The Modern Era College Football Tournament: Elite Eight
Chris Graythen/Getty Images. Pictured: Joe Burrow
My 68-team tournament comprised of the greatest college football teams of the modern era (1980 onward) has been cut down to the Elite Eight.
The chalk has held after a few Cinderellas made runs into the second weekend. We’ve got all four No. 1 seeds, three No. 2 seeds and a No.3 seed remaining.
The Elite Eight brings us some matchups between historic teams, including a showdown between the two best quarterbacks left in 2019 LSU vs. 2005 Texas.
Scroll down for a preview of all four regional finals. If you’d like to see how we got here, head on over to my Twitter feed for game recaps, video highlights and stats.
(1) ’95 Nebraska vs. (2) ’00 Oklahoma
- Spread: NU-10.5
- Total: 54.5
Very rarely does a point spread hit the board on any college football weekend where I say “That is not enough points,” meaning I think the favorite should be favored by more. It’s usually the other way around.
This point spread of Nebraska -10.5 is not enough.
2000 Oklahoma made it to this point in the bracket by the skin of their teeth against 2004 Utah.
This Sooners team struggled down the stretch of their undefeated national title run, winning by an average scoring margin of 7 points through their last five games.
In 1995, Nebraska was unstoppable with the smallest margin of victory the entire season coming in a 35-21 victory against Washington State. If you thought the 2019 and 2020 national title games were boring, take a look at 1996.
The Cornhuskers took No. 2 Florida to the woodshed in a 62-24 victory. Nebraska scored on six different occasions in the seconnd quarter alone.
Oklahoma’s biggest weakness was a defense that allowed over 100 rushing yards a game. Nebraska quarterback Tommy Frazier had 199 yards on 16 carries while running back Lawrence Phillips went for 165 yards on 25 carries in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. Frazier’s ability to break tackles led to one of the best highlights from a championship game in history.
Take Nebraska to cover this game and possibly hit the over on its own.
Big game Bob Stoops had a great run in his second season at Oklahoma, but quarterback Josh Heupel would have a hard time keeping up with one of the all-time offenses in Nebraska from 1995. — Collin Wilson
(1) ‘19 LSU vs (2) ‘05 Texas
- Spread: LSU -4
- Total: 74
I said this during the Round of 32, and I’ll say it again. The betting market was somehow still too low on LSU in 2019.
You just couldn’t set these lines high enough to keep Joe Burrow and that Tigers offense inside the number. They went 10-5 ATS, including covers in their last four games by an average of 22 points. Three of those games came against three of the 10 best teams in the country, too.
Vince Young might create some magic to keep it close, but I can’t bet against LSU here. — Steve Petrella
(1) ‘01 Miami (FL) vs. (3) ‘94 Penn State
- Spread: Miami -3.5
- Total: 66.5
This is a strange statement to make, but here goes: Miami is put at a disadvantage by only being able to play 11 players at a time.
Yes, 38 players from the 2001 Miami Hurricanes ended up as NFL Draft picks. But only the players who saw the field in 2001 can really help them in this matchup.
In terms of offensive firepower, the Canes trot out three All-Americans (Shockey, McKinnie, Gonzalez) and a backfield including two-time Heisman finalist Ken Dorsey and the one-two punch of Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee.
Apples to apples, 1994 Penn State can match them. The Nittany Lions’ QB, RB, WR and TE all achieved All-American honors. Ki-Jana Carter and Kerry Collins finished second and fourth respectively in Heisman voting. Their line featured two-time All-American Jeff Hartings, future All-Pro Marco Rivera and 1996 first-round draft pick Andre Johnson. They have arguably the better offense.
On defense, you can see the separation between these two teams. The chart above tells a definitive story; 10 of the 11 Hurricane starters were drafted. Penn State’s defense was good, but far from great and featured just two memorable playmakers (Kim Herring, Phil Yeboah-Kodie).
I like the over in this spot, and feel as though Penn State could stay with single-digits, but the spread is a pass for me. — Mike Calabrese
(1) ‘04 USC vs. (2) ‘91 Washington
- Spread: USC -5.5
- Total: 55.5
Picking between these two Pac-12 teams will with the thinnest of margins. In USA Today’s rankings of the greatest teams of all time, 1991 Washington and 2004 USC are separated by just 1.29 points according to final Sagarin ratings.
Based on line value alone, we’ll take the points with Washington and one of the greatest defenses of all-time, led by defensive end Steve Emtman. But I still like USC to advance.
The biggest question in this game comes around the USC offensive line keeping the Huskies defensive line in check. Washington consistently played with defenders in the backfield. Emtman personally racked up 20 tackles for loss on the season.
The talent on the Trojans offensive line is the difference. Ryan Kalil, a center who won the 2006 Morris Trophy, went on to be a 5-time NFL pro bowler. Guard Deuce Lutui was a consensus All-American in 2005.
All the credit to USC’s potent offense in this era is given to Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Matt Lienhart. In reality, none of those weapons matter without a push from the offensive line.
With multiple All-American and Pro Bowl caliber horses in the trench, USC would have been able to handle Emtman without a triple teaming him.
For this reason, USC can do enough offensively in the trenches and from an explosiveness perspective to win this game. Fight On! — Collin Wilson