NCAA College Football Playoffs

Think the BCS sucks as much as we do? Dream of a college football playoff system? GameSpot Sports has the solution in our simulated championship feature story. Upset specials ahead!

By Bob Colayco (Cal '02) and Brian Ekberg (Auburn '95)

Each year college football has a championship game, and each year that game--indeed the entire bowl system--is mired in controversy. From the weeks leading up to the season's kickoff, when football fans are inundated with meaningless preseason polls and "expert analysis," to the final weeks of the year, when several teams try to make strong cases for inclusion in the only bowl game that counts, it seems like college football and heated hullabaloo go hand in hand. To make matters worse, the BCS system, ostensibly created to assist in choosing the final championship matchup, has, with its arcane mathematical formulas, seemingly only confused things further.

This year is no different. Not only did 2004 see five teams go undefeated on the year, but a firestorm of controversy erupted when Cal and Texas switched places in the BCS standings, giving the Longhorns a Rose Bowl bid and sticking the Golden Bears in the Holiday Bowl to face a subpar Texas Tech team. Is it any wonder college pigskin fans across the country are bent on removing the "C" from the BCS acronym?

Here at GameSpot Sports, we want to fix a championship system that is for all intents and purposes "broken." While there are numerous solutions (eliminating preseason polls is a good start), the most obvious is a playoff system. After all, it works in college basketball and baseball. Heck, it even works in NCAA Division I-AA football. So why couldn't it work in the Big Show?

To that end, we've created our own playoff system and have decided to simulate the results of the tournament using EA Sports' NCAA Football 2005. The system is straightforward and employs the final BCS standings to determine seeding. Therefore, the number one team faces the number eight team; the number two team faces the number seven team; and so on. For our game settings, we used All-American difficulty level, and in the interest of reaching a happy medium between realism and preserving our sanity, we simulated the games on seven-minute quarters. Finally, we used the default rosters found in the game and made no adjustments.

So here it is: our best guess as to how a playoff tournament might look in 2004. As you'll undoubtedly see, the results may surprise you. And here we were trying to avoid further controversy...

Quarterfinals

#8 Virginia Tech Hokies at #1 USC Trojans

The USC Trojans arrived at the LA Memorial Coliseum with all the swagger and confidence you might expect from the number one college football team in the nation. They left that same stadium, however, a humbled team. In a defensive struggle sure to please only immediate family members of Dick Butkus, the underdog Virginia Tech Hokies eked out a 6-3 win over the 2003 cochampions to move on to the tournament semifinals.

The Virginia Tech team came out of the gate early, driving the ball with confidence in its first possession by successfully converting four consecutive third-down situations. The fifth time was a charm for USC, however, as the Trojans' tightfisted defense finally held the Hokies' offense to a mere field goal. The game would not see another score until midway through the third quarter when, sparked by a great punt return by USC's Reggie Bush, the Trojans finally began moving the ball with some regularity. A first-down pass from Matt Leinart to Whitney Lewis gave USC the ball at the 8-yard line, where the Hokies managed to hold USC to a field goal, which tied the game at 3-3.

USC Heisman hopeful Matt Leinart struggled all day against the miserly Hokies defense.

In the fourth quarter, senior linebacker Mikal Baaqee picked off a Matt Leinart pass to set in motion the final victorious drive for the Hokies. Tech quarterback Bryan Randall led another brilliant drive by successfully converting several third downs with passes to Justin Hamilton, which more than kept VT's playoff hopes alive. Kicker Ryan Killeen nailed his second field goal on the day to give Tech a 6-3 lead, while the Hokies' defense did the rest by sacking Leinart and forcing two incomplete passes to ice the game once and for all.

USC quarterback Leinart's Heisman aspirations took a serious hit in this game, as he only completed seven passes on 28 attempts and threw for two interceptions, which is nearly half the number of picks he threw during the entirety of the 2004 regular season.

