The 2020 college football season will undoubtedly be filled with plenty of "what if?" questions. The sheer uncertainty in the schedules and whether football can safely be played at all practically guarantees it. What if USC had played Alabama -- and won? What if we had a full slate of games for the College Football Playoff Selection Committee to peruse? What if that affects the playoff field? What if there is no playoff? What if hot-seat coaches get a pass? The list goes on and on.
With a potentially history-altering season on the line, our college football team fleshed out their biggest "what if?" moments from the past. From coaching carousel fallouts to massive upsets, we look at pivotal moments through a different lens.
David Cobb: What if Nick Saban said no to the NFL?
You might expect this "what if" scenario to venture off into a hypothetical about Saban building a dynasty at LSU instead of Alabama. But that's been done before. The overlooked angle in this revised version of history is the fate of Les Miles, who took the LSU job when Saban left for the Miami Dolphins after the 2004 season.
Miles is something of a college football legend now as he enters his second season at Kansas following an 11-and-a-half year run at LSU in which he tallied a 114-34 record and won the 2007 national title. But when he landed the LSU gig, his record as a head coach was just 28-21 after four seasons at Oklahoma State. He was doing a great job in Stillwater, to be sure, but if the LSU job hadn't opened, Miles might have stayed at Oklahoma State longer and his next move might have been to Michigan as opposed to the SEC. He famously had to shoot down rumors that he was leaving for Michigan after Lloyd Carr's retirement in 2007. Miles has since claimed he was never offered the job.
If Saban had never left LSU, though, maybe Miles would have still been at Oklahoma State in 2007, and perhaps he and the Wolverines would have had an easier time reaching an agreement. After all, Miles played at Michigan, and it would have been a more attractive opening for him if he'd still been at Oklahoma State and not competing for national titles at LSU. Things worked out fine for Miles, who had a great tenure in Baton Rouge. But Michigan struggled through seven years of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, and is still trying reach its first College Football Playoff under Jim Harbaugh. Maybe if Saban hadn't left for the Dolphins, the Miles and Michigan marriage would have actually happened, and the Mad Hatter would have a title ring with his alma mater.
Tom Fornelli: What if USC hired Ed Orgeron?
I'm sure this is something that many USC fans have thought about in recent years, and even more so on a Monday night in mid-January when Ed Orgeron hoisted the College Football Playoff Trophy with LSU. It wasn't that long ago that Orgeron, as he did for Les Miles at LSU, took over the USC program in 2013 after Lane Kiffin was left on a tarmac. The Trojans were 3-2 at the time, and Orgeron went 6-2 in his eight games, picking up a win over a top-five Stanford team along the way.
There were plenty of people who felt USC should retain Orgeron due to the energy he infused into the program and how his players felt about him. USC AD Pat Haden felt differently, however, as he decided to bring in another former USC assistant in Steve Sarkisian -- a decision that would see Sarkisian stepping down due to personal problems in the middle of the 2015 season. Meanwhile, Orgeron went on to LSU, took over for Miles, completely reinvigorated the program (kind of like he seemed to be doing at USC) and won a national title.
USC did well enough in its first two seasons under Clay Helton, going 21-6 and winning a Rose Bowl, but has seemingly stagnated since. Helton enters the 2020 season on the hot seat with many USC fans ready to move on and find the next coach to return the program to its place as a national title contender.
If they'd have kept Ed Orgeron in 2013, might they already be there? Everything he's done at LSU, he could do at USC. At LSU, he has surrounded himself with good coaches while amassing an impressive array of talent, all of which would have been possible at USC. You can even argue that he'd have had a much easier path to the CFP at USC than he has in the SEC West. Maybe USC wouldn't have won a national title under Orgeron yet, but it's not crazy to believe they'd have made a playoff appearance or two.
Barrett Sallee: What if Clemson hired ... Will Muschamp?
Ex-wide receivers coach and interim head coach Dabo Swinney got the job at Clemson on a full-time basis prior to the 2009 season. Do you remember who was one of the top targets during that search? Then-Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Muschamp got the Florida job two years later, instituted an archaic offense and was let go after going 28-21 overall and 17-15 in the SEC from 2011-14.
Had he been hired at Clemson, would the reputation of Clemson's program -- inexplicably losing to lesser opponents (then known as "Clemsoning") -- lingered into the next decade? There's no doubt about it. Let's play some dominoes. Muschamp at Clemson would likely mean that Dan Mullen would have taken over for Urban Meyer at Florida and likely kept the ship going in the right direction. As a result, Mississippi State wouldn't have reached the golden age of its program, which was ranked No. 1 in the first-ever College Football Playoff rankings.
Ben Kercheval: What if West Virginia beat Pitt in 2007?
While my colleagues have focused on coaching what ifs, I'll go in a more game-central direction. What if No. 2 West Virginia hadn't dropped a 13-9 stinker to Pitt in the last regular season game of the bonkers year that was 2007? Of all the upsets that season produced, that was among the more mind-boggling. There are so many aspects of it: What if quarterback Pat White doesn't get hurt? What if kicker Pat McAfee doesn't miss a pair of field goals? What if running back Steve Slaton isn't rendered completely ineffective?
Most importantly: What if West Virginia had won?
It would have played Ohio State for the BCS National Championship, and in my hottest sports take ever, I firmly believe the Mountaineers would have won (I also believe coach Rich Rodriguez would not have bolted for Michigan with a chance to win a national title on the line. Would he have left eventually? Very likely, but that's a whole other discussion). White never lost a bowl game in his four years as a starter, and that '07 team was stacked offensively with the type of players that could have given the Buckeyes' defense fits. Instead, West Virginia took its frustration out on Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl to the tune of 48-28.
In the modern era, you need elite athletes and top-ranked recruiting classes to sniff a national championship. Only the chaos of something like 2007 would have been the exception. West Virginia had a chance to be that exception.