CFP’d Off

I’m warning you in advance that this post is going to sound like sour grapes.  And, in fact, some of the motivation for writing it in the first place is sour grapes.  But I’m here to tell you that the College Football Playoff process that was rolled out to great fanfare only a few years ago is already broken.

ype12feWho made the college football playoffs last year?  Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia.  Those same four teams finished in the top five this year.  It was only because Notre Dame ran the table against a weak slate of opponents — and, because ND is nominally independent, a slate that doesn’t include a conference championship game — that college football fans everywhere avoided watching the same four teams play each other again this year.

In the five years the College Football Playoff has been in existence, Alabama has made it every year.  Clemson has made it four out of five times.  Oklahoma has made it in three of the five years.  It’s the same old, same old.

And, for Ohio State fans, what’s especially galling is that this year the playoff selection committee ranked a two-loss SEC team that didn’t win its conference — i.e., Georgia — ahead of a one-lose Big Ten team that won its conference championship.  I can understand Ohio State, which got whacked by Purdue during the regular season, being ranked behind Oklahoma, even though I think the Big 12 is a pretty weak conference.  But I don’t understand how a one-loss champion of a major football conference like the Big Ten can be ranked behind a two-loss non-conference champion.  To me, that result says that the selection committee has quaffed the SEC Kool-Aid and lost any claim to objectivity.  Every year we start with the presumption that the SEC is the best conference in college football, and every year every inference goes in the SEC’s favor.

Who did Georgia play out of conference this year?  Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State, and the University of Massachusetts.  They aren’t exactly powerhouses, are they?  The rest of the schedule is SEC teams.  Georgia got pummeled by LSU and played Alabama close before losing.  The latter result reflects favorably on Georgia only if you conclude that Alabama is a bunch of supermen — but we don’t know that, either, because Alabama played only SEC teams, along with an out-of-conference schedule that included Louisville, which ended the season 2-10, the Citadel, Arkansas State, and University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

The system needs to be changed.  The playoff should be expanded, and every major college conference champion should be included.  I happen to think that Ohio State could give Alabama, Georgia, and any other team a good game — just as it did in 2014, when the Buckeyes somehow beat mighty Alabama and went on to win the national championship, to the surprise of every pundit and talking head on ESPN.

The champion should be crowned on the field, not in backrooms based on hype.

In 2018, Does The Pendulum Swing?

Alabama elected a Democratic Senator Tuesday, for the first time in 25 years.  The state is so deep red that the last Democrat to be elected, Richard Shelby in 1992, decided to become a Republican two years into his term.  But on Tuesday, Democrat Doug Jones prevailed — and unlike Shelby, Jones is likely to stay a Democrat for a while.

dfoug-jones-louise-jones-08a67a68d49977afAlabama electing a Democrat to the Senate is so outlandishly contrarian that it has people talking about whether 2018 will bring another “wave” election, where the pendulum swings in the opposite direction and dissatisfied voters rebel against the party in power and vote in droves for the other party.  We’ve seen a number of “wave” elections in recent years, especially in midterm elections, and Democrats are hoping that Jones’ unlikely triumph in the Republican solid south presages a year in which Democrats sweep to power in the House, the Senate, and gubernatorial races across the country — including Ohio.

The question that can’t be answered just yet is whether the Alabama results represent a shift in voter perceptions of Republicans and Democrats generally — or whether it was really a one-off rejection of Roy Moore, the bizarre, deeply flawed Republican candidate who was accused of sexual misconduct and who has lots of other baggage on his resume.  Did Alabamans who formerly have voted for Republicans vote for Jones because they decided that they now like the Democratic platform, or did they vote for Jones because they thought Moore would be an abject embarrassment to their state, or did they not vote at all, allowing the Alabama citizens who always vote for Democrats to carry the day in a low-turnout election?  And if it is the latter scenario, is that brooding sense of malaise by Republican voters due to national issues — like the antics of our Tweeter-in-Chief — and likely to be displayed other states?

Of course, only time will tell.  We don’t know yet who is going to be running in those House, Senate, and gubernatorial races that will be occurring next year, and the talk of a potential wave election may spur a counter-reaction by Republicans who become energized because they don’t want to see the party lose the House and Senate under any circumstances, whether they like and support Trump or find him to be a constant source of embarrassment.

I can’t speak for Alabama, having never set foot in that state, but I’m sensing a lot of unease and uncertainty in Ohio and other places I’ve visited — and while a lot of it involves Trump, a lot of it stems, too, from the sexual harassment allegations that have bedeviled both parties and a seemingly general sense of dissatisfaction with Democrats and Republicans alike.  In such a volatile atmosphere, just about anything is possible.

Wishing, And Hoping

Today is the day the College Football Playoff Selection Committee earns its keep.