Final Score: Virginia Tech - 6, USC - 3

VTUSC
First Downs154
Total Offense22675
Rushes - Yards35-411-5
Comp - Att - TD15-36-07-28-0
Passing Yards18670
Sacked42
Third Down Conversions9-191-10
Red Zone - TD - FG2-0-21-0-1
Turnovers22
Fumbles - Lost1-10-0
Intercepted12
TOP18:499:11

#6 Utah Utes at #3 Auburn Tigers

There was some palpable concern as the high-flying Utes arrived at Jordan-Hare stadium about how Utah coach Urban Meyer's departure would affect his team's play. By the end of the game, which resulted in a 10-3 Auburn victory, any possible concerns were clearly addressed. The nation's third-highest-scoring offense was effectively shut down, posting a final score that was 43 points below its season average, after being throttled by a stingy Tigers defense. Quarterback Alex Smith, a Heisman candidate, had his worst game of the year for Utah, completing only 11 of 40 passes for 188 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.

Auburn didn't exactly play inspired football either, however. Aside from a workmanlike 27-carry, 96-yard rushing performance from Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Auburn's offense sputtered and wasted numerous opportunities to put the game away. Kicker John Vaughn missed three out of four field goal attempts, including a 44-yard try in the first quarter that hit the crossbar and bounced back onto the field. Tiger quarterback Jason Campbell also squandered a promising drive and a first-and-goal opportunity in the third quarter by getting picked off by Utah defensive back Eric Weddle on the 5-yard line.

The Tigers escaped from a first-round matchup with a 10-3 win.

Utah actually drew first blood in the game by scoring on its initial drive of the second quarter. The drive started on the Auburn 45 thanks to a short punt out of the end zone by the Tigers. Key plays on the drive included a third-down reception by wideout Cody Sorenson and a draw play to the 15-yard line by Ute QB Alex Smith. The Utes' inability to rush the ball, however, stalled the offensive drive, so they settled on a 27-yard field goal.

Later in the quarter, Auburn answered Utah's score with its own 28-yard field goal, which was set up by a 49-yard bomb from Campbell to wide receiver Ben Obomanu on the Utah 7-yard line. The Tigers could not find the end zone, however, as Williams was stopped on two consecutive runs, and Campbell's third-and-goal pass fell harmlessly out of bounds. The game's only touchdown was scored at the end of the first half on a 42-yard Hail Mary from Campbell to Anthony Mix...just as time expired. The desperation pass was set up by four straight runs by Williams for a total of 30 yards.

Utah would get two chances at the end of the game to tie the score. The Utes second-to-last drive ended on a Will Herring interception at the Tiger 10-yard line with little more than a minute and a half to play. The Utes would see the ball again, but with no timeouts remaining, the clock ran out on Utah after an Alex Smith bomb to John Peel advanced the ball to the Auburn 16.

Final Score: Auburn - 10, Utah - 3

Auburn TigersUtah Utes
First Downs129
Total Offense255204
Rushes - Yards30-10214-16
Comp - Att - TD9-30-111-40-0
Passing Yards143188
Sacked13
Third Down Conversions4-152-13
Red Zone - TD - FG2-0-12-0-1
Turnovers11
Fumbles - Lost0-00-0
Intercepted12
TOP17:3410:26

#7 Georgia Bulldogs at #2 Oklahoma Sooners

Another quarterfinal game. Another upset. The Georgia Bulldogs played at a level that justified their #3 preseason ranking in this crucial playoff matchup against Bob Stoops and his Oklahoma Sooners. Quarterback David Greene lit up the Oklahoma Sooners for 215 passing yards and two touchdowns as the Bulldogs prevailed and moved to the next round of competition in convincing 24-7 fashion.

The scoring came early for the Bulldogs when, on the second play of the game, Greene found his favorite target of the day--wide receiver Fred Gibson--for a 45-yard touchdown pass. The Sooners' QB Jason White answered immediately with a long strike of his own to Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton, but the Georgia defense tightened up straightaway and forced a Sooner punt. Two possessions later, a botched option play nearly spelled disaster for the Dawgs, as Greene, who was running to his right, failed to make the pitch to his running back Kregg Lumpkin and instead fumbled the ball. Lumpkin's quick reflexes allowed him to snatch up the loose ball and make a mad dash toward the end zone to give the Bulldogs a two touchdown lead.

