If the College Football Playoff Followed the FCS Playoffs Format

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Stadium conducted a survey earlier this spring that states an overwhelming majority of FBS member athletic directors favor expanding the College Football Playoff. From the moment college football adopted the format, I have been resigned to expansion being an inevitability. Just look at the FCS, which grew from 16 to 20 to 24 participants in just a few years.

So what if the FBS adopted a similar format to the current, 24-team bracket the FCS uses? The conference champions of every league are automatically in, with the exception of the MEAC, a former automatic-qualifier that opted out of the Playoffs in favor of the Celebration Bowl; the SWAC, which was never an AQ conference, instead closing the season with its conference championship game and now, the Celebration Bowl; and the Ivy League, which foregoes postseason play altogether.

With just 10 conferences in FBS, every league champion receiving an automatic bid is certainly workable when there are 14 at-large opportunities. No one all that much in contention is being left out in favor of a C-USA automatic qualifier, for example. But on the topic of conference champions, an FCS-style College Football Playoff isn’t feasible if the leagues kept their championship game. A team playing in the 1st Round could in theory play an 18-game season; that is preposterous.

Since I am dumping the championship games for the sake of this exercise, teams are seeded based on their regular-season finish. Beginning with 2019, you’ll notice some of the changes that causes, like Utah being last season’s Pac-12 automatic qualifier. There’s also the matter of teams that faced in conference championship games with mirroring records. Each instance is explained below.

2019 College Football Playoff 

Automatic Qualifiers

ACC: Clemson Tigers

American: Memphis Tigers

Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners

Big Ten: Ohio State Buckeyes

Conference USA: FAU Owls

MAC: Central Michigan Chippewas*

Central Michigan lost the MAC Championship Game to Miami. However, both teams went into 6-2 in the MAC. They did not face in the regular season, but the Chippewas — who also finished with a better overall record at 8-4 to Miami’s 7-5 — dropped conference games to Western Michigan and Buffalo. Both went to bowl games. Miami lost to Ball State, which Central Michigan defeated. 

Mountain West: Boise State

Pac-12: Utah Utes

SEC: LSU Tigers

Sun Belt: Appalachian State Mountaineers

At-Large

Georgia Bulldogs

Baylor Bears

Wisconsin Badgers

Florida Gators

Penn State Nittany Lions

Auburn Tigers

Alabama Crimson Tide

Oregon Ducks

Michigan Wolverines

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Iowa Hawkeyes

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Cincinnati Bearcats

USC Trojans

FIRST ROUND 

The top eight teams, regardless of conference affiliation, receive first-round byes. Teams 9-24 are then seeded accordingly, with 9 hosting 24, 10 hosting 23, and so on. The lowest ranked team at the time of the final College Football Playoff ranking (ergo, USC), is the first at-large seeded.

While the following reflects the actual rankings, I don’t believe it’s a stretch to say the committee might make some swaps within reason. For example, Cincinnati going to Michigan and Boise State going to Oregon makes far more sense logistically.

Byes: Ohio State, LSU, Clemson, Georgia, Utah, Oklahoma, Baylor, Wisconsin

 Central Michigan Chippewas at Florida Gators

Winner advances to face Wisconsin in the Round of 16 

Through pure happenstance, this exercise sends Jim McElwain back to The Swamp with his new team.

 FAU Owls at Penn State Nittany Lions

Winner advances to face Baylor in the Round of 16

Ole Miss finalized its deal with Lane Kiffin on Dec. 7, the day of the Conference USA Championship Game. That’s the same weekend the 1st Round of this hypothetical Playoff would kick off.

USC Trojans at Auburn Tigers 

Winner advances to face Oklahoma in the Round of 16

This would mark USC’s first trip to the Plains since blanking the Tigers at Jordan-Hare in 2003. Although the 2002 Trojans went to and won the Orange Bowl, their blowout of the Tigers in SEC territory marked an unofficial launch of the 2000s USC dynasty.

Appalachian State Mountaineers at Alabama Crimson Tide 

Winner advances to face Utah in the Round of 16 

The most famous giant-killers in college football history having the opportunity to slay the era’s juggernaut in a playoff setting — a format in which this program thrived en route to three straight Div. I-AA/FCS championships from 2005 through 2007 —is appetizing. Well…until kickoff, anyway.

