Now in the seventh year of the College Football Playoff, we’re ranking every team that has ever been part of the final four in the postseason format’s history.
The College Football Playoff was something fans throughout the country clamored for throughout the BCS era. And while there are still those that are hoping for expansion from the current four-team format, you’d have to largely consider the move to the Playoff an outright success. At the very least, there is little debate about who the best team in the country is once the National Champion is crowned.
As we are in the seventh year of the College Football Playoff format, however, one thing has become clear: Not all teams that make it into the final four are created equal. There have been some non-champions that looked as good as the eventual winners and there have been teams that, at the end of the day, looked like they might not have belonged at all.
So we’re looking back at every team that’s ever made it into the final four, including the quartet in the 2020-21 College Football Playoff, and ranking all of them against one another. Note: Years listed are the years when the National Championship Game was played.
College Football Playoff team No. 28: Michigan State Spartans, 2016
Lost to Alabama in Semifinal (Cotton Bowl), 38-0
Connor Cook led the Michigan State Spartans to one of the best seasons in the history of the program in East Lansing. They had a big non-conference win over an Oregon team that was ranked inside the top 10 and notched two other quality ranked wins. Mark D’Antonio’s team, though they suffered an upset loss to Nebraska, also weathered a tough Big Ten schedule to eventually win the conference.
While that all may be true, they were clearly a notch below the rest of the teams in the Playoff, most notably Alabama, a team they unfortunately had to match up with in the Cotton Bowl. The Crimson Tide absolutely boat-raced them. That was never more evident than with the Michigan State offense managing only 29 rushing yards and with Cook turning the ball over twice. To this day, the Spartans look like the outlier in CFP history.
College Football Playoff team No. 27: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 2019
Lost to Clemson in Semifinal (Cotton Bowl), 30-3
College football fans that don’t support the team from South Bend have long lamented the reality of the situation that Notre Dame is willingly in. As an independent program in the sport, they don’t have to endure a conference schedule, which some view as an advantage. Moreover, with the historical stature of the Fighting Irish, if they have a successful season, they are going to get the respect of the selection committee.
So when the Irish went undefeated in the 2018 regular season, they were a shoo-in for the College Football Playoff. But once they got into the Cotton Bowl, everyone’s doubts about the team came to fruition in a very real way. Clemson suffocated young Ian Book and the offense and then-freshman Trevor Lawrence had his way against what was supposed to be a top-level defense. In the end, Notre Dame looked like an outright disappointment.