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?
Alabama 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.
Tomorrow we’ll see the finale of HBO’s Westworld. We’re being assured that all will be revealed, and after the episode the show will actually make sense.
Yeah, right! I’ll believe it when I see it. That’s like expecting triumphant Trump staffers and bitter Clinton campaign operatives to reach friendly consensus on why Donald Trump won the election, or imagining that fair-minded Michigan fans will freely concede that the referees correctly spotted the ball on the 15-yard line after J.T. Barrett’s fourth-down keeper in the second overtime of this year’s classic version of The Game.
Westworld is right up there with The Leftovers as the most confusing show since Twin Peaks. It’s so intentionally mystifying that I don’t even try to understand it, or piece together the disparate threads of the plot. I just wince at the horribly bloody violence that is likely to occur at any tender moment, groan at the show’s troubling core assumption that any human who goes to a fantasy world will promptly turn into a blood-soaked, sex-crazed lunatic, and recognize that any character in the next instant could be revealed as a robot, a cold-blooded killer, a psychopath, or all three. (I also cringe for the actors who have to routinely sit buck naked on chairs on a sterile set while other characters question them and tap iPads, but that’s another story.)
I’ve stopped trying to figure it all out. Kish and I watch the show, and I just let it kind of wash over me, rather than struggling to make sense of why Dolores’ outfit changes from instant to instant or why Bernard’s interactions with his fake dead son are so significant. I realized that the show had reached the point of ridiculousness this past week, when I was walking back from lunch with two friends, one of whom watches Westworld and one of whom doesn’t. The watcher and I started talking about the show, and after a few minutes of discussion of “Billy” and the possibility that the show’s plot is running along different timelines and the importance of the photo of Billy’s bethrothed and whether the twitching beings at the church Dolores visited were troubled robots looking for some kind of salvation, the non-watcher asked, with a baffled laugh: “What is this show?” And I realized that it was all pretty silly.
So I’ll watch the finale, but I’m not expecting that I’ll get everything in this episode, because that sure hasn’t been the case in the past episodes. I just make one request: before we move on to “the new narrative,” can you at least let us know what the old narrative was all about?
I’ve gotten into an odd new habit this year: I check the ESPN website the morning after a Columbus Blue Jackets to see how the team fared. I did it this morning and learned that they won . . . again.
I don’t know beans about hockey. I also don’t know if, or how, I could watch a CBJ game on TV. I do know, however, that the team has been winning a lot this season. As we roll into December, the Blue Jackets are 13-5-4. In their last 10 games they’re an even more impressive 7-1-2. You don’t have to know much about hockey to know that a team with that kind of recent record is playing well. My friends who know hockey say that the team finally has a good offense, an even better defense, and a capable goalie. (Then they lapse into increasingly enthusiastic and animated hockeybabble about first lines, power plays, power play kills, and other inexplicable topics, and my understanding of what is being discussed falls to zilch and I start wondering what the hell happened on the most recent episode of HBO’s Westworld.)
What’s interesting about all of this to me is what it might mean to Columbus. Our fair city has two professional sports franchises — the Blue Jackets and the Columbus Crew soccer team. The Crew has a very devoted following, but even though they’ve been extremely successful they’ve never really captured the city’s imagination. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, have never been successful. Usually they get off to a terrible start and are effectively out of the running a month or two into the season — which isn’t exactly a recipe for developing legions of new hockey fans. As a result, by December sports fans in Columbus are talking about Ohio State’s upcoming bowl game, the prospects for the basketball Buckeyes, and not much else.
I think there’s plenty of room for more dedicated sports fandom in Columbus, outside of our passion for Ohio State — provided the fans have something to root for. I’m hoping the Blue Jackets continue to play well so they can test my hypothesis. This year, I’m detecting a bit of a buzz about the team, even apart from the hockeyheads. And of course it would be great for the city if the CBJ made a run in the NHL playoffs and brought some excitement, visitors, and hotel and restaurant and bar patrons to the Arena District.
So, let’s go, Jackets! (Clap . . . clap . . . clapclapclap.) Who knows? I might actually go to a game this year and have a pal explain icing to me for the 45th time.
It was a tough morning in Columbus yesterday. When word spread that there was an active shooter somewhere on the Ohio State campus, everyone in town started thinking about people they know who attend the University, or work there, or might conceivably be down in the campus area. Because Ohio State is a huge, integral part of the Columbus community, a violent incident on campus could affect a lot of people, students and non-students alike. We held our breath and hoped.
