10 things I'm absolutely overreacting to after a wild Championship Week
Oh, the drama.
We have 3 Playoff locks and 3 more kinda, sorta deserving teams kicking and screaming outside the door.
The Playoff field will be revealed at noon today, so of course we’re starting our 10 overreactions with the selection process.
10. Were you listening to the Dude’s story, Gary?
Saturday provided Playoff clarity (i.e., Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are in, more on No. 4 in a minute), but we’d be remiss if we didn’t address the poor job the Playoff selection committee has done leading up to Sunday’s big reveal.
Specifically, how the committee completely hosed Cincinnati, which won the American Athletic Conference title game Saturday with a last-second field goal to move to 9-0.
Cincinnati entered conference championship weekend undefeated and ranked No. 9. The Bearcats actually dropped a spot in last week’s Playoff ranking and were ranked behind 3 Power 5 teams with 2 losses (No. 6 Iowa State, No. 7 Florida, No. 8 Georgia).
Each Tuesday night, selection committee chair Gary Barta has leaned on the traditional, built-in excuses to explain why the Bearcats have lagged behind other Power 5 conference schools. The schedule is almost always the first thing cited, as it was with UCF or any other Group of 5 hopeful.
This week, Barta gave the impression he hasn’t really been paying attention when he said the reason the Bearcats slipped was that they haven’t played since Nov. 21 but those around them had played 2 or 3 games. The first part was true. Cincy has had some cancellations but still was 8-0. The second part? Um, Gary, Ohio State had only played 1 game since Nov. 21.
The most illogical ranking, of course, belonged to No. 6 Iowa State, which actually lost by 17 … to a Group of 5 team … and then lost again Saturday in the Big 12 Championship Game. That was Iowa State’s 3rd loss this season.
If there were ever a year to reward a deserving, undefeated Group of 5 team for plowing ahead, this is it. But since its inception, the committee has been unwavering in its utter disrespect for Group of 5 programs. I’m not expecting that to change today.
That will never change until the format changes to 8 teams with automatic bids for Power 5 champs, a guaranteed spot for the best Group of 5 and 2 at-large bids.
Until then, this selection process is all just made-for-TV bluster.
9. What happens when the Playoff expands to 8 teams?
Notice I said “when,” not “if.”
It’s going to happen.
The natives are growing more restless every year. For obvious reasons: The Playoff system only works for about 10 college football programs, the sport’s CEOs.
It doesn’t work for the working class, the remaining 120 or so FBS programs. I’ve said that for 6 years. But, finally, college football heavyweights like Kirk Herbsreit are weighing in and calling for change.
Many sports, by rule or function, have tools to promote parity. Nobody does this better than the NFL, which uses a salary cap and adjusted schedules to legitimately sell the idea to all 32 franchises that they truly can compete for a Super Bowl. Those tools are why the year-to-year playoff turnover rate is typically near 50%.
Parity is good for business.
College football is the exact opposite of that. It’s much more like Major League Baseball, where the wealthiest programs with the biggest brands are rewarded with Playoff spots, higher rankings and New Year’s Day bowl slots — all of which attract better recruits. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.
Just like the New York Yankees will never push for a salary cap, I wouldn’t expect to see Alabama, Ohio State or Clemson leading the push to expand the Playoff.
The system is set up for them. Why share?
Once we expand the Playoff to 8 teams — with 5 automatic bids going to the Power 5 champions, 2 bids reserved for the best at-large teams and 1 bid guaranteeing a Group of 5 team a chair at the buffet — everything changes.
Including recruiting. And scheduling.
Group of 5 teams send players to the NFL, including 1st-round draft picks. They produce Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers. But most elite recruits want to be on the biggest stage. It’s no surprise, then, that they flock to the programs that have populated the Playoff fields.
Once you expand the field and allow every team in America the same opportunity to reach the Playoff — win your league or be the best G5 team in the country — recruits no longer will migrate to the Big 4 or 5 programs or conferences.
And once every Power 5 team has a guaranteed path — win your league — you’ll see many more high-profile nonconference games against other Power 5 programs because a loss there can’t cripple your Playoff hopes. Playing those games would only enhance your at-large possibilities if you don’t win your league.
Basically, every problem the 4-team Playoff created would be solved by adding just 1 more weekend of games.
One more weekend.
It’s really that simple. And why we’re still arguing about this, instead of doing this, 6 years later is beyond me.
8. Maybe the committee got it right with USC?
A lot of people criticized the committee for only ranking then-undefeated USC No. 13. I hadn’t really weighed in on the Trojans because the “résumé test” is about the most meaningless tool we have. I go by what I see, and I hadn’t seen the Trojans play.
I watched the first half Friday night. That was more than enough. They looked like a team that barely belonged in the Top 25.
Big picture: We had yet another Pac-12 Championship Game that meant absolutely nothing. That’s less than ideal.
