7-on-7 College Football Tournament
As we prepare for the 2019-20 college football season to kick off, I thought it would be fun to run a hypothetical 7-on-7 tournament using college football’s biggest stars. Of course, there are going to be some players that didn’t make the cut that people will be upset about but you can’t please everyone. For this tournament, the rules are simple:
1. Teams are broken up by one team per Power 5 conference, one team for all of the non-Power 5 teams, and two teams made of players that missed the cut for their conference teams.
2. Each team must present one quarterback, running back, tight end, and offensive linemen, in addition to three wide receivers. Each team must also have one defensive lineman that can be used either to penetrate the backfield or to drop back in coverage.
3. Teams are allowed to run at their will, even though it will be more difficult with only one blocker.
4. Seeding was decided primarily based on overall conference win % but my opinion did play a small role in close matchups.
5. Touchdowns are worth 6 points and there will be no PATs. Two 15-minute halves with no clock stoppage aside from the three timeouts each half.
6. Finally, this is just for fun and purely opinion-based.
QB- Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)
RB- Travis Etienne (Clemson)
WR- Justyn Ross (Clemson)
WR- Tee Higgins (Clemson)
Slot- Sean Riley (Syracuse)
TE- Brevin Jordan (Miami)
OL- Mekhi Becton (Louisville)
DL- Alton Robinson (Syracuse)
LB- Isaiah Simmons (Clemson)
LB- Charles Snowden (Virginia)
CB- Bryce Hall (Virginia)
CB- AJ Terrell (Clemson)
Nickel- Reggie Floyd (Virginia Tech)
S- Andre Cisco (Syracuse)
Head Coach- Dabo Swinney (Clemson)
Offensive Coordinator- Kendal Briles (Florida State)
Defensive Coordinator- Brent Venables (Clemson)
Although the majority of the roster and coaching staff is representing Clemson, this is in fact the ACC team. From the top-down, Head Coach Dabo Swinney is a top-3 coach in college football, arguably the best. His right-hand man in Brent Venables will join him as the defensive coordinator and they’ll be joined by Kendal Briles. Briles was most recently at Houston but re-signed to join the coaching staff at Florida State. Briles experience with Houston and coaching the passing game will help tremendously in this 7-on-7 style tournament.
Looking at the actual players, this offense is built to score points. With four starters from Clemson, there will be a lot of chemistry here and a lot of talent. Trevor Lawrence should have no problem finding a rhythm with his best weapons but that could mean Sean Riley and Brevin Jordan are virtually non-existent in this offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, this team has a lot of size, versatility, and playmaking ability. Isaiah Simmons is one of the most versatile defenders in college football and he’s joined by the 6’7” 235lb Charles Snowden at linebacker. This secondary is one of the best secondaries you could possibly build in all of college football. With Bryce Hall and AJ Terrell as the boundary corners, Reggie Floyd moving around as the nickel defender, and Andre Cisco roaming as the deep safety, this secondary has playmaking ability for days.
QB- Shea Patterson (Michigan)
RB- Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)
WR- Donovan Peoples-Jones (Michigan)
WR- Tyler Johnson (Minnesota)
Slot- Rondale Moore (Purdue)
TE- Brycen Hopkins (Purdue)
OL- Tyler Biadasz (Wisconsin)
DL- AJ Epenesa (Iowa)
LB- Paddy Fisher (Northwestern)
LB- Khaleke Hudson (Michigan)
CB- Lavert Hill (Michigan)
CB- Jeff Okudah (Ohio State)
Nickel- Jordan Fuller (Ohio State)
S- Geno Stone (Iowa)
Head Coach- John Harbaugh (Michigan)
Offensive Coordinator- Kevin Wilson (Ohio State)
Defensive Coordinator- Don Brown (Michigan)
John Harbaugh seemed like the best possible option out of all Big 10 coaches for his character, leadership, and experience. Much like the ACC, John Harbaugh brings his defensive coordinator Don Brown with him to this tournament, while bringing in an offensive coordinator that’s much more familiar with a pass-heavy offense. Kevin Wilson has been with Ohio State since 2017, learning under Urban Meyer and coaching the tight ends in the conference with one of the best tight ends in the nation in Brycen Hopkins.