As the day wore on, the story changed. The active shooter became an Ohio State student who apparently pulled a fire alarm at the OSU engineering buildings and labs, then drove his car into the crowd of students and faculty who had exited the buildings in response to the alarm. After his car hit the crowd, the driver emerged armed with a butcher’s knife and began slashing and stabbing people. Students broke and ran. Fortunately, an Ohio State campus police officer happened to be nearby, and he shot and killed the assailant — a student named Abdul Razak Ali Artan — before he was able to injure anyone else. Eleven innocent people were hurt in the car crash and stabbings, but all are expected to survive. You can read the AP story about the incident here and the Columbus Dispatch story here.
Was it an act of terrorism? Authorities are investigating whether Artan became self-radicalized somehow, and was responding to calls from terrorist groups, like ISIS, encouraging members to engage in car attacks and knife attacks against westerners. According to witnesses, Artan wasn’t speaking when he emerged from the car and started his slashing attacks. We’ll have to wait for authorities to piece together his back story from the evidence they gather, and while the investigation proceeds our city will hold its breath a second time. That’s because Artan apparently was of Somali descent, and Columbus has a large Somali community — and when something like this happens, there are inevitable fears of a backlash. Having lived in Columbus for decades, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but people will be walking on eggshells for a while.
Whether Artan’s attack is officially found to be an act of terrorism, or just the violent attack of someone who became deranged, for a brief period yesterday there was terror on the Ohio State campus. Students were put in danger, their parents tried frantically to find out whether their children were OK, and our community had to deal with another of the distressingly frequent acts of random violence.
It just sucks.
Look, there have been a lot of incredible Ohio State-Michigan games over the years. Virtually every game between the two fierce rivals during the ’70s was a tough, hard-hitting advertisement for why college football is the greatest sport there is. There was the Snow Bowl, and the 2006 match-up between two teams ranked no. 1 and no.2, and — giving the devil its due — Michigan’s legendary 1969 upset of an Ohio State team that many at the time considered to be the best college football team ever.
So I’m not going to say that yesterday’s double-overtime thriller was the best Ohio State-Michigan game ever played — but I am going to say that it was an epic contest that was simply one of the best college football games I’ve ever seen. Two strong teams with shutdown defenses. Wild emotional swings. Missed field goals and turnovers. Officiating controversy. A gutsy call that blew up in the coach’s face, and then a gutsy call that produced the game-winning touchdown. It’s the stuff of legend; an instant classic that people will remember and talk about for years to come. No one who watched it, in the stands or on TV, will forget the 2016 edition of The Game.
And in the end, Ohio State won, and Michigan went home crushed. Michigan’s head coach, Jim Harbaugh, blames the referees for the loss, saying they missed a spot and blew some pass interference calls. His disappointment is understandable, because his team played a great game and seemed to have The Game in hand until Ohio State’s defense ground the Michigan offense down and the Buckeyes’ offense finally woke up. Still, it’s too bad that such a great game should end with such sour grapes. Coach Harbaugh’s comments seem to cheapen The Game, and that’s too bad.
Ohio State’s unfortunate mishaps against Penn State mean that the Buckeyes once again won’t play in the Big Ten championship game. Instead, they will have to wait to see whether they are selected for this year’s college football playoff, and Ohio State fans will keep their fingers crossed that the selection committee recognizes that the Buckeyes are one of the four best teams in the land.
For now, though, we can just savor an epic win against the Wolverines, and reflect on the fact that beating That Team from Up North never gets old.
This morning finds us in the City of Champions — Cleveland. UJ, Russell and I came up yesterday afternoon to watch an early edition of October baseball as the Tribe beat the Detroit Tigers, 1-0, in a brilliant display of bullpen management by manager Terry Francona. It was a fantastic nail-biter that ended in triumph. Then we walked to a nearby pub to learn that, thanks to a well-timed rain delay, we could watch the entirety of Ohio State’s epic beat down of Oklahoma.
Today we’re going to swing by Octoberfest on Public Square, then it’s off to see if the Browns can resemble a professional football team against the Ravens. Can we complete the Cleveland-Buckeyes trifecta? Or will we learn, as Meat Loaf once sang, that two out of three ain’t bad?