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Five year lookback: What if the College Football Playoff had started a year sooner?

Thanks in part to any Alabama game broadcast on CBS, Tide fans will never forget the Most Painful Second for any fanbase in college football history. Iconic as it may have been for the sport, “Kick Six,” complete with controversy over the tying touchdown play, was a gut punch that not only killed Alabama’s chances at an unprecedented third consecutive national title, but led to a freshman QB named Trevor Knight introducing himself to Katy Perry and the rest of the nation with the performance of his life to lead a rather pedestrian Oklahoma squad to a Sugar Bowl upset over the Tide. Alas, a season that started with 11 consecutive victories and a legitimate chance at football immortality went up in flames, while Alabama’s hated in-state rival Auburn went on to face tainted Heisman winner Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles in the last title game of the BCS era. Thankfully, the lesser of two evils prevailed, and we rolled into the first season of the College Football Playoff.

One has to wonder, though, what might have happened had the playoff started one year sooner.

A key impetus for the CFP was the 2011 season that ended in a SEC West rematch, and the idea was supported by people too logically deficient to comprehend that such rematches would be more likely with additional teams added to the championship mix. Had there been a playoff in 2013, two SEC West teams would almost assuredly have made the field in its inaugural season. One can only imagine the national outcry, and for all the whining about the BCS it did the one thing that nothing since 2013 has been able to do: keep Alabama out. Turns out that Nick Saban’s Alabama is one of the four best teams in the country every year. Who would’ve guessed?

So, what would the field have looked like?

Despite the loss to Auburn, 11-1 Alabama finished #3 in the final BCS rankings, ahead of 12-1 Big Ten champ Michigan State and 11-2 Pac 12 champ Stanford. Based on what we’ve seen from the committee thus far, I believe that the Tide would have ended up between the two, Michigan State’s 12th victory and conference title giving them the nod at #3 while Stanford’s two losses left them on the outside looking in.

Thus, your matchups:

#1 Florida State vs. #4 Alabama


NCAA Football: Florida State at Florida

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Yeah, we know, Jimbo. An extraordinarily pissed off Nick Saban squad is a hell of a reward for an undefeated season. While the Seminoles were certainly better than the Sooners that year, Saban’s defenses were still adjusting to the hurry-up spread concepts favored in the Big 12. Jimbo Fisher’s offense was far superior, but the Tide defense was more equipped to compete against it

Can you imagine the ratings bonanza that this would have been? Think Heisman winner Winston, baggage included, leading his high-flying attack against a Nick Saban team with a suspect secondary but a month to prepare, Fisher challenging his mentor’s perfect record against former assistants, and Alabama senior QB AJ McCarron looking to bounce back from an Iron Bowl rife with missed opportunities against an elite Seminoles defense. This matchup had been anticipated for weeks and would have been nothing short of delicious. It’s an utter shame that a combination of Auburn luck and outright cheating kept it from coming to fruition in the BCS title game.

#2 Auburn vs. #3 Michigan State


NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan State

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State gets the three seed coming off a resounding win over previously unbeaten Ohio State that famously had Urban Meyer crying in his pizza box. There was nothing flashy about a Spartans squad that played hard-nosed defense and ran the ball right at you with Jeremy Langford while mixing in some shots from Connor Cook on play action. On the other side, Gus Malzahn’s Auburn team only bothered to play a smidge of defense, but pushed the envelope with an offense designed to (I’m trying to be nice here) skirt the edge of the rules at a breakneck pace, led by outstanding RB Tre Mason and a QB in Nick Marshall who was a far greater threat to steal from his teammates with his legs than his arm. The Tigers averaged over 300 rushing yards and nearly 40 points a game.

Kick Six revenge game?


Auburn v Alabama

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

None of us can possibly know how either of these matchups would have turned out, but it’s very possible that Alabama and Auburn would have prevailed, setting up a rematch for the ages in a championship tilt that would have simultaneously rendered yet another Iron Bowl result totally meaningless.

With the rivalry at a fever pitch following four consecutive national titles between the two programs, the Updyke incident and the emotionally charged Kick Six game, one can only imagine the level of local hostility in the ten days leading up to such a contest. Meanwhile, college football fans and talking heads around the country would have had egg on their faces, their precious playoff ushering in the very circumstance that they created it to avoid. The game itself would have been one of the bloodiest hate-fests the sport has ever seen, and Alabama may well have another trophy in the case.

Oh, what might have been.

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