Many analysts are hot or cold on Shea Patterson but when it comes down to it, he’s more proven than Justin Fields and this is a win-now situation. Giving Patterson weapons such as Donovan Peoples-Jones, Rondale Moore, and Brycen Hopkins in the passing game and adding in Jonathan Taylor, this offense has the ability to really stretch defenses. The Big 10 is one of the few conferences that looks capable of running the ball with the sheer speed that JT brings to the offense. Defensively, AJ Epenesa has the job of trying to disrupt the passer while Paddy Fisher will be patrolling the middle of the defense to wrap-up any short gains. Lavert Hill, Jeffrey Okudah, Jordan Fuller, and Geno Stone provide the defense with reliability on the back-end, but not a ton of takeaway ability.
QB- Sam Ehlinger (Texas)
RB- Kennedy Brooks (Oklahoma)
WR- Ceedee Lamb (Oklahoma)
WR- Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)
Slot- Jalen Reagor (TCU)
TE- Grant Calcaterra (Oklahoma)
OL- Zach Shackelford (Texas)
DL- Reggie Walker (Kansas State)
LB- Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma)
LB- Marcel Spears (Iowa State)
CB- Jeff Gladney (TCU)
CB- Parnell Motley (Oklahoma)
Nickel- Caden Sterns (Texas)
S- Greg Eisworth (Iowa State)
Head Coach- Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma)
Offensive Coordinator- Sean Gleeson (Oklahoma State)
Defensive Coordinator- Chad Glasgow (TCU)
Lincoln Riley is one of the hottest names in college football right now and in this article, that’s no different. Assisting Riley offensively is Sean Gleeson from Oklahoma State, who consistently has one of the top passing attacks in the country. Breaking the mold of head coaches bringing their defensive coordinators, Chad Glasgow is representing the Big 12. Glasgow has spent 17 of the last 18 years with TCU, consistently one of the few good defenses in the Big 12. Glasgow has also spent all 17 of those years as the safeties coach at TCU, which will help the play of Caden Sterns and Greg Eisworth significantly.
Offensively, this team is one of the most unique out there given the dual-threat ability of QB Sam Ehlinger. Lincoln Riley is the current QB whisperer so pairing him with Ehlinger makes this team a problem instantly. The receiving talent on this roster is no joke either, as Ceedee Lamb, Tylan Wallace, and Jalen Reagor are all in early consideration to be first-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Defensively this roster leaves a lot to be desired. The Big 12 in general is known as the most lackluster conference in college football when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. The secondary would be considered the strength of the defense but the first level leaves a lot to be desired for this style of play.
QB- Justin Herbert (Oregon)
RB- Eno Benjamin (Arizona State)
WR- Michael Pittman Jr. (USC)
WR- Juwan Johnson (Oregon)
Slot- Laviska Shenault Jr. (Colorado)
TE- Colby Parkinson (Stanford)
OL- Jake Hanson (Oregon)
DL- Mustafa Johnson (Colorado)
LB- Evan Weaver (California)
LB- Colin Schooler (Arizona)
CB- Paulson Adebo (Stanford)
CB- Jaylon Johnson (Utah)
Nickel- Thomas Graham Jr. (Oregon)
S- Julian Blackmon (Utah)
Head Coach- Chris Petersen (Washington)
Offensive Coordinator- Marcus Arroyo (Oregon)
Defensive Coordinator- Antonio Pierce (Arizona State)
One of the most under-appreciated coaches, Chris Petersen looks to solidify his name atop the list of top coaches in college football. Bringing in Marcus Arroyo as the offensive coordinator means he gets paired up with QB Justin Herbert again. Antonio Pierce on the defensive side of the ball should be a huge boost both leadership-wise and to elevate the play of both Evan Weaver and Colin Schooler, with an already talented secondary.
Unfortunately for Justin Herbert, he’s not given any familiar targets on the offensive side of the ball but he does have on the top receivers in the nation in Laviska Shenault Jr, along with the current top tight end in Colby Parkinson from Stanford.
