards. Two incomplete passes later, the Tigers faced a 4th and 3. Jefferson dropped back, looked to Deangelo Peterson, and fired it. Peterson caught the ball, but the proceeded to drop it.

Oklahoma State would put the game out of reach with a touchdown late in the game and wins the 2011 National Championship.

Final Score: Oklahoma State 43, LSU 20


Featured Photo Credit: Getty Images

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