Cincinnati Bearcats at Oregon Ducks 

Winner advances to face Georgia in the Round of 16 

Branches of the two most influential coaching trees in college football, with Mario Cristobal having come to Oregon from Alabama and Luke Fickell working under both Jim Tressell and Urban Meyer at Ohio State, square off.

Boise State Broncos  at Michigan Wolverines 

Winner advances to face Clemson in the Round of 16 

It has zero bearing on the result of a hypothetical 2019 matchup, but worth noting these two programs were on the opposite end of historic upsets just eight months apart.

Minnesota Golden Gophers at Notre Dame Fighting Irish 

Winners advances to face Ohio State in the Round of 16 

Captains meet at midfield for the pregame flipping of Lou Holtz.

Memphis Tigers at Iowa Hawkeyes

Memphis’ prolific offense against the physically imposing style Iowa mastered under both Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz should make for a fun contrast.

2018 College Football Playoff 

Automatic Qualifiers

ACC: Clemson Tigers

American: UCF Knights

Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners

Big Ten: Ohio State Buckeyes

Conference USA: UAB Blazers

MAC: Central Buffalo Bulls

Mountain West: Boise State*

Boise State and Fresno State both finished 7-1 in Mountain West play, but the Broncos beat the Bulldogs in regular-season play.

Pac-12: Washington Huskies

SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide

Sun Belt: Appalachian State Mountaineers

At-Large

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Georgia Bulldogs

Michigan Wolverines

Florida Gators

LSU Tigers

Penn State Nittany Lions

Washington State Cougars

Texas Longhorns

Kentucky Wildcats

West Virginia Mountaineers

Utah Utes

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Texas A&M Aggies

Syracuse Orange

FIRST ROUND 

Byes: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, UCF

Buffalo Bulls at Florida Gators

Winner advances to face UCF in the Round of 16 

Might the postseason run of Buffalo basketball preceding the 2018 season have fired up the football Bulls? Doubtful, but Florida lost to teams with lesser quarterbacks than Tyree Jackson. More intriguing is the thought of the Gators winning to set up a 2nd Round showdown ***AT*** UCF.

UAB Blazers at LSU Tigers

Winner advances to face Michigan in the Round of 16

The historic resurrection of UAB football culminating in a spot in the College Football Playoff; could you imagine?

 

Appalachian State Mountaineers at Washington Huskies 

Winner advances to face Ohio State in the Round of 16

An intriguing matchup between the most vulnerable of the Power Five champions and a feisty Appalachian State bunch. The 2018 Mountaineers were not quite as good as the 2019 squad…but they were close.

Boise State Broncos at Penn State Nittany Lions

Winner advances to face Oklahoma in the Round of 16 

An electrifying Penn State offense against a stingy Boise State defense.

Syracuse Orange at Washington State Cougars 

Winner advances to face Georgia in the Round of 16 

Pit Dino Babers offense and Mike Leach’s, and one could expect a higher-scoring affair than the last Syracuse basketball NCAA Tournament game.

Texas A&M Aggies  at Texas Longhorns 

Winner advances to face Notre Dame in the Round of 16 

Complete coincidence and good fortune that the bracket shakes out in a way these rivals renew their hatred on the field — which is infinitely more interesting than kvetching and passive-aggressiveness on social media.

Mississippi State Bulldogs at Kentucky Wildcats

Winners advances to face Clemson in the Round of 16 

a.k.a. the perfect Playoff game for Paul Finebaum, who can claim SEC superiority regardless who wins.

Utah Utes at West Virginia Mountaineers 

Winners advances to face Alabama in the Round of 16 

These teams met in the 2017 postseason, resulting in the only Pac-12 bowl win of that campaign. The prospect of Utah setting up a Playoff matchup with Alabama in the decade anniversary of their Sugar Bowl encounter is enticing.

