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What College Football Playoff returners and rematches say about Michigan’s chances this postseason

History gives Michigan a realistic shot at a successful 2022 CFP.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 31 CFP Semifinal - Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v Clemson Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The upcoming College Football Playoff will be the ninth iteration of the current postseason structure, and the penultimate bracket of just four teams. Though filled with minor controversy and major debate, the CFP has ultimately done its job in moving away from the BCS and opening up the playing field a little more fairly.

Five teams have hoisted the trophy thus far, and 13 different school have taken the 32 spots to date (with TCU becoming the 14th, out of 36 spots). However, just seven of these teams will have appeared more than once after the Michigan Wolverines kick off against the Horned Frogs later this month.

Prior to the 2022 CFP, 13 unique participants came into the postseason having been there a year before. There are two distinct situations that are relevant to how Michigan should feel about its chance (and a third scenario that is terrifying but touched on at the end). Below is less of a breakdown of individual matchups and more black-and-white facts about how these events have played out.

Repeat appearance

As stated above, 13 of 32 participants have been returners from the previous season (Alabama five times, Clemson five times, Oklahoma twice, Ohio State once). Of these 13 teams, just four of them were knocked out in the first round the year before:

  • 2018 Clemson won the title after losing in the 2017 semis
  • 2020 Ohio State lost in the final after losing in the 2019 semis
  • In both 2018 and 2019 Oklahoma lost in the semis after also losing in the semis the previous season

A very small sample size, but coincidentally a straightforward distribution of outcomes. Oklahoma is a cautionary tale, but given the Sooners’ 0-4 CFP record, it might be a school-specific shortcoming. Clearly it is very possible for a team to go from semifinal loser one season to championship game participant the next, and hoisting the trophy is definitely not out of the question.

Prior season rematch

There have been 24 CFP games played so far, and just four of them have been direct rematches from the preceding postseason. Alabama and Clemson played four-straight years (2015 final, 2016 final, 2017 semis, 2018 final) and Clemson and Ohio State met in the semifinals in both 2019 and 2020.

Here are the how the losers of the previous season fared in the subsequent rematch:

  • 2016 Clemson: won the title over Alabama after losing 2015 final
  • 2017 Alabama: won in the semis over Clemson after losing 2016 final
  • 2018 Clemson: won the title over Alabama after losing 2017 semis
  • 2020 Ohio State: won in the semis over Clemson after losing 2019 semis

Pretty interesting data here. Should Michigan and Georgia both win their first-round matchups, history suggests the Wolverines may have a good shot at getting some revenge. This is a small sample size full of the sport’s top teams, but there should at least be a little optimism given how rematches have played out.

Doomsday: Intra-season rematch

Of course, there is one other scenario to call out. Only once in the history of the CFP has there been a rematch from earlier in the same season, with Georgia defeating Alabama in the national championship game last year after losing to the Crimson Tide a month earlier. Obviously, this situation could arise should Michigan and Ohio State meet again, but hopefully history will not repeat itself.