How Teams That Suffer Heartbreaking Playoff Losses Bounce Back the Following Year

By David Regimbal on January 2, 2020 at 10:45 am
Chris Olave

Dating back to the second College Football Playoff, there hasn't been a national champion that didn't suffer a heartbreaking playoff loss the previous year.

Clemson and LSU are set to break that four-year trend when they face off in the title game in New Orleans next Monday, but that's the outlier. 

In 2014, you may remember a Sugar Bowl contest between Ohio State and Alabama. It was the first year of the College Football Playoff, and the Buckeyes went into that matchup starting its third-string quarterback as heavy underdogs. Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott put on a show and helped Ohio State seal a 42-35 upset win that stunned the Crimson Tide.

The following year, Alabama stormed through the playoff, which was capped by a 45-40 win over Clemson that featured a 24-point fourth quarter to seal the national title.

It was a tough loss for the Tigers, but they stormed their way back to the playoff the following season, blew out Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and pulled off an instant classic by outscoring Alabama 21-7 in the fourth quarter to win the national championship 35-31.

The Tide had to live with giving away a lead in the literal final second of that game all offseason, which fueled another title run. Nick Saban's squad got revenge on Clemson with a grinding win over the Tigers before snagging the title away from Georgia in overtime.

And finally, that loss launched Clemson's historic 15-0 season in 2018 that gave Dabo Swinney his second national title in three years.

You could argue this isn't a pattern of teams bouncing back from a playoff loss, but rather Clemson and Alabama programs that are a cut above everyone else in college football trading blows.

Even if that's the case, though, Ohio State proved it's every bit on the same level with Clemson in that Fiesta Bowl showdown, which brings up this point — can the Buckeyes resume the trend above and make a run at next year's title?

That's what Ryan Day and Ohio State will push for as they enter the offseason.

The Buckeyes already have revenge on their mind. Kevin Harrish highlighted a collection of Tweets from Ohio State football players showcasing as much:

A couple of seniors echoed that sentiment for the team they won't be a part of next year.

“We're going to have a bad taste in our mouths going into next year. I still say we,” safety Jordan Fuller said after the loss. “But they're going to have a bad taste in their mouths, and I think they'll use it as fuel.”

K.J. Hill went even further.

“They can take that fuel and the motivation into the offseason,” Hill added. “They know how it felt now. They got to this level, they know how it feels and they lost at the highest level on the big stage. And now your offseason should have nothing but motivation. Mat drills, summer runs, all that. That nasty taste’s going to be in your mouth from this loss.”

Ohio State's 2020 schedule doesn't look as challenging as the one it just navigated. Wisconsin falls off the slate and is replaced by Iowa, which has to travel to Columbus for the Week 6 showdown (following an Ohio State bye week). The Penn State game won't be played the week before the season finale against Michigan — but rather in Week 8.

But judging from the comments made after the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State will use the Clemson loss as motivation entering the offseason.

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