The Playoffs Are Here: What We Learned From Week 15 in College Football
For Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State, the championship hunt begins now. Read on for that and all the other big news from the final weekend of college football's regular season.
Let the Debate Begin
With Sunday’s announcement of the college football playoff teams, the debate can now begin in earnest. Alabama, Florida State and Oregon getting in didn’t come as much of a surprise. But Ohio State, on the strength of its 59-0 beatdown of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, jumping ahead of TCU and Baylor for the final spot raised some eyebrows.
While the Big 12 probably didn’t do its teams any favors (more on that in a minute), give the playoff selection committee credit for being consistent. All along, the committee said that strength of schedule, conference championships and “dominant” quality wins would be weighted heavily. And, by those measures, the Buckeyes have a slight advantage. Don’t get me wrong—TCU and Baylor fans might have some legitimate gripes regarding Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech and their own quality wins. But the simple fact is that, by the metrics the committee said they were going to use, Ohio State jumping into the last playoff spot shouldn’t be a huge surprise. As for the Big 12 . . .
Public Relations is Not the Big 12’s Strong Suit
Ever since Texas A&M and Missouri bolted for the SEC, the Big 12 has been trying to trumpet having just ten teams and no conference championship game as a positive. “One true champion” was the league slogan, claiming the round-robin schedule would allow everyone to play head-to-head and provide a tiebreaker that would crown one team as the undisputed conference champion. I’m not sure anyone outside of Big 12 country really believed it was such a great idea, but it sounded good on paper. Or at least it did until it became inconvenient.
This week, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby did some serious backtracking on the issue, basically saying that “one true champion” doesn’t really mean “one”. Instead, in an effort to highlight two teams’ resumes for the college football playoff, he attended both TCU’s game against Iowa State and Baylor’s win over Kansas State to crown them as “co-champions,” an announcement about which Baylor coach Art Briles had a heated conversation with the commish and later blasted him during the postgame press conference.
Did Bowlsby’s plan backfire and cost the conference a spot in the playoff? Perhaps—committee leader Jeff Long seemed to indicate that "definitive" conference championships were a factor in their discussions. But what’s certain is that Bowlsby found a new way to anger a large part of his conference fan base and make the Big 12 a laughing stock throughout the rest of the country.
Florida State Does it Again
By all rights the Seminoles should have three or four losses by now. But whether its luck or an unholy deal with the devil (there’s no in-between, I’m sure), Florida State finds itself with an ACC-record 29-game winning streak and a chance to repeat as national champions. The Seminoles had no answer for Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense early, with the Yellow Jackets rushing for 214 yards in the first half. But just like so many other times this season, FSU flipped the switch in the second half and made plays down the stretch to secure yet another close win.
I know Oregon will be the Seminoles’ toughest test this year. And I know Vegas will likely make the Ducks solid favorites. But be honest—if your life savings were on the line, would you really want to have to bet against Florida State this year?
Trouble is Brewing in Soonerland
A week ago, Mike Gundy looked to be the coach on the hot seat in Oklahoma. After all, Oklahoma State was on the verge of missing a bowl game for the first time in eight years and his relationship with OSU mega-booster Boone Pickens could be described as strained, at best. But after a stunning overtime Bedlam upset, it’s Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops who suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of some tough questions. Not only have the Sooners underachieved this year (four losses after being ranked No. 3 in the preseason), but some of Stoops’ coaching decisions in the loss to Oklahoma State have him under fire.
Most notably was his decision with less than a minute to go to accept a running into the kicker penalty and re-punt even though the first kick had pinned the Cowboys at their own 15-yard line. The second punt came down into the arms of OSU speedster Tyreek Hill, who took the ball 92 yards for a touchdown that tied the game with just 45 seconds left.
In the postgame press conference, Stoops admitted it had been a mistake and took the blame. But that was just the most obvious coaching error that Sooner fans can point to this season. Oklahoma fans are not exactly the most forgiving bunch when their team doesn’t play well, so expect this one to fester for some time.
If Your Name is Not Marcus Mariota, You’re Playing for Second
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has been the Heisman frontrunner for several weeks now, and Friday night’s Pac-12 championship game against Arizona should seal the deal. Not only did Mariota get to avenge the Ducks’ only loss of the season and get them into the playoff, but the junior quarterback racked up 346 total yards and five touchdowns in the 51-13 rout. Mariota has scored at least four touchdowns in all but two games this season and leads the nation in total yards from scrimmage (4,442).
Guys like Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper have had great seasons. But no one has been as outstanding, week in and week out, as Mariota. It’s not often that who I think should win and who I think will win is the same person. But this year it’s a no-brainer.