Texas A&M gets hosed, a deluxe rematch and takeaways from 2020 Playoff field
The Playoff field is set, and in case there was any doubt, some folks are mad. Perhaps understandably so.
Texas A&M fans will forever talk about getting a raw deal from the selection committee for getting passed over by Ohio State and Notre Dame. Cincinnati fans are mad that they didn’t even crack the top 6, and that they never rose above that initial ranking of No. 7.
Hey, let’s all just agree that it was nice not to see Iowa State at No. 6 for losing to a Group of 5 team at home by 17 points.
I’ve got a lot of thoughts on the field itself, so let’s get to them:
Yes, you apparently can lose in your conference title game (badly) and make the field
Notre Dame made history by doing that, and by also suffering the most lopsided loss of any Playoff invitee we’ve ever seen (2017 Georgia previously held that honor for the 23-point loss against Auburn). We really hadn’t seen many situations where we had to wonder about what it would look like for an unbeaten Power 5 team to lose its conference title game and make it.
Of course, 2015 Iowa did that, but that game was all-or-nothing against a 1-loss Michigan State team. The Hawkeyes weren’t getting in with 1 loss ahead of 1-loss Alabama, undefeated Clemson or that 1-loss Oklahoma team, all of which had conference titles (Oklahoma didn’t play in a conference game because the Big 12 didn’t have one yet).
This sort of debunks the belief that the timeliness of a loss perhaps isn’t as important. I’d argue it should be, to a certain extent. If we’re trying to figure out where teams are right now, I’d say a blowout loss to a legitimate Playoff foe on conference championship week gives me more pause than a blowout road loss to an even better Alabama team 2 months ago.
I thought Notre Dame would get the benefit of the doubt because of its Clemson win against a Trevor Lawrence-less squad and the fact that the Irish won all of their road games by at least 14 points, including 1 against a solid UNC squad. I’d argue A&M’s 6 consecutive wins by double digits and 7 overall, including 1 against a solid Florida squad, was also plenty impressive. After Alabama, the Aggies did everything they could’ve done to set themselves up, but it didn’t bounce their way.
The selection committee used preseason confirmation bias to determine Ohio State was better. That decision was made weeks ago. This wasn’t about résumé; it was about putting a team in the field that has proven to be one of the top teams in college football.
But let’s talk about the actual field itself …
I’m actually glad we get that Clemson-Ohio State matchup
Last year’s showdown was begging for a rematch. Justin Fields vs. Trevor Lawrence Part II. Sign. Me. Up.
That game was an instant classic last year, though that was with an Ohio State defense that had much more firepower. Yes, the Buckeyes shut down Northwestern. Are we sure they can actually contain an attack as good as Clemson’s? We just saw the Tigers hit 34 points with relative ease against a much better Notre Dame defense. If I’m an Ohio State fan, I’d also worry about the fact in Justin Fields’ 2 games against quality defenses, he struggled. A lot.
Brent Venables is going to do everything in his power to confuse Fields, who looked a bit lost without star Chris Olave after he was out for the Big Ten Championship because of COVID issues. Olave or not, Fields hasn’t played a quality game against a good team this year.
Lawrence, on the other hand, has blown out every team he’s faced. He’s 34-1 as a starter with his lone loss coming to 2019 LSU, AKA the greatest team ever. Of course, Fields’ only loss as a starter was last year’s Fiesta Bowl against Lawrence’s Clemson squad in which a botched fumble call proved to be the difference.
A lot has happened since then, including an entire pandemic wherein Fields and Lawrence fueled the push to play. Good for both of those guys, who are about to become millionaires, that they get a chance to face off in a Playoff semifinal once again.
This will be chalked up as a boring, repetitive matchup to the casual college football fan, but for those of us who realize how special these guys are, we’re in for a treat.
I will not make a Manti Te’o girlfriend joke when talking Alabama-Notre Dame
… is what I’m gonna have to tell myself for the next week and a half. That was 8 years ago.
Crazy, I know. But like, has that much changed? Notre Dame is still the team that wants to beat you with its smash-mouth defense and its ground game while Alabama looks like the most unbeatable force in the sport.
The big difference is that Notre Dame is now tasked with slowing down a much more prolific Alabama offense than the one that Te’o and Co. faced 8 years ago. Three Heisman Trophy-worthy offensive skill players are more than capable of torching Clark Lea’s defense. This group has balance not unlike the Clemson offense that just lit up the Irish in the ACC Championship.
Mac Jones isn’t AJ McCarron. Najee Harris is more versatile than Eddie Lacy or TJ Yeldon. DeVonta Smith is on a different level than freshman Amari Cooper, too. And if Alabama gets Jaylen Waddle back? Buddy, this has the makings of 2012 all over again.
Nobody in their right mind is picking Notre Dame to upset an Alabama team that just beat 11 SEC teams, and all but 1 came by at least 15 points. It’s a different feel than the 2012 season when the Irish had the Te’o storyline and it had a “team of destiny” feel to it. Notre Dame is 2-19 against top-5 foes in the 21st century, with 1 of those wins being the Clemson win without the aforementioned Lawrence.
Alabama couldn’t have asked for a more favorable semifinal matchup, and that includes a Texas A&M rematch.
I mean … we know how this ends
Alabama vs. Clemson, Part V. It feels inevitable. In this year of madness, an Alabama-Clemson national title game would remind us that in the college football world, not even a pandemic can shake its foundation. For the average fan, I think this would be a frustrating development. It’s only pushing us in the direction of expansion if the field continues to spit out the same result.
Do I think Alabama and Clemson would still be doing this against an 8-team field? Yeah, probably. Both are too battle-tested to think that it’s just the system doing them favors on a yearly basis.
At this point, though, it’s hard to argue that this wouldn’t be the best matchup. Do I want to watch Ohio State’s secondary try to slow down Alabama’s offensive attack? Not really. That feels super lopsided. I’d rather watch someone like Venables, who has proven success against a prolific Alabama offense, try to game plan against the Crimson Tide. Granted, Venables never had to game plan against Steve Sarkisian. The last time Alabama didn’t hit 35 points in a game was of course that beatdown in the 2018 title game at the hands of Venables’ defense.
But perhaps in this year of unpredictability, I shouldn’t assume anything. I shouldn’t prematurely dub these teams national championship participants.
Nah, who are we kidding? Part V is coming. Might as well accept it now.