The true strength of this defense lies in their secondary. Jaylon Johnson and Paulson Adebo are two of the top five cornerbacks in the nation. The linebackers here are nothing to scoff at so even though this team may be somewhat lacking in offensive firepower, they’ve got the defensive talent to possibly limit opposing offenses enough to sneak away with a win.
QB- Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama)
RB- D’Andre Swift (Georgia)
WR- Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)
WR- Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt)
Slot- Henry Ruggs (Alabama)
TE- Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt)
OL- Andrew Thomas (Georgia)
DL- Nick Coe (Auburn)
LB- Jacob Phillips (LSU)
LB- Dylan Moses (Alabama)
CB- CJ Henderson (Florida)
CB- Kristian Fulton (LSU)
Nickel- Cam Dantzler (Mississippi State)
S- Grant Delpit (LSU)
Head Coach- Nick Saban (Alabama)
Offensive Coordinator- Rich Rodriguez (Ole Miss)
Defensive Coordinator- Dave Aranda (LSU)
Nick Saban has been at the top of college football for more than a decade now, and with the talented roster from the SEC, this team may be unstoppable. Rich Rodriguez comes in as the offensive coordinator because when you’re playing a 7-on-7, you benefit greatly from having the ability to run a spread offense. Rodriguez is one of the innovators of the spread option offense, which means this offense would potentially see options between Tua, Swift, and any of the receivers. The last time Dave Aranda coached a defense that didn’t finish the season in the top 15 in total defense was 2011 with Hawaii, so to say he’s a successful defensive coordinator would be an understatement.
Led by a QB1 candidate in Tua Tagovailoa, coached by Rich Rodriguez, with the weapons that this offense has, the points and possibilities are endless. The SEC presents one of the few instances where they have a running back that is a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield. This Rich Rodriguez-led offense could be one of the most exciting offenses we’d ever see.
Defensively this is an All-American team. With top talents across the board, offensive coordinators will throw fits trying to score. Sporting arguably the top two linebackers in the nation with three top ten cornerbacks and the top safety, this defense is built to absolutely halt all offensive drives before they can get started.
QB- D’Eriq King (Houston)
RB- Michael Warren II (Cincinnati)
WR- Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty)
WR- Rico Bussey (North Texas)
Slot- James Proche (Southern Methodist)
TE- Harrison Bryant (Florida Atlantic)
OL- Tommy Kraemer (Notre Dame)
DL- Patrick Johnson (Tulane)
LB- Khalil Brooks (Middle Tennessee State)
LB- Juwan Foggie (Charlotte)
CB- JuJu Hughes (Fresno State)
CB- Amik Robertson (Louisiana Tech)
Nickel- Reed Blankenship (Middle Tennessee State)
S- Richie Grant (Central Florida)
Head Coach- Brian Kelly (Notre Dame)
Offensive Coordinator- Will Hall (Tulane)
Defensive Coordinator – Bert Watts (Fresno State)
Brian Kelly has been at Notre Dame for nearly a decade now, and during his time with the Fighting Irish, they’ve been consistent contenders. ) With such a wide-ranging talent pool to select from, both on the coach and player side, the familiarity here is relatively non-existent. Most teams that lack in talent tend to lean toward option plays and creativity, which is perfect to bring in Will Hall from Tulane as the offensive coordinator. Hall brings a spread-out attack that isn’t afraid to try new things offensively, and with D’Eriq King at QB, there are plenty of options. Defensively, Bert Watts led Fresno State to be a top-5 passing defense in the nation and in a tournament where passing is key, Watts could be the deciding factor in the non-power 5 team being competitive.
When looking at the roster, the most recognizable name is definitely D’Eriq King, the QB from Houston. King is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation and his experience with running a spread offense (Kendal Briles of the ACC team was his OC last season) should give him a slight advantage when it comes to managing this offense. Michael Warren II has proven himself to be a somewhat reliable receiver out of the backfield which will put more pressure on defenses to be able to spread out and cover across the board.