They’ve been watching games all season, and since mid-season they’ve been issuing interim rankings after each weekend of play.  But now the regular season games and the conference championship games are done, and it’s time to finally decide:  which four teams should be in this year’s playoff?

urban-meyer-explains-why-an-8-team-college-football-playoff-wont-work-and-he-makes-a-good-pointAlabama is in, of course, as the number one seed.  They romped through a pretty pathetic SEC without a loss and drubbed an offensively challenged Florida team in the SEC championship game.  That’s an easy call.  But who else do you select?  One-loss Clemson won the weak ACC, edging out a pretty one-dimensional Virginia Tech team in last night’s championship game, and has looked good at times but bad at times, too.  One-loss Washington played one of the easiest schedules in college football and won the PAC 12, beating up a hapless Colorado team in the championship game.  Oklahoma, with two losses, won the defensively challenged Big 12.

And then there’s the Big 10.  Ohio State played one of the toughest schedules in college football, smashed Big 12 champion Oklahoma on its home turf, and beat a series of top ten teams during the season, including winning a thrilling edition of The Game against Michigan.  But because Ohio State lost at Penn State, on a blocked field goal in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes didn’t play for the conference championship.  Penn State did and won last night, coming from far behind to beat Wisconsin.  But the Nittany Lions have two losses, one of which was a 39-point thrashing at the hands of That Team Up North.

So who should join Alabama in the playoffs?  The dedicated members of Buckeye Nation obviously hope the Committee selects Ohio State, which was ranked number 2 after last week’s Committee vote.  Should the Committee just pick the one-loss teams from the Power Five conferences, which means Ohio State, Clemson, and Washington should make the cut?  Or should Penn State’s impressive run and conference championship knock out one of those teams?  But how do you vault the two-loss Nittany Lions above two-loss Michigan, which beat Penn State like a drum early in the season?

Ohio State fans are wishing, and hoping, that the Buckeyes make the cut.  Having watched a number of games with the top teams, I honestly think Ohio State is one of the top four teams — but I’m not on the committee.  We’ll know at 12:30.

Happy Picture, Happy Thoughts

8dbb109f-2811-4942-b624-5d00d644946cOhio State isn’t playing in the Big Ten Championship Game today — more’s the pity — but that doesn’t mean we can’t still revel in last weekend’s crushing defeat of That School Up North.

And in the meantime, we’ll think happy thoughts about the dominoes that need to fall for the Buckeyes to get back into the playoffs to defend their National Championship.  I think we need Michigan State to beat Iowa convincingly in the Big Ten Championship Game, along with Alabama losing in the SEC Championship Game or Clemson losing in the ACC Championship Game — or maybe both.  It’s a long shot, perhaps, but it’s still a shot.

Thanks to Mrs. Nesser for this picture of the scoreboard at the Big House, memorializing the Buckeyes’ dominating win.

Trinity’s End

Tomorrow Ohio State plays its first game.  That means it’s almost time to put aside The Trinity.

The Trinity, of course, refers to the last three games that Ohio State played to reel in the first ever college football playoff championship.  The Buckeyes crushed Wisconsin to get into the playoffs, roared back to upset Alabama in the semifinal game, then spanked Oregon in the National Championship Game to bring home the trophy.

For members of Buckeye Nation, this Trinity of games is just this side of heaven.  They are three of the finest games Ohio State has played in my lifetime, and for them to come back-to-back-to-back, with all of the marbles and pressure and SEC jinxes on the line, is just short of incredible.

So, I’ve watched them, and watched them, and watched them.  I’ve seen the 30-minute version of the Buckeyes’ win over Wisconsin so many times that I’ve pretty much memorized dvery Cardale Jones completion and every catch phrase in Gus Johnson’s commentary.  I’ve watched Ezekiel Elliot split the Alabama defense and rip away for 85 yards so often that I see it in my dreams — which is a good thing.  And the fourth-and-goal stop of Oregon, following by the relentless ground game that chewed the Ducks into bits, is indelibly carved into my memory banks.

But now, it’s time to put those wonderful things away.  When a new season starts, you’ve got to forget the past and focus on the present.  There’s nothing sadder than football fans who live in the past.  I’m sure there are Michigan and Penn State fans who need to go deep into their history to find happy moments — and that’s pathetic.  I’d rather live and die with this year’s team than revel forever in last year’s glory.  That’s part of the fun of sports.

I’ll always remember The Trinity.  In fact, since we’re still more than 24 hours from kickoff, there’s still time for me to enjoy them — one more time.

Ezekiel’s Run

We’re in the doldrums here, where the football fans among us are pining for some gridiron activity.  It seems only fair to recall one of the many magical moments in Ohio State’s run to the National Championship last year — Ezekiel Elliott’s back-breaking 85-yard gallop to a clinching touchdown against Alabama.  I love this clip because it neatly contrasts the delirious Ohio State fans versus the deflated Crimson Tide faithful who are seeing their boys go down to defeat.

