9 coaches would have made a 12-team College Football Playoff in their 1st season

Expectations are always high for Alabama football. Even more so after the tenure of Nick Saban, who racked up six national titles during his 17 years in Tuscaloosa. Now Kalen DeBoer takes over, in a totally new era than the one Saban found himself in during his first season in 2007.

There’s a transfer portal now, NIL, a larger SEC and much more. There’s also going to be a 12-team College Football Playoff. Expectations for DeBoer will include good showings in the CFP on a consistent basis.

As to whether that’s reasonable for a first-year head coach, if prior CFPs were expanded to 12 teams under the current ruleset, nine coaches would have already done it. DeBoer himself would have come close in 2022 at Washington, though his Huskies, which were No. 12 in the final CFP ranking, would have been bumped out of the final playoff spot in favor of Tulane.

As DeBoer continues the early steps of his tenure at Alabama, here’s a look at which first-year head coaches would have made a 12-team playoff during the CFP era. 2014 Bryan Harsin– Boise State Before his largely unsuccessful two-year tenure at Auburn, Harsin was coaching the Broncos. He took over in 2014 after Chris Peterson left to take the head job at Washington.

The 12-team playoff as it currently stands would let in the highest-ranking champion from the Group of 5. Harsin’s first season, that would have been the Broncos, who finished the year as Mountain West champions and Fiesta Bowl winners. The team that finished No.

12 in the CFP rankings that season was Georgia Tech. The Broncos were No. 20 in the final top 25, but would have got the boost into a 12-team field.

2015 Tom Herman– Houston Another first year coach who would have made a 12-team playoff as the Group of 5 representative. Herman took over the Cougars after Tony Levine was fired. Houston was 12-1 following the American Athletic Conference championship.

It would go on to win the Peach Bowl over Florida State. The Cougars were No. 18 in the final playoff rankings and would have jumped Ole Miss for the final spot.

2016 Clay Helton– Southern Cal The start of Helton’s tenure in Los Angeles would have got off to a hot start had a 12-team field existed at the time. Technically it was only his first complete season at USC, after taking over for a fired Steve Sarkisian during the 2015 campaign. Whether it counts as a technicality or not, the Trojans were 9-3 in the final CFP rankings in 2016.

Southern Cal was ranked No. 9. Helton, now the head coach at Georgia Southern, and company capped off the year with a Rose Bowl win over Penn State.

2017 Lincoln Riley– Oklahoma Riley took over a program that was already a powerhouse in 2017. When Bob Stoops retired, Riley got the promotion with a squad that finished No. 7 in the 2016 CFP rankings.

With a new coach in charge, the Sooners made the four-team field as the No. 2 seed in 2017. They lost to Georgia in a Rose Bowl that went to two overtimes.

The Bulldogs went on to drop the national title game to Alabama. 2018 Dan Mullen– Florida Mullen returned to the school he had led as offensive coordinator during the peak of Urban Meyer’s tenure. He took the Florida job following a successful stint at Mississippi State.

The 2018 Gators finished third in the SEC East after late-season losses to Georgia and Missouri. Even so, they would have been in a 12-team playoff, entering the postseason as the tenth-ranked team in the CFP top 25. Florida ended Mullen’s first season in charge with a Peach Bowl win over Michigan.

2019 Ryan Day– Ohio State After taking over for Urban Meyer in Columbus, Day didn’t need an imaginary playoff expansion to break into the field. The Buckeyes finished as the No. 2 seed after winning the Big Ten championship.

It was the first playoff appearance for Ohio State since 2014, when it won the national championship. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they had to face Clemson in the semifinals. Ohio State fell to the Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl.

Clemson then lost to LSU in the title game. 2022 Sonny Dykes– TCU After a two-year gap where no first-year head coaches would have earned a CFP berth in a 12-team field, 2022 would have seen two make it. Dykes didn’t need the expansion help, with the Horned Frogs making a title game run in real life.

Actually, a 12-team field would have hurt TCU. The top four teams that receive byes have to be conference champions, and the Horned Frogs lost the Big 12 title game to Kansas State, and would have been bumped down. In actually, Dykes and company beat Michigan in the semifinal round before dropping the national championship game to Georgia.

Southern Cal– Lincoln Riley Riley would have made his second 12-team playoff as a first-year head coach under the 12-team system in 2022. It would have been the second such spot for Southern Cal as well, which would have made the field under Helton in 2016. This time around, Riley had a Heisman Trophy quarterback in Caleb Wiliams.

The Trojans had a chance to make the 4-team playoff, but fell to Utah, which dropped them to No. 9 in the final rankings. Riley’s squad lost to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl to end the campaign.

2023 Jamey Chadwell– Liberty Even though Liberty played a soft schedule in a woeful Conference USA, it would have been the Group of 5 representative in a 2023 12-team playoff. Chadwell joined the Flames from Coastal Carolina after Hugh Freeze left for the Auburn job. Chadwell and company won the CUSA title and finished at No.

23 in the final CFP rankings. The Flames would have bumped Oklahoma out of the final playoff spot. In real life, Liberty went to the Fiesta Bowl, where it lost 45-6 against Oregon.


By Matt Stahl | mstahl@al.com
Filed 01.27.2024

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