On the defensive side of the ball, Bert Watts will be relying heavily on the athleticism and versatility of players like Khalil Brooks, Reed Blankenship, and Richie Grant to remain competitive. Both Blankenship and Grant were named to the Jim Thorpe Award Watchlist and would be expected to roam all over the defense.
QB- Adrian Martinez (Nebraska)
RB- Cam Akers (Florida State)
WR- Amari Rodgers (Clemson)
WR- Collin Johnson (Texas)
Slot- Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)
TE- Jake Ferguson (Wisconsin)
OL- Trystan Colon-Castillo (Missouri)
DL- Chase Young (Ohio State)
LB- Shaquille Quarterman (Miami)
LB- Krys Barnes (UCLA)
CB- Essang Bassey (Wake Forest)
CB- Darnay Holmes (UCLA)
Nickel- Patrick Surtain II (Alabama)
S- Jalen Elliott (Notre Dame)
Head Coach- Matt Campbell (Iowa State)
Offensive Coordinator- Brian Brohm (Purdue)
Defensive Coordinator- Harlon Barnett (Florida State)
Starting with the head coach, Matt Campbell has never been known as a fantastic play-caller, but he’s always been known as a strong disciplinarian. Assisting Campbell will be Brian Brohm from Purdue, who will be implementing a spread-style offense, and Harlon Barnett from Florida State, who preaches a “No Fly Zone” style of defense and has since his Michigan State days. Brohm specializes in coaching quarterbacks while Barnett is a defensive back specialist, both of which are without a doubt the most important groups in this tournament.
Offensively, this team is represented with a solid combination of youth and experience with sophomores Adrian Martinez and Jaylen Waddle and upperclassmen Collin Johnson and Trystan Colon-Castillo. Having a former QB as the offensive coordinator should help Adrian Martinez get back on track, but the young QB would have to put a lot of weight on his shoulders to keep this team in games.
The secondary is the strength for this team of wildcards. Bassey, Holmes, Surtain II, and Elliott bring a playmaking presence that could cause problems for any offense they may see in the tournament. On the line, Chase Young can only do so much damage in this style of game but he should be able to make enough of an impact to disrupt offenses.
QB- Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
RB- J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State)
WR- KJ Hill (Ohio State)
WR- Damonte Coxie (Memphis)
Slot- Aaron Fuller (Washington)
TE- Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri)
OL- Shane Lemieux (Oregon)
DL- Kenny Willekes (Michigan State)
LB- Troy Dye (Oregon)
LB- Ray Wilborn (Ball State)
CB- Lamar Jackson (Nebraska)
CB- Keith Washington (West Virginia)
Nickel- Aashari Crosswell (Arizona State)
S- Jarius Morehead (North Carolina State)
Head Coach- David Shaw (Stanford)
Offensive Coordinator- Graham Harrell (Southern California)
Defensive Coordinator- Jim Leonhard (Wisconsin)
At the top of this list is David Shaw from Stanford. Shaw has been known as one of the best developers of talent in all of college football while also being a solid disciplinarian. Shaw won’t be relied on as much for his play-calling as he will for his ability to be a leader while Graham Harrell calls the plays on offense and Jim Leonhard runs the defense. Having a former NFL QB and former NFL DB on staff should give this team a bit of a boost in this style of game. Also, as an added note, although Stanford is known for being a run-first offense, David Shaw played receiver in college and coached QBs, WRs, and was a passing game coordinator in the NFL.
Led by transfer QB Jalen Hurts, this team is built to spread everything out, try to get guys the ball in space, and hope that someone can make a play. Albert Okwuegbunam would be a mismatch nightmare for just about every defense in this tournament, while KJ Hill presents reliability and experience as a receiver, and J.K. Dobbins brings soft hands and a hard-running style out of the backfield.
The weakness of this team appears to be the defense. Players like Troy Dye, Lamar Jackson, Keith Washington, and Jarius Morehead provide valuable leadership and versatility, in addition to the ability to make plays on the ball. Although this is primarily a passing tournament, having Kenny Willekes on the roster gives this defense the ability to suffocate the run game and make their opponents play an even more one-dimensional style.