We’re about two months away from serious talk about college football, folks, but I hope this will Tide you over.

How About Those Stories About Declining Interest In College Football?

Earlier this year people were writing about how the interest in college football is declining.  This story is one of several I saw pursuing that theme.

Guess what?  The news that college football is on the outs with fans might be a bit . . . wrong.  They’ve now determined that the Ohio State-Alabama game in the Sugar Bowl drew the largest audience in cable TV history — 28.2 million viewers, which just edged out the impressive number who tuned in for the earlier Rose Bowl semifinal game between Oregon and Florida State.  And the size of the Sugar Bowl audience is even more striking when you consider that (1) the experts were uniformly predicting an Alabama blowout and (2) the game didn’t begin until 9 a.m. and didn’t end until about 1 a.m. Eastern time.

I’d like to attribute the record-setting audience to the rabid fans in Buckeye Nation, and the fact that every living soul in the state of Ohio watched the game.  I’m sure that OSU was a big draw, and Alabama, too, but I think the real reason for the huge ratings is that the college football playoff has introduced a new and interesting element to the sport.  When you consider that, under the old BCS system, neither Ohio State nor Oregon would likely be playing in the championship game, you get a sense of the shot of adrenalin and excitement that the playoff concept has produced.

American sports fans like to see people earn championships on the field, not through some subjective rankings system.  Don’t be surprised if the tremendous ratings both college football playoff games received on January 1 gives a shot in the arm to efforts to increase the number of playoff teams to eight — and sooner rather than later.

No More SEC Monkey On The Back

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The SEC monkey is finally off the back of Buckeye Nation. In fact, the poor chimp has been hurled to the ground and is left bloodied and whimpering as Ohio State roared back from a 21-6 deficit to stomp number 1 Alabama. Ohio State now moves on to the national championship game against Oregon.

It’s great to finally win a clutch game against the best SEC team when all the marbles were on the line, but it’s especially sweet to come back from a big deficit when many people thought a blowout was coming. The Buckeyes rolled on the ground, with Ezekiel Elliott rushing for more than 200 yards and two TDs, including a backbreaking 85-yarder. And Cardale Jones, OSU’s third-string QB, played with poise and made a number of big throws and runs. And Ohio State’s defense forced three turnovers in the second half to seal the win.

Tomorrow I’ll think about Oregon, but for now I’ll savor that win over the SEC’s best and the demise of that damn monkey. The Big Ten has finally regained a bit of its luster.

Pre-Game Jitters

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Yes, it’s 4:57. Three-and-a-half long hours until the Sugar Bowl and Ohio State’s match-up against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

I could never be an elite athlete, and not just because I have a complete lack of talent, skill, and athletic ability. I totally lack the temperament needed to play sports beyond the recreational level. When a big game is coming up, like this game against Alabama, I get jittery even though I’m only a fan. I can’t imagine what the players and coaches must feel like.

And the time seems to drag, like I’m a kid watching the classroom clock hit 3 p.m. Sigh . . . It’s just 5:07? Seriously?

Our Encounter With Doubting Bob

There’s a lot of dislike for, and skepticism about, the Ohio State Buckeye football team lurking out there.  All of the sports pundits are picking Alabama to win easily, and the Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Crimson Tide as a 9.5 point favorite.  That’s a lot of points when you consider both Ohio State and Alabama have only one loss and Ohio State just won its conference championship game by a 59-0 score.

IMG_4431We experienced some of this pervasive anti-OSU passion firsthand during our recent trip to Jacksonville.  When we were enjoying a beer and some appetizers at a Riverside neighborhood tavern, we overheard this guy ranting about how Ohio State didn’t deserve to make the playoffs.  Actually, “overheard” isn’t quite the right word — this jerk was so loud that you couldn’t help but hear the scorn he poured on our beloved Buckeyes. To make matters worse, his name was Bob.

Why was this guy so deadset on saying that the Buckeyes were pretenders?  There were lots of reasons.  The Big Ten sucks.  Everyone knows that Ohio State chokes in big games.  The Virginia Tech loss showed Ohio State’s true value as a team.  Urban Meyer is a decent coach, but he screwed the University of Florida.  And, as is usually the case, he had a conspiracy theory, too — it’s all about money.  I don’t think he was saying that anyone got paid off to put the Buckeyes in; instead, he believed the playoff selection committee wanted to pick a Midwestern team to try to increase interest in the first-ever playoff, and Ohio State is about as well-supported and Midwestern a team as there is.

We didn’t engage with this loudmouth; you’re not going to change the mind of somebody like that with reasoned discourse, and there’s no point in getting into an argument in a bar.  But listening to his diatribe was enlightening.  It showed a perspective on Ohio State that is a lot different from what you get here in the heart of Buckeye Nation.  We won’t be able to change the conspiracy theories, but a win over Alabama Thursday night would go a long way toward changing some of the other views.

