It might not be the exact way Jeff Long and the College Football Playoff committee drew it up, but it’s close:
(1) Clemson (13-0)
(2) Alabama (12-1)
(3) Michigan State (12-1)
(4) Oklahoma (11-1)
The national championship playoff field consists of four conference champions, three of them with only one loss. But the way the rankings played out over the final six weeks of the season went exactly the way they were supposed to: by using the end of the regular season as the quarterfinal round and then letting the best four teams emerge. For the second straight year of the playoff’s existence, I truly believe the committee got it right.
By the way, let me point this out now once and for all: Ohio State had their chance to be considered one of the four best teams in the country, but it’s hard to be when you can’t win your own division, can’t win your own conference and lose to one of the teams that ends up being in that group of four. Based on a weak strength of schedule the Buckeyes’ previously undefeated record was the one leg they had to stand on before Michigan State kicked it out. After all, losing head-to-head is the quickest way to be counted out in the standings. Speaking of unnecessary complaining…
– Stop the Bowl Belly-Aching
This is the time where I remind college football fans that contrary to popular belief, teams and conferences have absolutely no say who plays in a particular bowl game. Much like Ollivander explains to Harry Potter that “the wand chooses the wizard,” the bowl chooses the teams that play. So while on the surface it may seem disheartening that Pitt was chosen to face Navy in the Military Bowl on Dec. 28 in Annapolis as opposed to the Belk Bowl or the Pinstripe Bowl, this is an opportunity where both Pitt and the Military Bowl can benefit.
Bowl game committees take quite a few criteria into account. One of them is whether or not they can get fans from both teams to fill the stadium. Having one of the teams playing in their home stadium is half the battle. Having the other team’s fan base only 269 miles and a four-hour, 17-minute drive away isn’t too terrible, either (especially when that fan base has developed a bad reputation of not showing well at bowl games, but I digress).
Being matched up in a bowl game at a site within driving distance should be considered the ideal match-up for any program, and that’s the scenario Pitt currently faces. They have a chance to prove they can move the attendance needle, and it looks like they’ve gotten off to a great start, according to Pat Narduzzi’s Twitter page. Marking off half of your ticket allotment in one day is a good first step.
Pitt also has a chance to finally be taken seriously as a program in terms of the product on the field. If you’re looking for a different reason to understand why the Panthers weren’t chosen for a higher-tier bowl, look no further than the season finale loss to Miami at Heinz Field. It’s hard to be taken seriously when you lose a game at home the day after a major holiday against a team who fired their coach a month before.
Redemption now comes in the form of facing a nine-win team on their home field with a previously-considered Heisman candidate at quarterback (more on him later). A win in this game would give Pitt a nine-win season of their own and it would change the perception from the outside, both on and off the field.
During my days of working in marketing, there was a buzz word that we used often: “juice.” It was an acronym, meaning “Join Us In Creating Excitement.” Pat Narduzzi might not have squeezed out all of the juice yet in his program so far (although, God bless him, he really has tried), but a Pitt team that has improved under his first year of stewardship with the proper fan support makes them a viable option down the road.
A golden opportunity has been presented to the Panthers to beat a quality opponent at a bowl game within driving distance of their campus where their fans can support them without excuse. A win in this game might not surprise me much, but it would definitely catch the attention of those who make the decisions for next year’s bowl season. Now, back to that quarterback they’re going to face…
– Heisman Hijinks (Or Hijacked?)
Forget about which of the three Heisman Trophy finalists should win the award. That’s not how this year’s vote should be remembered. It should be remembered as the year they took a vote away from a dynamic player, then gave it back to him and then said player was still robbed of a trip to New York.
The fact that Keenan Reynolds is not a finalist is a sin and a shame, even worse than the Nissan/ESPN “fan vote” debacle. If the Heisman Trust is not going to honor the criteria of recognizing the “outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence and integrity” like it says in its Mission Statement, then change the Mission Statement. Who better to exemplify the pursuit of excellence and integrity than an outstanding player excelling at one of the nation’s military academies?
That said, my vote goes to Christian McCaffrey from Stanford. It’s hard for me to argue against a player who broke the FBS record for total yards in a season (3,496) with 1,000-plus rush yards, 500-plus receiving yards and 1,000-plus kick return yards for a Power Five conference champion team… oh yeah, and he averaged 8.5 yards each time he touched the ball.
McCaffrey recorded 150 total yards or more in 11 of 13 games this season (never had less than 100 in any game), 200 or more in nine of them, and 300 or more five times, including 432 against Southern Cal in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Better yet, when’s the last time you heard about a player who had 200-plus rushing yards and a touchdown, 100-plus receiving yards and a touchdown catch, 100-plus kick return yards AND threw a touchdown pass? He did it all in that same game.
For the love of Toby Gerhart, somebody do the right thing and give the trophy to the most dynamic player in the country. He’s earned it.