2017 College Football Playoff 

Automatic Qualifiers

ACC: Clemson Tigers

American: UCF Knights

Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners

Big Ten: Wisconsin Badgers

Conference USA: FAU Owls

MAC: Toledo Rockets

Mountain West: Fresno State Bulldogs*

Boise State and Fresno State both finished 7-1 in Mountain West play, but Fresno State beat Boise State head-to-head in the regular season. 

Pac-12: USC Trojans

SEC: Auburn Tigers

Sun Belt: Troy Trojans*

Troy and Appalachian State finished tied atop the Sun Belt at 7-1, but the Trojans had a better overall record.

At-Large

Georgia Bulldogs

Miami Hurricanes

Ohio State Buckeyes

Penn State Nittany Lions

TCU Horned Frogs

Stanford Cardinal

Washington Huskies

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Michigan State Spartans

LSU Tigers

Washington State Cougars

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Memphis Tigers

Northwestern Wildcats

FIRST ROUND 

Byes: Clemson, Auburn, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Alabama, Georgia, Miami, Ohio State

FAU Owls at Penn State Nittany Lions 

Winner advances to face Ohio State in the Round of 16 

The Lane Train was chugging right along at this juncture. A Devin Singletary-Saquon Barkley showdown sounds mighty fine, as does a 2nd Round meeting between Big Ten rivals Penn State and Ohio State.

Toledo Rockets at USC Trojans

Winner advances to face Miami in the Round of 16

The 2017 season kicked off with USC facing a MAC opponent for the first time in program history, Western Michigan. Let’s make it two! The ’17 Trojans had a knack for playing tight games, so perhaps the Rockets could have given the Trojans some competition. A USC win sends the Trojans to Miami for the first time since The Worst Halftime Show in History.

Troy Trojans at TCU Horned Frogs

Winner advances to face Georgia in the Round of 16

This was the same Troy team that knocked off LSU in Death Valley, and a program that reached the Top 25 under Neal Brown. The Trojans may have the best case for being a Cinderella story in this entire exercise.

Fresno State Bulldogs at Stanford Cardinal 

Winner advances to face Alabama in the Round of 16 

Despite being separated by only about a 3-hour drive, Fresno State and Stanford have not played since 1928.

Northwestern Wildcats at Washington Huskies

Winner advances to face Wisconsin in the Round of 16 

A likely defensive struggle off Montlake and A WHOLE LOTTA PURPLE!

Memphis Tigers at Notre Dame Fighting Irish 

Winner advances to face Oklahoma in the Round of 16 

The American’s flourished in marquee bowl games since its inception in 2013. This Memphis team had the weapons to at least challenge the Fighting Irish.

Oklahoma State Cowboys at Michigan State Spartans 

Winners advances to face Auburn in the Round of 16 

Could there be a more striking difference in philosophies than the wide-open offensive style of Oklahoma State against Michigan State’s grinding defense?

Washington State Cougars at LSU Tigers 

Winners advances to face Clemson in the Round of 16 

A hypothetical preview of a real SEC West dynamic to come in 2020 with a Mike Leach-coached team against an Ed Orgeron-coached team.

2016 College Football Playoff 

Automatic Qualifiers

ACC: Clemson Tigers

American: Houston Cougars

Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners

Big Ten: Penn State Nittany Lions

Conference USA: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

MAC: Western Michigan Broncos

Mountain West: Wyoming Cowboys*

Wyoming and San Diego State finished tied atop their respective divisions at 6-2; Wyoming won the head-to-head matchup in the regular season. 

Pac-12: Washington Huskies*

Washington and Colorado both finished 8-1 in Pac-12 play and did not meet head-to-head. Washington had the better record at 11-1 and higher Playoff ranking. 

SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide

Sun Belt: Appalachian State Mountaineers*

Appalachian State and Arkansas State shared the Sun Belt championship at 7-1 and did not play head-to-head. Appalachian State goes in by virtue of a better overall record. 

