4 Team College Football Playoff

Remembering The Best Players In The College Football Playoff Era

As we approach the close of the 4-team College Football Playoff era, it’s an amazing time to reminisce about the incredible players who left indelible marks in this special chapter of NCAA history. From the inception of the College Football Playoff in 2014, we’ve witnessed incredible performances, nail-biting finishes, historic upsets and even some blowouts unfortunately. Despite that, the implementation and expansion of the College Football Playoff has forever changed the landscape of college football as we know it. 

The Dawn of the College Football Playoff Era

The 4-team College Football Playoff era ushered in a new chapter for NCAA, providing a committee of Football professionals hand selecting the top four teams to compete for the National Championship. The format was an instant hit, even with controversy over the fourth and final spot in the inaugural season. The electricity of the first season allowed this format to easily surpass the preceding Bowl Championship Series in terms of excitement and fairness. This stage brought out the best competition and some of the best individual performers who left their stamp on College Football. 

Derrick Henry, Alabama 

Alabama’s Derrick Henry stands tall among the best players of the era. Though his stats in the College Football Playoff weren’t groundbreaking by his standards, he still managed to score five touchdowns across two games, leading the Crimson Tide to a national title. His solid performance in these crucial matches, along with his Heisman Trophy win, cemented his place in College Football Playoff history.

Justin Jefferson, LSU

Justin Jefferson, now a star with the Minnesota Vikings, showcased his unstoppable nature in the College Football Playoff at the end of the 2019 season. He racked up 14 catches for 227 yards and four touchdowns, helping the LSU Tigers dismantle Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl. Jefferson’s remarkable performance was a testament to his potential, which he continues to realize in the NFL.

Jalen Hurts, Alabama & Oklahoma

The playoff era saw Jalen Hurts rise as a unique figure, being the only quarterback to start playoff games for two different teams, Alabama and Oklahoma. His performances may not go down as legendary, but his ability to adapt and perform under pressure was commendable. Despite facing setbacks, Hurts put up impressive numbers at both Alabama and Oklahoma. 

Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence burst onto the scene as a freshman, immediately establishing himself as one of the best quarterbacks in college football. He threw for over 300 yards in each of Clemson’s playoff wins, guiding the Tigers to an unbeaten season and a national title. Even though he suffered his first collegiate loss in the National Championship game the following year, Lawrence’s performances in the College Football Playoff were nothing short of spectacular and fanbases were hoping their favorite team would tank for him. 

Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State

Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott was the engine of the Buckeyes’ offense during their run to the national title in the 2014-15 season. Despite injuries to key players, and being down to their third-string QB, Ohio State made the most of Elliott’s incredible performances, which included rushing 20 times for 230 yards and two scores against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. His one-yard run with less than 30 seconds to go in the National Championship game against Oregon was the cherry on top of a remarkable run.

Deshaun Watson, Clemson

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson was exceptional in each of his two title game appearances against Alabama. In the 2016 National Championship, Watson was instrumental in Clemson’s offensive production, accounting for all but 72 of Clemson’s offensive yards. The next season, Watson produced one of the most iconic plays in playoff history when he found Hunter Renfrow for the game-winning TD, securing Clemson’s 35-31 win over Alabama. 

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Tua Tagovailoa, best known for his pass to DeVonta Smith to beat Georgia in the 2017-18 National Championship, was a key figure in Alabama’s success during the playoff era. Coming in at halftime while Alabama’s offense was struggling, Tua was able to make this throw after taking a terrible sack the play before. Despite a late-season hip injury hampering him in 2019, Tagovailoa’s performances in the playoffs, particularly his game-winning pass in the 2017-18 National Championship game, will always be remembered in Alabama football history. 

Joe Burrow, LSU

Joe Burrow’s 2019 season with LSU is widely regarded as one of the best by any quarterback in modern college football history. He was phenomenal in the College Football Playoff, accounting for a staggering 14 TDs in LSU’s two CFP wins over Oklahoma and Clemson. His seven first-half touchdowns against Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl remain the best single-game passing performance in playoff history.

Stetson Bennett, Georgia 

Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on QB for Georgia, cemented his name in the history books by becoming the only starting quarterback to win back-to-back titles in the College Football Playoff era. He led the Bulldogs to two successive playoff victories, and wrapped up his career at Georgia a legend at the age of 26. The Van Wilder of College Football.