3. Big 12
4. Big 10
6. Non-Power 5
7. 1st Wildcards
8. 2nd Wildcards
(1) SEC vs (8) 2nd Wildcards
What better way to start the 7-on-7 tournament than by pitting Tua Tagovailoa vs Jalen Hurts against one another? (Disclaimer: I honestly didn’t even realize this was the first-round matchup until I was writing this section out.)
This is the least-competitive game we’ll see during this whole tournament. As good as some of the players are on the second wildcards team, they’re just no match for the All-American roster that the SEC presents. Tua, Swift, and Jeudy would have an absolute field day with this defense while running a spread option style offense. On the other side of the ball, the second wildcards team has talented offensive weapons, but this SEC secondary is an NFL-ready secondary.
Final score: SEC 42 – 2nd Wildcards 12
(2) ACC vs (7) 1st Wildcards
In what would certainly be a closer game than SEC/WC2, the ACC manages to walk away with a victory. Trevor Lawrence is the best quarterback in college football and as talented as the defense is for this wildcards squad, they just don’t have enough in them to rattle Lawrence and blanket these receivers consistently. On top of that, this ACC defense is full of complete nightmares for an offense to face. Isaiah Simmons is an absolute freak, Charles Snowden is an athletic 6’7”, Bryce Hall is one of the best cornerbacks in college football, Reggie Floyd is the best draft-eligible safety in the SEC, and Andre Cisco is a top 5 safety in the nation.
Final score: ACC 36 – Wildcards 18
(3) Big XII vs (6) Group of 5
If there’s one conference that benefits from the style of play that this 7-on-7 tournament presents, it’s the Big 12. The most offensively-minded conference in college football is given a platform to shine. This group of 5 team is more than capable of putting up points on just about anyone.
In the battle of dynamic QBs, we also have a game between in-state schools. Sam Ehlinger of Texas has to face off with D’Eriq King of Houston. The biggest thing for me here is that Sam Ehlinger gets paired with Lincoln Riley, who is apparently a wizard when it comes to developing quarterbacks, and he’s gifted three potential first-round picks at receiver.
Of course, when you’re looking at the Big 12, the last thing you’re probably going to look at is the talent on the defensive side of the ball. Jeff Gladney and Caden Sterns headline this defense by providing playmaking ability in the secondary, but for the group of 5, Khalil Brooks, Reed Blankenship, and Richie Grant are some of the most versatile players you’ll find in all of college football.
Final score: Big XII 48 – Non-Power 5 30
(4) Big 10 vs (5) Pac-12
The most difficult choice that I had to make when it came to quarterbacks for this tournament was deciding who would start for the Big 10. The decision ultimately came down to which QB fit the play style and who I would trust the most. I know a lot of people would prefer Justin Fields or Adrian Martinez, but at the end of the day, Justin Fields is a relatively unknown and I don’t think that Adrian Martinez is better than Shea Patterson at this point in time.
Moving on to the actual game now, this game was undoubtedly the biggest coin-flip, as it was the only game between the Power 5 conferences. The Big 10 presents fantastic personnel to run a spread offense with playmakers like Jonathan Taylor and Rondale Moore. Taylor and Moore were two of the most exciting players in all of college football last season and they weren’t even draft-eligible. (Moore still isn’t.) The Pac-12 has a potential QB1 for the 2020 NFL Draft, a receiver that would be the #1 receiver in every other class, and arguably the best tight end in college football.
The winning team here however is the Pac-12 in our only upset of the first round. The thing that really set the Pac-12 apart for me was their secondary. Like the SEC, this is a secondary that’s ready to play in the NFL. Paulson Adebo and Jaylon Johnson are two top 6 cornerbacks in the 2020 Draft class, Julian Blackmon is a stellar safety prospect, and Thomas Graham Jr. has a nose for the ball. Evan Weaver and Colin Schooler are two tackling machines that should help keep the short gains short and let the secondary worry about the deep ball. The Big 10 also has fantastic defensive prospects like Jeffrey Okudah, Lavert hill, Khaleke Hudson, and AJ Epenesa, but I think the Pac-12 team’s defense would just be special.
