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College playoff would have been welcomed by NFL rookies

BEREA, Ohio -- The setting was perfect. The timing was ideal.

As college football's most recent crop of departed stars infiltrated Ohio for the NFL Rookie Symposium this week, the NCAA was simultaneously busy revamping its postseason system, settling on a four-team playoff that will begin in 2014.

How could we possibly neglect this opportunity for some fun-loving trash talk? We wanted to know what would have happened if a playoff had taken place this past season. Most notably, how would No. 3 Oklahoma State have fared against No. 2 Alabama in a semifinal showdown for a shot at the national title?

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"It would have been nice to see where we stacked up," said Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, who led the Oklahoma State Cowboys to a 12-1 season, culminating in a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford. "I can guarantee we would have crossed the 50-yard line."

Yes, LSU only crossed the 50-yard line four times in its own shot at the title. But Browns running back Trent Richardson, now Weeden's teammate, said nobody -- not LSU, not Oklahoma State, not any other team -- would have been capable of matching up against Alabama's defensive powerhouse.

"I know they're used to scoring a lot of points at Oklahoma State, but it wouldn't have been all those points," Richardson said. "Our defense is unstoppable when it comes to stopping people at the goal line or making people turn over the ball, we were No. 1 in the nation. Our defense shut up people a lot."

Weeden wasn't as interested in predicting whether Oklahoma State would have won as he was in pointing out that the clearly flawed system neglected his team an opportunity in the first place. Yes, he knows the SEC is strong. Yes, he understands Alabama's defense was great. But his offense, he says, wasn't too bad itself.

"It would have been interesting," Weeden said. "Obviously, Alabama's defense was one of the best in the country, and I felt like we had one of the better offenses in the country. Unfortunately, we'll never know."

OK, so maybe Weeden was trying to be polite, since Richardson is now his NFL teammate. Good thing his college teammate, wide receiver Justin Blackmon, was also on hand at Friday's NFL "Play 60" youth event to give his prediction for such a scenario.

Blackmon had no doubts: Oklahoma State would have beaten Alabama.

"We're going to score a lot of points," Blackmon said. "Their defense is an interior-strong defense. We would have spread them out. We would have put our four wide receivers up against their four defensive backs -- plus our running backs who can run routes -- and we would have taken it from there."

No way, Richardon says. Oklahoma State might be confident from its wins against teams like Andrew Luck's Stanford and Robert Griffin III's Baylor, but Blackmon clearly doesn't know what the SEC is really like.

"We're in a whole other caliber when you're talking about the SEC," Richardson said. "We beat the great LSU, the great Arkansas. We were ranked 1, 2 and 3 at a time. When you talk about teams that are powerhouses, you've got Dont'a Hightower, who is 270 and ran a 4.5; people like Courtney Upshaw and Mark Barron.

"We take pride in the SEC."

A final prediction then? Richardson says Alabama wins 35-14. Weeden says it's much closer -- with Oklahoma State winning 28-27. So yes, they'll agree to disagree. But most all of the rookies can at least agree on this: They're glad to see the college football system headed in a much better direction. Even if it's too late for them.

"I think they're making steps in the right direction," Weeden said. "I don't know all the right answers, but it has to be better than what it was. You want to find out who the best team is.

"Unfortunately, we'll never know."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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