At-Large

Ohio State Buckeyes

Michigan Wolverines

Wisconsin Badgers

Colorado Buffaloes

Oklahoma State Cowboys

USC Trojans

Florida State Seminoles

Louisville Cardinals

Auburn Tigers

Florida Gators

West Virginia Mountaineers

Stanford Cardinal

Navy Midshipmen

Utah Utes

FIRST ROUND 

Byes: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Washington, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Colorado

Appalachian State Mountaineers at Oklahoma Sooners  

Winner advances to face Colorado in the Round of 16 

Scott Satterfield had stronger Appalachian State teams, so the Mountaineers might not matchup particularly well with this Oklahoma team. A Sooners win here sets up a renewal of an old Big 8 Conference rivalry.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Oklahoma State Cowboys

Winner advances to face Penn State in the Round of 16

Mason Rudolph and Mike White concluded the 2016 season ranked No. 7 and No. 8 in FBS passing yards per game, respectively.

Wyoming Cowboys at USC Trojans 

Winner advances to face Wisconsin in the Round of 16

USC had gotten so hot by the end of the 2016 regular season, after Sam Darnold took over at quarterback, some media pushed for the three-loss Trojans in the Playoff conversation. Meanwhile, Wyoming — under North Dakota State FCS dynasty architect Craig Bohl — enjoyed its best season since the program’s late ’80s glory days.

Houston Cougars at Florida State Seminoles 

Winner advances to face Michigan in the Round of 16 

A rematch of the previous season’s Peach Bowl offers a chance at revenge for Florida State — but on the flipside, Houston proved it could beat the Seminoles.

Utah Utes at Louisville Cardinals

Winner advances to face Washington in the Round of 16 

Utah’s outstanding defense trying to slow Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson makes for an intriguing matchup, especially in light of strong defensive lines (like Houston’s) giving Louisville fits late in the 2016 campaign.

Navy Midshipmen at Auburn Tigers

Winner advances to face Clemson in the Round of 16 

Auburn’s defensive line in 2016 ranked among the nation’s best. How would it handle the flexbone attack Navy would throw at it, especially on just one week of preparation?

Stanford Cardinal at Florida Gators  

Winners advances to face Ohio State in the Round of 16 

Jim McElwain’s Florida tenure gets a bad rap. That said, an iffy Gators offensive line would have had its hands full trying to stop Solomon Thomas.

Western Michigan Broncos at West Virginia Mountaineers 

Winners advances to face Alabama in the Round of 16 

Western Michigan became the first and still only MAC program to land the New Year’s Six automatic berth in the College Football Playoff era. P.J. Fleck’s high-energy style still felt fresh around this point, and the Broncos played an exciting offense. Big-time trap potential for West Virginia in the quest to get boat-raced at Alabama in the Round of 16.

2015 College Football Playoff 

Automatic Qualifiers

ACC: Clemson Tigers

American: Houston Cougars

Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners

Big Ten: Iowa Hawkeyes

Conference USA: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

MAC: Bowling Green Falcons

Mountain West: San Diego State Aztecs

Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide

Sun Belt: Arkansas State Redwolves

At-Large

Michigan State Spartans

Ohio State Buckeyes

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Florida State Seminoles

North Carolina Tar Heels

TCU Horned Frogs

Baylor Bears

Ole Miss Rebels

Northwestern Wildcats

Michigan Wolverines

Oregon Ducks

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Florida Gators

USC Trojans

FIRST ROUND 

Byes: Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Stanford, Notre Dame

Arkansas State Redwolves at Florida State Seminoles  

Winner advances to face Notre Dame in the Round of 16 

Blake Andersen’s the one Arkansas State coach in the last decade who did not immediately turn a gig in Jonesboro into a job elsewhere. It seems right he’d have a team that reached this kind of peak in his tenure, even if this Florida State team was a low-key threat to win it all.

Bowling Green Falcons at North Carolina Tar Heels

Winner advances to face Stanford in the Round of 16

2015 was a low-key zany campaign. To wit, North Carolina very nearly played its way into the actual College Football Playoff. This marked the peak of Larry Fedora’s UNC tenure, reminiscent of his 2011 campaign at Southern Miss. As for Bowling Green, Dino Babers had a fun team with quarterback Matt Johnson putting up impressive numbers.