That will change as soon as the Playoff expands to 8 and that conference title game is your ticket to the party.
7. Did you see Shane Beamer’s contract?
South Carolina signed its new head coach to a program-friendly 5-year deal worth $2.75 million annually. Beamer’s contract ranks last in the SEC (at least among public schools).
The takeaway: South Carolina is paying more to its former coach (Will Muschamp, $15 million) to not coach than it is to its new coach. That’s interesting. Even more interesting: Beamer’s buyout is capped at 65% of whatever is left on the deal. That’s remarkable.
Let’s give Ray Tanner some credit for offering a deal that’s fair to everybody and allows the program to make future decisions based on merit, not money. Let’s give Beamer some credit, too, for accepting the deal.
The days of $10 million+ buyouts for underachieving head coaches can’t end soon enough.
6. Bert is back, baby!
I still think Arkansas hosed Bret Bielema. I liked having him in the SEC and looked forward to his time behind the mic, whether it was SEC Media Days, postgame interviews or a Call the Hogs radio show.
But he’s more than an entertainer with a quick wit and bag full of one-liners. He’s a quality football coach.
Arkansas shouldn’t have fired him, and it definitely shouldn’t have fired him in the manner it did.
I was very happy to see Bielema land another Power 5 head coaching job Saturday. He’ll replace Lovie Smith at Illinois. Bielema has a lot of B1G running through that big ol’ body. Obviously, rebuilding Illinois will be much more difficult than maintaining Wisconsin, but the B1G West isn’t the SEC West, and Bielema took Arkansas to 3 bowls in 5 seasons. Illinois hasn’t had a winning season since 2010 and has only won 8 or more games twice in the past 20 seasons. I expect Illinois to be significantly better under Bielema.
5. Speaking of Lovie … I don’t like this part of it
Lovie Smith. Kevin Sumlin. Derek Mason. There were only 11 Black head coaches at Power 5 programs in 2020 — and 3 were just fired.
Individually, each decision seemed justified, although Sumlin only coached 29 games at Arizona.
Collectively, that’s going the wrong way. There’s no debating that.
Remember, athletic directors, if you need help finding more-than-qualified Black head coaching candidates, Sylvester Croom has volunteered to help.
“If they don’t have a list of guys who they think are good enough, tell them to call me. I know a bunch of them,” Croom told SDS this summer, as part of a story exploring the lack of opportunity for Black head coaches.
4. The 4 Playoff teams are …
No. 1 Alabama.
No. 2 Clemson.
No. 3 Ohio State.
No. 4 … I know what I would do. The committee won’t do what I would do. I would reward Cincinnati for a perfect season capped with a conference championship victory over a ranked team.
The committee is going to somehow decide which blowout loss was better — Notre Dame’s 24-point loss to Clemson on Saturday … or Texas A&M’s 28-point loss to Alabama in Week 2.
Ultimately, I think they go with Notre Dame. I don’t see how you can penalize a team for making a conference championship game and reward a team that beat a 3-6 team that might fire its head coach.
The “winner” will get a date with Alabama in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Yay!
3. Final grade for SEC’s 10-game season: C-
Y’all were pumped. I get it.
Some media analysts had been calling for a 9- or 10-game SEC schedule for years. Heck, even Nick Saban thought 9 games would be ideal.
All this 10-game schedule did was confirm my biggest fear: We knew even less about the other leagues.
Without Power 5 conferences playing each other, all we were left with is empty yelling about “résumés” and stats.
Until we expand to 8 and grant automatic bids for conference champs, the leagues have to play each other, as often as possible. It’s the only way we can possibly begin to compare Big Ten teams with ACC teams with SEC teams.
This season’s selection process has been an absolute cluster.
Until expansion, there’s no way the SEC should play more than 8 conference games ever again.
2. Momma, it just ain’t fair
Perusing Alabama’s preseason depth chart …
Alabama’s backup punt returner (DeVonta Smith) might win the Heisman.
Alabama’s No. 3 receiver (John Metchie III) might win the Butkus Award.
WHAT IS GOING ON
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 20, 2020
I mean … I haven’t seen anybody hit somebody this hard since Mack Wilson destroyed that A&M kid on the kick return.
As if that weren’t enough, Alabama’s running back (Najee Harris) tied the SEC Championship Game record for TD receptions with 3. In the first half. He finished with 5 TDs overall, breaking that title game record.
And we have coaches who are openly, actively and loudly campaigning to be the No. 4 seed in the Playoff?
Everybody wants Bama … until the referee tells the captains to shake hands.
1. Alabama-Clemson, Round 5?
Oh, my goodness.
If you thought watching Trevor Lawrence and Co. and Alabama, Inc., do their thing Saturday, wait til they get together again on Jan. 11.
Their pending date in the national championship might be the best one yet.