Fred Gibson's soft hands were instrumental in helping the Bulldogs take down the much-favored Oklahoma Sooners.

The Dawgs kept up the pressure after another Green-and-Gibson hookup in the second quarter gave Georgia the ball deep in Sooners territory. After a strong goal-line stand by Oklahoma, however, the Bulldogs were content to settle for a field goal to go up 17-0.

The only bright spot on the day for Oklahoma came early in the fourth quarter when White hooked up with receiver Mark Clayton to put the ball deep in Georgia territory. Two plays later, White tossed a perfectly thrown touchdown pass to tight end James Moses to finally put the Sooners on the board. Georgia's final score came on a fourth-quarter touchdown toss from Greene to tight end Trahern Holden. The Bulldogs now move on to the semifinal round, where they will face another heavily favored team in the Auburn Tigers.

Final Score: Georgia - 24, Oklahoma - 7

UGAOU
First Downs118
Total Offense269124
Rushes - Yards25-5412-32
Comp - Att - TD16-37-213-37-1
Passing Yards215155
Sacked53
Third Down Conversions3-150-11
Red Zone - TD - FG3-1-11-1-0
Turnovers03
Fumbles - Lost1-00-0
Intercepted30
TOP17:1310:47

#5 California Golden Bears at #4 Texas Longhorns

The grudge match of the year unfolded at Darnell K. Royal Memorial Stadium between the Texas Longhorns and the California Golden Bears. There's no love lost between these two teams, especially since Texas coach Mack Brown rubbed many the wrong way by pandering to poll voters to jump his team up in the rankings over Cal, which resulted in the Longhorns gaining home-field advantage in this tilt. Karma ended up hooking the 'Horns, though, as the team was dominated from start to finish, losing 13-0 to the Bears in its own pasture.

Texas looked like it was going to jump on the Bears early, as the Longhorns moved the ball with ease on the first drive of the game. Quarterback Vince Young completed a 20-yard pass and scrambled twice down the field to put the Longhorns deep in Golden Bear territory. The Texas drive stalled on fourth down, however, as defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander stuffed running back Cedric Benson on fourth and two from the 22-yard line. That would be Texas' best and last opportunity to score for the rest of the game.

Aaron Rodgers led an unstoppable aerial attack for the Bears.

In actuality, both teams' impressive running attacks were contained all game long. Cal's first-team All American running back J.J. Arrington was limited to a scant 24 yards on 16 carries with only one touchdown. Meanwhile, Benson was stifled for 19 yards on 13 carries. Texas' Young was the game's best runner, tallying 104 electrifying yards on 18 carries. Discounting the Bears' sack yardage, the total probably was closer to 150 yards. The difference in the game was passing, and in that respect, Cal's star quarterback Aaron Rodgers was a stark, effective contrast to Young, who seemed to have trouble completing even the simplest of throws. Rodgers completed 11 of 23 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown, while Young was an abysmal two for 21 for 38 yards and an interception. Coach Brown's decision making was second-guessed yet again (after another big contest), because he didn't pull Young from the game. Young, at one point, actually missed 14 consecutive passes after having completed his first throw.

Cal scored its first touchdown in the second quarter after getting pinned on its own 15-yard line. A 71-yard bomb to a streaking Geoff McArthur put the Bears in the Texas red zone. Rodgers then hit a diving Jonathan Makonnen at the goal line for 13 yards, setting up a short touchdown plunge by Arrington. Cal missed the extra point, however, leaving only a 6-0 lead. Cal's second and final touchdown came midway through the third quarter on a drive that originated from the Cal 19. Big plays were key on this drive as well, with Rodgers completing passes of 25 and 37 yards to Arrington and McArthur, respectively. A 10-yard rumble by fullback Chris Manderino to the Texas 14 set up a third-and-inches situation, where a brilliant play-action fake by Rodgers resulted in a wide-open Garrett Cross in the end zone. Rodgers hit the open tight end for an easy touchdown, which set up the final 13-0 margin.

