Playoff Peculiarities

Ohio State fans are happy because the Buckeyes vaulted up two spots, to sixth place, in the college football playoff rankings announced last night.  That’s certainly better than heading in the other direction, but there’s just something a bit . . . unsettling about this whole process.

The Buckeyes, who won on Saturday, passed higher-ranked Arizona State, which lost.  I get that. But the Buckeyes also moved past Baylor, which had a bye week.  Why?  Who knows?  And for many Ohio State fans, the answer is:  who cares?  As long as the Buckeyes are moving up the chain and still have a chance to make the first college football playoff, they’re happy campers.

But seriously . . . why should Ohio State leapfrog Baylor?  The answer, I think, is that the 12-member selection panel that figures out the rankings is filled with people that aren’t much different from the rest of us.  They’re aware of win-loss records, but they’re not prone to some purportedly scientific analysis of relative strength of schedule, common opponents, and other quasi-scientific factors that the computer wizards have used to determine rankings in the past.  Instead, the panel members are prone to out-of-sight, out-of-mind notions, winning pretty versus winning ugly, the presence of stars on teams, intriguing match-ups, and other attributes of the rest of us everyday football fans.

That means that, if the college football playoff continues in its current form, you’re going to see it affect how the game is scheduled and played.  Late-season bye weeks that might cause you to drop a spot or two in the rankings will be eliminated.  Teams will try to pile up the points to get the most impressive wins, which means that starters will continue to play in blowouts and might suffer injuries that otherwise would have been avoided.  And you’d better hope that your team and your conference are getting pretty good, respectful coverage on ESPN and other college football venues.

All of these factors might work in Ohio State’s favor right now — no late-season byes, a schedule that is backloaded with games against good teams, a lot of scoring, and the interesting J.T. Barrett story — but it only works until it doesn’t.  If the Buckeyes get out to a good lead against Indiana and keep Barrett in the game, we’ll know that Urban Meyer and his staff have learned some lessons from how the rankings are developed.

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Stephen King

Recently Richard got me Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep as a present.  It’s the sequel to The Shining, which I had never read.  I’d seen the Stanley Kubrick/Jack Nicholson movie, but had heard the book is different (and it definitely is) so I decided to read the book first.

The Shining was an enjoyable, page-turning airplane read that I finished on the return leg of our recent trip to Phoenix, and I was looking forward to starting the sequel that seemingly just came out.  As we were walking through the airport on our way to our car, however, we passed the bookstore and I noticed that Stephen King had another new book out, called Revival.  My God, I thought:  how many books has Stephen King written?

The answer is . . . a lot.  According to King’s website, if you just count novels, there are more than 50.  50!  Indeed, in between Doctor Sleep and Revival there was at least one other book, Mr. Mercedes — and perhaps two, because I can’t tell whether Doctor Sleep was published before or after Joyland.  And that is just novels; there are countless essays, short stories, and other pieces in a listing of written works that seems impossibly long.

By anyone’s definition, Stephen King has been astonishingly prolific.  Those of us who aren’t creative can only marvel at where he could come up with so many ideas for books — but what really impresses me is King’s obvious dedication to his work and his craft.  You can only publish that many books, short stories, and writings if you are willing to sit down at your writing desk, day after day, and work.  And Stephen King is still doing it, at age 67.

Critics will probably never look upon Stephen King with the same affection they have for, say, Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace.  I don’t pretend to know precisely what separates fiction from “fine literature,” but I do know this:  Stephen King has stayed atop the bestseller lists for decades now, producing book after book that people want to read, and he has done it by working hard, grinding away at new stories when he presumably could kick back, live off his royalties and speaking fees, and become a man of leisure.

If you want a living testament to the merits of a strong work ethic, consider Stephen King.  We should all be able to find some inspiration in his example.