DeVonta Smith, Alabama 

If Alabama’s DeVonta Smith was not already a legend for his OT catch in the 2018 National Championship game, he won the Heisman Trophy in his senior year and arguably the most elite performance in CFB Championship history. He had 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns against Ohio State in the National Championship game, capping off his Heisman season in grand style and even a broken hand.  

The Best Defensive Players in the College Football Playoff Era

Since 2014, the CFP has not only been a stage for offensive fireworks but also for defensive masterclasses. Here are some of the defensive players who have turned games with their exceptional talent:

Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

In the 2017-2018 CFP, Da’Ron Payne was a force to be reckoned with. His performance in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson was nothing short of dominant. Payne, an imposing defensive tackle, not only stifled the run game but also showed his versatility with a crucial interception and subsequent reception for a touchdown on a trick play. His efforts were central to Alabama’s shutout win and their eventual National Championship victory.

Clelin Ferrell, Clemson

Clelin Ferrell, the defensive end for Clemson, was a nightmare for offenses during the 2018-2019 CFP. His relentless pressure on the quarterback alongside the other members of the Clemson D Line in Clemson’s rout of Alabama in the National Championship game. Ferrell’s ability to disrupt the backfield and set the tone for the defense was a key component of the Tigers’ run. It also probably got him drafted way higher than he should have been selected. 

Isaiah Simmons, Clemson

Isaiah Simmons’s athleticism and versatility were on full display during the 2019-2020 playoffs. Playing as a linebacker and sometimes as a safety, Simmons’s range and play-making ability were freaky in Clemson’s journey to the finals. His standout moment came against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, where his interception and multiple tackles for loss helped Clemson edge out a close victory in a nail biter. 

Patrick Surtain II, Alabama

A lockdown cornerback, Patrick Surtain II was a pillar in the Alabama Crimson Tide’s formidable defense during the 2020-2021 CFP. His coverage skills and ability to take away an opponent’s top receiver were key in Alabama’s march towards another National Championship. Surtain’s performance against Ohio State in the title game showcased his NFL-ready talents as OSU has been WRU in the past decade.

Jordan Davis, Georgia

The mountainous defensive tackle, Jordan Davis, anchored a Georgia defense that was the backbone of their 2021-2022 CFP success. His presence in the middle was integral in shutting down Michigan’s run game in the Orange Bowl and in the National Championship game against Alabama. Davis’s ability to draw double teams and still impact plays was a testament to his dominance. The NFL messed up allowing him and Jalen Carter to be paired up on the Eagles defensive line as they will contribute to their success for years to come. 

Key Moments and Impact Plays

Defensive players have not only been stoppers but also game-changers in the CFP. It is hard to name them all here or pinpoint every key play. Whether it was Minkah Fitzpatrick’s leadership in the secondary for Alabama or Christian Wilkins’ dominance upfront for Clemson, these players have provided key moments that have turned games on their heads.

One such moment was in the 2018-2019 CFB National Championship when Clemson’s cornerback, A.J. Terrell, snagged a pick-six off of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, setting the tone early in what would be a Clemson victory.

In the 2020 Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State’s Justin Fields was intercepted by Clemson’s Nolan Turner, a moment filled with triumph while ripping out the hearts of the people of Ohio. 

Many fanbases faced both the highs and lows of the CFB. 

As we celebrate these exceptional defensive talents, it’s clear that their contributions have been just as important as those of the offensive stars. They’ve provided the backbone for championship teams and have brought just as much excitement to the game with their electrifying plays.

The Most Memorable Games

The four-team College Football Playoff era was filled with unforgettable games. From Ohio State’s upset over Alabama in the inaugural playoff season to Clemson’s thrilling comeback against Alabama in 2017, and Georgia’s double-overtime win over Oklahoma in the 2018 Rose Bowl, the playoff era has provided fans with a plethora of memorable moments.

As we gear up for the expanded 12-team field, we can’t help but look back at the incredible moments that the four-team College Football Playoff era gave us. The games, the players, the upsets, and the victories – they’re all part of the rich tapestry of NCAA history, and we can’t wait to see what the expanded field brings in the years to come.

From the Orange Bowl to the Sugar Bowl, and the Rose Bowl to the Cotton Bowl, the College Football Playoff era has been a roller coaster ride of emotions, creating memories that will last a lifetime for fans and players alike. In the end, the real winners are the fans, who have been gifted with some of the most exciting and competitive college football games in history. And with the expansion of the College Football Playoff, the future looks even brighter.


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