Final score: Cal - 13, Texas - 0

CalUT
First Downs1211
Total Offense310161
Rushes - Yards29-5233-123
Comp - Att - TD11-23-12-21-0
Passing Yards25838
Sacked24
Third Down Conversions4-125-14
Red Zone - TD - FG2-2-00-0-0
Turnovers01
Fumbles - Lost0-00-0
Intercepted01
TOP13:0714:53

Semifinals

#8 Virginia Tech Hokies at #5 California Golden Bears

After toppling the number one team in the nation in the quarterfinals, did the Virginia Tech Hokies have enough gas left in the tank to face a high-powered Cal team that just came off a blistering win over Texas? This was the question college football fans were posing to one another as the second round of the NCAA College Football Playoffs began. The answer: The Hokies had more than enough gas left in the tank. Virginia Tech showed it was for real by coming from behind to beat the Golden Bears 14-10, thus earning a berth in the national championship game.

Cal struck early in the game when quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the squad down the field, distributing the ball among several receivers, including Geoff McArthur and Jonathan Makonnen. The drive ended in a field goal that gave Cal an early lead. Before the Golden Bears could get too comfortable with their lead, however, defensive back and punt return specialist Tim Mixon bobbled a Virginia Tech punt. The Hokies Jimmy F. Williams grabbed the ball and quickly ran into the end zone to put Tech up 7-3.

J.J. Arrington did a lot...but not enough to give Cal a win over the Hokies.

Late in the second quarter, Cal's running back J.J. Arrington scored on a 15-yard outside run to give the Bears a 10-7 lead just before halftime. From there, Cal's defense took over by shutting down Hokie quarterback Bryan Randall on drive after drive. The game seemed well in Cal's hands until, with fewer than two minutes left in the game, Randall found just enough of his game to nail a 30-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hamilton to put the Hokies up once and for all.

Battered but determined, Rodgers and company took to the field for one last-gasp drive to preserve Cal's playoff hopes. On first down, an errant pass from Rodgers ended up in the hands of Tech's Roland Minor, thus giving the Cal quarterback an uncharacteristic three interceptions on the day.

The Hokies moved on to the final round of the playoffs, while Cal, disappointed about the loss, took small comfort in knowing that head coach Jeff Tedford would be sticking around for a few more years to give Cal another shot at a championship title.

Final Score: Virginia Tech - 14, Cal - 10

VTCal
First Downs915
Total Offense207292
Rushes - Yards23-3521-60
Comp - Att - TD10-33-115-37-0
Passing Yards172232
Sacked51
Third Down Conversions6-161-10
Red Zone - TD - FG0-0-04-1-1
Turnovers13
Fumbles - Lost2-12-1
Intercepted03
TOP14:2113:35

#7 Georgia Bulldogs at #3 Auburn Tigers

The semifinals of the college football playoffs included a classic matchup of traditional SEC powers. Quarterback David Greene and the Georgia Bulldogs came to the Plains of Auburn confident after their shocking upset of the Oklahoma Sooners in round one. Unfortunately, their quick start in the game wasn't enough, as they were edged out 14-9 by the homestanding Auburn Tigers in a sloppy, turnover-riddled game.

The Tigers went three and out on the very first series of the game and promptly shanked a punt, which the Bulldogs returned to the Auburn 35-yard line. Bulldog halfback Kregg Lumpkin went to work immediately, catching a swing pass, converting a fourth and short, and scampering 11 yards on another run to the Tiger 11-yard line. Lumpkin was later stuffed, gaining no yards on a direct snap sandwiched between incompletions from Greene. The Bulldogs had to settle for a 28-yard Andy Bailey field goal to put them up 3-0.

David Greene's uneven performance kept the Bulldogs from pulling off another upset

Consecutive fumbles on its next two drives would cost Georgia dearly, however, as Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell threw a 26-yard strike to Silas Daniels for Auburn's first score. The touchdown was set up by a muffed punt by return man Tyson Browning. Auburn added to its lead early in the second quarter with another Campbell touchdown pass, this time to tight end Cooper Wallace on a second-and-goal situation from the 7-yard line.

