Setting aside for a moment the commotion of Sunday, the childish stridency of Mack Brown on ESPN, the runaway nonsense of Randy Edsall on Twitter, and other balderdash, let’s glimpse at how an eight-team 2017 playoff would look today, in bracket order, with comments added:
●No. 1 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 8 Southern California (11-2): A high-flying doozy of divergent regions, the very kind of bout that jazzes up college football. A masterpiece of scheduling luck.
●No. 4 Alabama (11-1) vs. No. 5 Ohio State (11-2): Large volume.
●No. 3 Georgia (12-1) vs. No. 6 Wisconsin (12-1): Large bruises.
●No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. No. 7 Auburn (10-3): It wouldn’t be an Auburn home game, so we wouldn’t have to worry about that eagle flying too close to Baker Mayfield.
Now, let’s view what would happen just after those pairings appeared: a certain fury. This fury would emanate from . . . wait . . . checking the map here . . . State College, Pa. Then this fury from the fans of No. 9 Penn State would widen, in concentric circles, covering at least parts, if not entireties, of all 67 counties in Pennsylvania. Then this fury would go beyond, to those outside Pennsylvania who might have lived or studied in Pennsylvania. It would fill airwaves, email inboxes, chats.
Here’s a fact of life: If Penn State fans suspect you have slighted their team, they do not mind advising you of this viewpoint.
So in this instance, Southern California would have hopped over Penn State, from No. 10 to No. 8, in the final rankings, and we would have a long discussion about how Notre Dame, before it got slaughtered in Miami, went through Southern California like a combine in a field, beating it by the approximate score of 127-0, while Penn State lost two games by four points on the road against top-16 teams, including one farcical weather delay. We might have discussed even whether Penn State’s omission constituted continuing bias from its early-decade scandal.
The eight-team solution might improve things, but it wouldn’t save us from our unsolvable puzzles in an uneven sport, such as the one this past weekend between Alabama and Ohio State. Further, it would diminish things if it worked the way some envision it: five conference champions, three at-large teams. Every once in a while in that scenario, you’d get a five-loss playoff team such as 2012 Big Ten champion Wisconsin (which ended up 8-6), or a four-loss playoff team such as 2008 ACC champion Virginia Tech (which ended up 10-4), or a three-loss playoff team such as 2011 ACC champion Clemson (which ended up 10-4).
A five-loss playoff team would sully the Declaration of Independence.
Of course, everyone still values conference championships. Everyone just values them to different degrees. Some value them to such degree that when a conference champion such as an 11-2 Ohio State finishes behind a conference non-champion such as an 11-1 Alabama, they — and this is hard to believe — opt for shrillness.
Thus did Brown — that former lobbyist for his Texas team in 2008, when it beat Oklahoma but missed the BCS Championship Game because Oklahoma (uh-oh) won the conference — conduct this nutty huff Sunday afternoon, in protest: “Conference championships don’t matter. So let’s stop talking about them.” This was out-and-out, to borrow a word from the late newspaper columnist Molly Ivins, horsepucky.
Here’s some homework: The selection committees have chosen 16 teams in four years for the playoff. Fourteen of those 16 won conference championships. Often, as with Michigan State in 2015 or Washington in 2016, those conference championships mattered heavily when set among the other-team factors of that particular season. (As committee chairman Kirby Hocutt reminded, “I would say there’s no college football seasons that are ever identical.” Yes.) Everyone still weighs conference championships, among all the factors. Everyone still talks about conference championships. Everyone still prints T-shirts for conference championships, although Alabama might have stopped because its stores have no room left.
On a Sunday bound for a certain dopiness, Brown held the dopiness lead until Edsall, the former Maryland coach nowadays at Connecticut, chimed in on Twitter: “Why do they even recognize conference champions when they can’t even get into a playoff for a National Championship!”
Here’s some homework: The selection committees have chosen 16 teams . . . and 14 of those 16 . . .
Not finished yet when finishing would have helped, Edsall supplied a hashtag with this nugget: #AllAboutTheMoney.
The state of Ohio, the nation’s seventh-most populous, has a population of 11.6 million. The state of Alabama, the nation’s 24th-most populous, has a population of 4.9 million. The program of Ohio State, Ohio’s giant, shares the state with a heap of impressive smaller-tier programs, but hogs all the Power Five adoration. The program of Alabama, one of Alabama’s two giants, shares the state with a heap of impressive smaller-tier programs, but also with a fellow Power Five behemoth, Auburn.
It’s always puzzling when an exercise that’s #AllAboutTheMoney chooses the lesser amount of money.
Could Ohio State’s exclusion from the playoff wind up fueling the drive toward eight, the way the Alabama-LSU Bowl Championship Series game of 2011-12 spurred momentum toward four? It might. For now, let’s hear that most reasonable voice make reasonable suggestions for the reasonable meantime.
“Let’s have everyone have the same number of conference games, the same number of nonconference games, and it would be great to have some continuity about scheduling, which is what a lot of us on the West Coast have been asking for,” Stanford Coach David Shaw said, after the Cardinal accepted an Alamo Bowl bid. “Because if you’re going to compare us to all these other conferences, let’s play by the same rules.”
At present, the ACC and Southeastern Conference play eight conference games, while the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the Pacific-12 play nine. Let’s try to figure out how to listen to Shaw. After all, he’s the wise man who, despite his name being linked through the years to openings of seemingly half the NFL and the FBS, if not other acronyms, has remained at Stanford. If you have ever set eyes upon Stanford, you understand.
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