The best show right now in sports, a month after the World Series we got, with Game 2 and Game 5 and then the whole thing going the distance, isn’t the National Football League
It is a college football season as surprising and exciting as any we have seen since they came up with this playoff system, one that currently has eight teams, at least, still in play for four spots.
And, by the way, if they ever change it so that we’re talking about a dozen teams, or more, fighting over eight spots at this time of the year, the people in charge of college football in America should be told to go run a bowling alley.
We have seen Georgia as No. 1 and Alabama as No. 1. We have seen Auburn take out Georgia and then take out Alabama in the Iron Bowl. We see that Ohio State, with its two losses, still has a shot at making it into the tournament, even though they got lit up for 55 points by Iowa in one of those losses. We see that the defending champ, Clemson, is still right there, despite the worst loss of any of the contending teams, to Syracuse. Miami beats Notre Dame 41-8, but then loses on the road to Pitt on the day after Thanksgiving.
From the time Auburn beat Alabama early Saturday night, and brought more intrigue and chaos and sheer fun to the thing than there was already, all we’ve had is questions, because this season and this system and this sport is made for questions and controversy. Oh yeah. And all that big fun.
Questions like this: If Ohio State beats undefeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, does that make their two-loss season better than Alabama’s one-loss season? And when you look at Alabama’s season, and see that its best two victories were over LSU and Mississippi State, can you actually make the case that its one loss — to Auburn — is better than its best two victories?
(Spoiler alert: I think the loss to Auburn is better than wins over LSU and Mississippi State, a rivalry loss to a team as hot as any in the country, on the road.)
When you look at everything with Oklahoma, including its last win, 59-31 over West Virginia, it is easy to make the case that if two-loss Auburn isn’t playing the best ball right now, the Sooners and their crotch-grabbing, Heisman-frontrunner quarterback Baker Mayfield are. But they still have to get past TCU in the Big 12 championship game.
And what if Miami, coming off that terrible loss to Pitt — though clearly not as terrible as Clemson’s to Syracuse, whether Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant played hurt that night or not — manages to beat Clemson in the ACC title game? Is there a chance that the Hurricanes, after their exciting, white-knuckle, throwback season might end up with just that one loss, and still not be one of the committee’s top four?
There sure is. You look at all the teams involved and all the possibilities and it’s easy to see that Miami’s fans, even if their team does upset Clemson, are most likely to be yelling the loudest when the final selections are made.
Because of the loss to Auburn, Alabama is the only one without a game this weekend. Listen: Not making it to your conference championship game isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, especially if Saban is the coach and the Roll Tiders are the team. But it will be interesting this time to see if the Tide, which has survived early-season losses before, can survive what happened Saturday. You even wonder if they’ll actually be rooting for Auburn, just because then Saban’s guys losing to the War Eagles in the Iron Bowl might look like an even better loss than it does already.
Here, by the way, is what Saban said after the Auburn game:
“You know, I think this team deserves an opportunity to get into the playoff, by what they’ve been able to accomplish and what they’ve been able to do. Certainly not, maybe, from this game. But I think the team we played tonight is a very good football team, one of the best teams in the country. … I really don’t know what all the scenarios might be where we would have an opportunity (to make the playoff). But I’d certainly like to see this team get the opportunity. I think they deserve it.”
This was Saban being forced to lobby after a big game because his team didn’t win the big game this time. So he and his players sit and watch this weekend, while we get four pretty tremendous conference championship games: Wisconsin-Ohio State, Oklahoma-TCU, Miami-Clemson, Auburn-Georgia. Think about that: Seven of the eight teams playing still have a legitimate chance at the national championship, the only exception being TCU. And there, noses pressed to the window, are Saban and his players. Eight teams. Four spots. I’m still not sure that the people who devised this system knew how good they’d made it. And, again, I hope they’re not greedy enough or chowderheaded enough to ever think about changing it.
It sometimes seems that Wisconsin, despite its unbeaten record in the Big Ten, is the mystery guest at this particular party, just because there has been so much excitement and drama in other conferences, and with the big boys we’re used to seeing at this time of year. It is the one thing about college football: There are hardly ever any outliers at this time of year. So far, there have been no Gonzagas making it to the championship game, or Butler, the way teams like that have in college basketball. Year after year, the power structure in college football is as set as any in any big sport we have.
The closest thing we have to outlier, really, in college football this year is Miami, and you know the kind of resume the Hurricanes had in the not-too-recent past. Here comes Clemson again. Here comes Oklahoma. Here is Ohio State knocking on the door if it can beat Wisconsin.
I happen to agree with the great Paul Finebaum on Alabama and Ohio State, if it comes down to those two teams.
“Alabama is the better team,” Paul said. “Alabama has a loss at Auburn, which has been dominant down the stretch. Compare that with Ohio State losing to Oklahoma and a silly game against Iowa. How is that even a debate?”
But Paul knows better than anyone that just about everything is a debate in college football, especially once we get to the first Saturday in December. In the past, we had all those different polls, and sometimes we ended up with two No. 1 teams, and the debate was about that. Now we’ve got this four-team tournament. First come four big conference championship games. Not a perfect system. But, man, it will do until a better one comes along. Never a better college season than this. And their World Series hasn’t even started yet.