Final score: Pac-12 18 – Big 10 12
(1) SEC vs (5) Pac-12
Immediately after gushing about the Pac-12 secondary and comparing them to the SEC secondary, we see the two teams face off in the next round. The SEC is better as a conference from top-to-bottom but when you take the best players from each conference, these teams are so evenly-matched almost across the board.
Tua and Herbert are widely considered QB1 and QB2, in either order. Defensively, these teams are so similar in it’s almost like the Spider-Man meme. Mustafa Johnson and Nick Coe are two top defensive linemen that are capable of shutting down the run and pressuring the quarterback. At linebacker, both of these squads present tackling machines that can work sideline-to-sideline. In the secondary, there are five top-10 cornerbacks and two top-4 safeties in this matchup.
With how talented these secondaries are, the deciding factor in who won came down to which receivers would be able to separate more often. Without a question, that’s the SEC. Jerry Jeudy is the best receiver prospect we’ve seen in quite some time, Laviska Shenault is not terribly far behind him, but the rest of the receivers behind Shenault leave something to be desired and that’s just not the case with the SEC roster. I really like this Pac-12 roster, but they’re unfortunately just unable to keep up with the SEC.
Final score: SEC 30 – Pac 18
(2) ACC vs (3) Big XII
I’ve talked about Trevor Lawrence. I’ve talked about Sam Ehlinger. Now let’s talk about the matchup between the two. The SEC and the Pac-12 were almost identical on defense and now the ACC and Big 12 are eerily similar on the offensive side of the ball. What sets the two apart are the different play styles of Lawrence and Ehlinger and the difference between Travis Etienne and Kennedy Brooks. Trevor Lawrence is the best thrower in college football, Sam Ehlinger is one of the best runners and one of the most underrated passers in the country. I’m a Kennedy Brooks fan, I just think Travis Etienne is a tremendous talent, however in this style of tournament, running back isn’t as important as it typically is.
Where these teams really separate is the defensive side of the ball. The ACC wasn’t tested by a defense in the first round and they won’t be tested this round either. The Big 12 isn’t as bad defensively as many people like to make it seem, but there is a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to trying to stop the receivers that the ACC has. The ACC presents a defense that is a force to reckoned with, but the Big 12 offense should be up to the task. As good as the ACC secondary is, they’ll have to try and defend three receivers that are each incredibly difficult to stop so it’s bound to happen that the Big 12 will be able to get open and score some points, I just don’t think it will be enough to upset the ACC.
Final score: ACC 36 – Big XII 30
(1) SEC vs (2) ACC
As obvious as this may seem now, when I was setting the rosters and seeding for this tournament, I actually thought that the Big 12 would have a good shot at making it here. When I saw those ACC receivers vs the Big 12 secondary, I knew it wouldn’t be reasonable to have them pull off that upset. Luckily, they didn’t too, because the Big 12 would have no shot vs the SEC, the ACC could win it, the Big 12? Not really.
Now on to the matchup at hand; the SEC vs the ACC. We’ve seen Alabama vs Clemson in the college football playoffs a few times now, but this is a bit different. Although both schools are represented soundly, this matchup is built to be an absolute slobber knocker. Comparing the offenses, The ACC has the advantage at every spot but quarterback and the third wide receiver spot. I’d also argue that running back is a tie. The spread-option offense that the SEC is bringing into this game taking on the spread offense that Kendall Briles is bringing to this ACC team would leave new-school football fans salivating at the points that could be put up.
For the old-school fan, don’t worry there’s something here for you too. The defensive talent in this game is off-the-charts. The SEC has the bigger names across the board, but the ACC is not far behind talent-wise. Defensively, the SEC has the advantage at the second linebacker spot, and every secondary spot. Although the SEC has the incredibly slim advantage defensively, it’s nearly impossible to consistently blanket the receivers on the ACC roster. I think it would be a game that comes down to the wire, but ultimately, I see the SEC squeaking out a victory.
Final score: SEC 30 – ACC 24
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