The Tigers were cruising 14-3 at this point, and it seemed like a rout was just beginning. But suddenly, both teams got sloppy, exchanging interceptions on four consecutive drives after Auburn's second touchdown. Neither offense could get back in sync for the rest of the game. That is, until Georgia finally hit pay dirt on a 62-yard bomb by Greene to tight end Trahern Holden midway through the fourth quarter. The two-point conversion attempt failed, so the Tigers held precariously to a 14-9 lead.

After an Auburn punt left the Bulldogs at midfield with little more than a minute to play, Greene appeared poised to lead a dramatic game-ending drive. The quarterback completed consecutive passes to wide receiver Reggie Brown, leaving the Dawgs with a second-and-inches situation at the Auburn 9. Greene, however, took a costly sack on third down. Then, on fourth and seven from the 16, Georgia head coach Mark Richt made a questionable call by having Greene toss a swing pass to fullback Jeremy Thomas, who was stopped well short of the first down. The Tigers ran the remaining few seconds off the clock to seal the victory.

Final Score: Auburn - 14, Georgia - 9

AUUGA
First Downs149
Total Offense199225
Rushes - Yards33-7117-37
Comp - Att - TD11-26-212-31-1
Passing Yards128188
Sacked12
Third Down Conversions3-141-11
Red Zone - TD - FG1-1-02-0-1
Turnovers25
Fumbles - Lost1-04-2
Intercepted23
TOP15:5712:03

Finals

#8 Virginia Tech Hokies at #3 Auburn Tigers

If the NCAA wanted a compelling story to trumpet a newly installed playoff system, it could ask for no better protagonist than the Virginia Tech Hokies. The number eight-seeded team from Blacksburg, Virginia, overcame seemingly impossible odds to take its first NCAA College Football championship in school history by humiliating an Auburn Tigers team that some thought could have been the best in the nation.

Led by a commanding performance from senior quarterback Bryan Randall, who threw for 256 yards and one touchdown on the day, the Hokies played a masterful game that featured a balanced offensive attack and a swarming defense that never let Auburn catch its breath.

Early in the game, Auburn looked to be in control of the game when punt return specialist Tre Smith ran back a Virginia Tech punt to the VT 2-yard line. On the very next play, Auburn's star running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams took the ball to the house to give the Tigers an early 7-0 lead. It would be the last time the Auburn team would score, as kicker John Vaughn would later miss two field goals in the first half that could have kept Auburn in the game. Tiger quarterback Jason Campbell had another chance to help his team while in the Hokies' red zone, but his pass was bobbled in the end zone and was eventually intercepted by VT cornerback Eric Green.

Bryan Randall should send David Clowney an extra holiday present or two after his masterful receiving performance against Auburn.

Two solid drives in the second quarter netted the Hokies 10 points, with Randall and Virginia Tech star receiver David Clowney hooking up for big yards on several plays. Clowney, undoubtedly the MVP of the national title game, ended his day with an impressive seven receptions for 121 yards and one touchdown. Running back Cedric Humes made a strong impression on Auburn's defensive line by averaging nearly 3 yards per rush in the game. Tech's other touchdown was scored by fullback John Minzer on a goal-line run that put the game out of reach for a frustrated Auburn squad.

In the end, Virginia Tech's solid game plan and execution, combined with mistake-prone play by the Tigers, ended in one of the most unlikely of college football stories...and one that will surely go down in Hokies history.

Final Score: Virginia Tech - 20, Auburn - 7

VTAU
First Downs1311
Total Offense297175
Rushes - Yards21-4124-56
Comp - Att - TD14-33-112-34-0
Passing Yards256119
Sacked23
Third Down Conversions3-125-14
Red Zone - TD - FG5-2-23-1-0
Turnovers23
Fumbles - Lost0-00-0
Intercepted23
TOP14:1013:50

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