San Diego State Aztecs at TCU Horned Frogs

Winner advances to face Ohio State in the Round of 16

TCU left the Mountain West just as Rocky Long got San Diego State rolling as a contender. With Trevone Boykin quarterbacking the Horned Frogs, and Donnell Pumphrey in San Diego State’s backfield, both teams feature players who were worthy of Heisman consideration at some juncture in their college careers.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Baylor Bears 

Winner advances to face Michigan State in the Round of 16 

In its second season under Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky reached the AP Top 25 — a remarkable milestone given just a half-decade earlier, the Hilltoppers finished winless. Western Kentucky’s only losses came against Big Ten (Indiana) and SEC (LSU) opponents, and Brandon Doughty put up impressive numbers.

USC Trojans at Ole Miss Rebels 

Winner advances to face Washington in the Round of 16 

An interesting case of art imitating life, as these two programs just this week (May 18) announced a future home-and-home series. No Lane Kiffin, of course, as the scandal-plagued Hugh Freeze era had yet to conclude. Of note: This Ole Miss team came one mind-blowing play away from beating Alabama for the SEC West.

Houston Cougars at Northwestern Wildcats 

Winner advances to face Oklahoma in the Round of 16 

Houston drawing this seeding speaks to some fundamental flaws evident in the Playoff’s ranking during the 2015 season. The American was arguably superior to some Power Five conferences, particularly the ACC and Pac-12, yet Houston was relegated to No. 19 and both Temple and Navy barely missed the cut for Playoff inclusion with two losses each. One of the losses for both came against a Notre Dame team that earned a 1st Round bye.

All that said, this was a good Northwestern team: In reality, it cost Stanford a College Football Playoff berth with a Week 1 win. And Houston would have rolled in a hypothetical matchup. In fact, based on how the bracket breaks out, I think this would have been the first and maybe only Group of Five program in this system to reach the final four.

Florida Gators at Michigan Wolverines

Winners advances to face Alabama in the Round of 16 

Two first-year coaches land in the Playoff in their debut campaigns, although Jim Harbaugh’s 9-3 regular season is arguably more impressive than Jim McElwain’s 10-2. The SEC East was awful in 2015. Michigan, meanwhile, came 11 points away from heading into The Game at 10-1.

Oklahoma State Cowboys at Oregon Ducks

Winners advances to face Clemson in the Round of 16 

The 2015 season was the last gasp of the Mike Bellotti/Chip Kelly regime that elevated Oregon to national prominence, ultimately fading in a confounding Alamo Bowl loss to TCU.

Oklahoma State’s similar offensive make-up could have similarly exploited Oregon’s defensive weaknesses that year.

2014 College Football Playoff 

Automatic Qualifiers

ACC: Florida State Seminoles

American: Memphis Tigers

Big 12: Baylor Bears*

Baylor and TCU split the Big 12 regular-season championship, and TCU finished with the higher final ranking. However, Baylor won head-to-head in a historically wild affair. 

Big Ten: Ohio State Buckeyes

Conference USA: Marshall Thundering Herd

MAC: Northern Illinois Huskies

Mountain West: Boise State Broncos

Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide

Sun Belt: Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns*

This one is complete mess. Georgia Southern actually ran the table in the Sun Belt in 2014, but the Willie Fritz-coached Eagles were ineligible for postseason play as per NCAA rules regarding moves up from divisions. In other words, 2014 Georgia Southern football was a forerunner to 2020 Merrimack basketball. 

Appalachian State, which also finished near the top of the Sun Belt, was similarly ineligible. And this Louisiana team was retroactively stripped of two wins for violating NCAA rules. 

At-Large

TCU Horned Frogs

Arizona Wildcats

Michigan State Spartans

Kansas State Wildcats

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Ole Miss Rebels

Wisconsin Badgers

Georgia Bulldogs

UCLA Bruins

Missouri Tigers

Arizona State Sun Devils

Clemson Tigers

Auburn Tigers

FIRST ROUND 

Byes: Alabama, Oregon, TCU, Florida State, Ohio State, Baylor, Arizona, Michigan State

Louisiana at Kansas State  

Winner advances to face Michigan State in the Round of 16 

Going through this exercise has been enlightening as far as remembering that some programs were in better shape than I remembered. For example, my brain has Mandel Effect’d itself into viewing the Week 1 loss to North Dakota State as the death knell for the Bill Snyder K-State teams in the early 2010s. I recalled the Collin Klein-led team of 2012 being the last hurrah of EMAW in the national conversation, but this team was actually ranked No. 11 at the end of the 2014 regular season.