Scratching The SEC Itch

If there’s one thing that drives Ohio State fans to distraction, it’s the Buckeyes’ notorious lack of success against the SEC.  Whether it’s the shellacking Bear Bryant put on Woody Hayes back in the ’70s, or the crushing losses to Florida and LSU in back-to-back BCS National Championship games during the Jim Tressel era, loyal members of Buckeye Nation have endured terrible performances against SEC teams in big games.  And when Ohio State finally seemed to lance the boil by beating Arkansas in a bowl game a few years ago, that victory was snatched away as a result of the “Tattoogate” scandal.

So, what’s an OSU fan supposed to think about the fact that when Ohio State made the first-ever four-team major college playoff this year, it was paired against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the consensus choice for best team in the land and an SEC team to boot, in its first game?

Call me crazy, but I welcome this challenge.  Ohio State might get its butt kicked, but it will never have a better chance to definitively end the SEC Curse and stop all the laughing and name-calling than it does in this game, this year.  Alabama is the SEC personified, and they will be the prohibitive favorite, too.  If Ohio State can somehow prevail — despite the presumptive advantages to the Tide stemming from “Southern speed,” the murderous schedule they’ve played in the world-beating SEC West, and the legions of five-star studs that Nick Saban lures to Tuscaloosa every year, maybe the SEC fans will finally shut up and recognize that Midwestern teams know their way around a pigskin, too.

I’m old school about how sports are supposed to work.  Alabama is the most successful college football program right now; Ohio State aspires to that position.  The best way for Ohio State to achieve its goal is to beat the best in a big game — and they’ve got that opportunity.  Now is the time.  If the Buckeyes lay an egg and Alabama crushes them like it did Notre Dame, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves, and the SEC buffs have every right to crow and call the Buckeyes an overrated program from a candy-ass conference.  If Ohio State somehow wins the game, however, we’ll lance that SEC boil, once and for all.

I really, really want to lance that boil.

Buckeyes On The Bus

I think it’s safe to say that the Ohio State Buckeyes were happy that Auburn improbably beat Alabama by returning a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown as time ran out.  OSU linebacker filmed the reaction and posted it to his Twitter feed.  It reminds you that the players are really just kids playing a game.

What a day for college football and the Buckeye Nation!

Wishing, Waiting, And Watching TV

The Ohio State Buckeyes have a bye week this weekend.  Does that mean that the members of Buckeye Nation won’t be watching football?  Hardly!

No, this is the time of year when any team on the outside looking in is watching the scoreboard, hoping the teams just ahead get knocked off.  That’s Ohio State’s situation.  The Buckeyes are undefeated, but they are ranked fourth in the BCS standings behind Alabama, Florida State, and Oregon.  If the Buckeyes hope to make the BCS Championship Game — and of course they do — they need to win out and have two of those teams lose.  The Buckeyes control the former requirement, but they can’t control the latter.  That means that, on every weekend for the rest of the season, Ohio State fans will be rooting for the Buckeyes and Whoever is playing Alabama, Whoever is playing Florida State, and Whoever is playing Oregon, too.

The TV watching season kicks off in earnest tonight, when Stanford matches up against Oregon, and continues on Saturday, when Alabama plays LSU.  These are games where, theoretically at least, the teams ahead of Ohio State could be upset and open the door for Ohio State to move up in the rankings.

I’m mostly concerned with the Buckeyes keeping their focus exclusively on their personal improvement and their next opponent.  Because I’m not playing, however, I’ll gladly do some scoreboard watching and open rooting on behalf of the Men of the Scarlet and Gray.  So . . . c’mon Cardinal!  C’mon Bengal Tigers!

The SEC Kicks Butt

I’m a Big Ten fan — always have been, always will be.  But even diehard Big Ten fans should be tipping their cap to Alabama and the teams of the SEC, which have established a dominance in college football that would make the New York Yankees of old green with envy.

Alabama crushed unbeaten Notre Dame last night, 42-14.  The game wasn’t that close.  Alabama has won three of the last four national championships.  Add the championships won by LSU, Florida, and Auburn — all of the SEC — and you have an amazing record of success.  The truth is that, right now, the SEC teams are better.

We can argue about why.  Some Big Ten fans will tell you its because SEC teams oversign, or boot kids who aren’t performing as expected for bogus reasons so they can sign other prospects, or don’t have the academic standards that Big Ten teams and other schools do.  But on the field, the results are inarguable:  the SEC teams are just better, and they are proving it, year to year and national championship game to national championship game.

Ohio State and Urban Meyer hope to get to the mountaintop, where Alabama has set up camp.  Last night’s trouncing of the Fighting Irish shows what the Buckeyes need to aim for.  It’s not going to be an easy target to hit.