Northern Illinois Huskies at Mississippi State Bulldogs

Winner advances to face Arizona in the Round of 16

After its peak of the 2013 Orange Bowl, Northern Illinois remained at the forefront of the MAC for the following half-decade. Thus, like with underestimating K-State above, I was shocked to only have the Huskies in the Playoff one time: NIU was quite good at winning the MAC Championship Game after not necessarily being the MAC’s best team in the regular season. On the flipside, Mississippi State opened 2014 a house of fire, but cooled down the stretch. The Bulldogs would have likely CLANGA’d NIU into submission, setting up a trip out to the Sonoran Desert against a fun Arizona team that thrived under Rich Rodriguez this season.

Memphis Tigers at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 

Winner advances to face Baylor in the Round of 16

The best team of the Paul Johnson era against a Memphis team that, despite being known for offense under Justin Fuente, ranked No. 11 nationally in scoring defense. Upset potential in this one.

Marshall Thundering Herd at Ole Miss Rebels

Winner advances to face Ohio State in the Round of 16 

Marshall peaked at No. 18 in the 2014 campaign, before losing a 67-66 shootout to Western Kentucky that was every bit as insane as it sounds.

The ranking was Marshall’s highest since the 2002 campaign; and, like 2002 with Byron Leftwich, Rakeem Cato garnered some Heisman consideration.

Boise State Broncos at Wisconsin Badgers 

Winner advances to face Florida State in the Round of 16 

Sometimes you stumble into a matchup that just feels right. Boise State playing Wisconsin in some quintessential overlooked-guys-who-developed-late-and-have-chips-on-their-shoulders-before-heading-to-the-NFL football is one such matchup. The two programs played just once, with the Badgers escaping 28-24 winners in 1997.

Auburn Tigers at Georgia Bulldogs 

Winner advances to face TCU in the Round of 16 

I tend to believe were this a real exercise, the committee might fudge some numbers in order to avoid a rematch — particularly a rematch of a game as ugly as Georgia’s 34-7 romp over Auburn in 2014. Perhaps a slight ding to Auburn’s ranking, sending the Tigers out west to face UCLA in the Rose Bowl, while Clemson and Georgia renew their regional rivalry one more time? The 2013 meeting was unforgettable.

Clemson Tigers at UCLA Bruins 

Winners advances to face Oregon in the Round of 16 

It’s staggering to see Clemson barely make the cut. There was a time not long ago, before he was winning national championships and making cringey TikToks, Dabo Swinney was one of those annual offseason “is he on the hot seat?” guys.

Honestly, it’s tough to say which is worse. Either way, Swinney was mostly out of the hot-seat conversation come 2014, having won an emotional Peach Bowl to cap the 2012 campaign and scoring Orange Bowl redemption against Ohio State in January 2014, two years after an embarrassing loss to West Virginia. But the Tigers were not yet the national powerhouse at this juncture.

On UCLA, your boy covered this Bruins season for Bleacher Report. That was a wild ride to be front-and-center for, as UCLA came into the campaign a trendy pick for the inaugural Playoff. Jim Mora got angry any time it was brought up — including each of Lee Corso, Desmond Howard and Kirk Herbstreit picking the Bruins for the final four — and UCLA opened the season sluggishly.

Come Thanksgiving and following a blowout of USC, I was convinced the Bruins would win the Pac-12.

Arizona State Sun Devils at Missouri Tigers

Winners advances to face Alabama in the Round of 16 

It’s a bit weird remembering how good Missouri was in transitioning from the Big 12 to the SEC. The Tigers reached two SEC Championships in their early tenure, including in this 2014 campaign. Meanwhile, perennial sleeping giant Arizona State had its closest brush with greatness in Todd Graham’s third season, coming a classic Territorial Cup away from reaching a second consecutive Pac-12 Championship Game.