SOUNDING OFF ABOUT THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF
For once, it can be argued, the College Football Committee got it 100% correct when it came to the four teams involved. The order of the seeding could perhaps be debated but not the four teams that made it in – LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma. You have four conference champions, three undefeated teams and in the minds of everybody who’s paid close attention to the 2019 season, the best four teams.
Four of the Power Five conferences are represented and the only one that isn’t – the Pac-12 – had a two-loss conference champion. Had Utah beaten Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game there would have been a debate over which one-loss team deserved that final spot – Utah or Oklahoma from the Big 12 – so the committee needs to thank Oregon for giving them a year without controversy.
This year a four-team playoff seems exactly right. LSU, Ohio State and Clemson are unbeaten. Georgia looked like a lost ball in the tall weeds by the time LSU took a knee to end the SEC Championship Game. Once Ohio State woke up from its first half coma, Wisconsin didn’t stand a prayer against the Buckeyes. There are people doing hard time in Raiford for less than what Clemson did to Virginia in the ACC Championship Game. One-loss Oklahoma benefitted from Utah’s meltdown in the Pac-12 Championship Game, but the Sooners helped themselves by beating one-loss Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game. To find another one-loss team in the top 25 you have to go all the way down to #17 Memphis from the American Athletic Conference. Memphis can’t argue it belongs because its loss was to four-loss Shirley Temple. Boise State (#19) is the other one-loss team and the Broncos lost to four-loss BYU.
When you take a look at the four teams that are in the playoff it’s difficult to make a case for playoff expansion. The four that are in belong. You would have a hard time justifying the addition of four teams this year. Proof of that is #5 Georgia, which would get its doors blown off by every single team in the final four. Now, there will be years when an eight-team playoff could be justified without much if any controversy, but not this year and at least for the next six years there won’t be any rush to change the current four-team format.
Here are some reasons why the playoff won’t be expanding any time soon:
(1) The playoff is a result of a partnership between the bowls, the Power Five conferences and ESPN. The current College Football Playoff contract won’t expire for six more years. The money is so good that even when a league like the Pac-12 gets shut out for the third straight year the conference commissioners, school presidents and athletic directors aren’t about to complain.
(2) Expanding to eight teams would add one more week of football which fans who plan to watch on TV would love, but it would be a nightmare for fans and boosters who plan to travel. Jeremy Foley once told me how difficult it is to accommodate basketball fans during March Madness but that’s with a limited number of tickets. “Multiply the tickets times ten,” he told me, “and that’s just for the fans and boosters. You still have to make travel arrangements for your team on short notice. You’re only dealing with 30 or so when you talk about a basketball team. With football you’re talking way more than 100.”
(3) Adding another week to the playoffs would create untold chaos. Start with the Early National Signing Date. Because the ENSD is BEFORE Christmas, the playoff teams can get their recruiting done and get most of their allotted 15 practices in. Add that extra week and now you have to play BEFORE Christmas and that interrupts recruiting. There is also the teensy little matter of final examinations. Under the current format, a playoff team can get its finals out of the way, take care of recruiting and then have adequate time to get ready for the semifinals. It’s not so easy to simply tack on that extra week in January, either because you’re then going head-to-head with the NFL playoffs and that would create a problem with stadiums since playoff games tend to be played in NFL stadiums.
(4) It would mean the teams that play for the championship would be playing their 16th game, which is the same as the NFL regular season. School presidents aren’t keen on the idea of another game and you might be surprised at the number of athletic directors and coaches who think the current system is too many because of the wear and tear on the players. Suggestions that the regular season be scaled back to 11 games will be met with deaf ears so that’s not a solution. That extra game represents revenue that athletic directors who have to balance budgets for a full slate of scholarship sports aren’t going to give up. And the five power conferences aren’t about to give up their league championship games, either.
(5) At some point in the future, I think expansion to either a six- or eight-team format will happen but there are too many problems that will have to be worked out before a change is made. I think maybe four years from now when we’re nearing the end of the current four-team playoff some feelers will go out to gauge (a) the amount of interest in expansion and (b) the amount of revenue that will trump all the other arguments. Athletic directors faced with cutting sports will look at the amount of money that will be on the table for revenue sharing and they’ll vote their wallets to expand. I’m of the opinion that expansion will begin with the addition of two teams which would allow the five conference champions and one other team. That other team could be Notre Dame, a team that dominated the regular season then laid an egg in the conference championship game or perhaps the best team from the Group of Five. Under this format, I believe the top two teams would get a bye and the other four would meet at on-campus locations with the winners advancing to the semifinals. This format would buy time until all the kinks could be worked out to expand to eight teams. Eventually, I think eight teams will be the norm.
The way the playoff is set, it makes it all but impossible for a Group of Five team to crash the party. That’s why I think the Group of Five should take a long, hard look at creating its own playoff. It would certainly give the smaller, less prosperous programs in Division I the incentive of a championship to play for. UCF, for example, could win a national championship on the field instead of doing something silly like declaring itself national champs for finishing a season unbeaten. We have national championships in D1AA, DII and DIII, so why not have a Group of Five national champ? It makes sense to me, but that’s probably why they won’t do it.
SEC COACHING UPDATES AND OTHER STUFF
Missouri: Charlie Harbison, most recently Eli Drinkwitz’s cornerbacks coach at Appalachian State, has joined the Missouri staff with duties to be assigned at some point in the future. Harbison has worked in the SEC at Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn … UAB tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Casey Woods is joining the staff as tight ends coach. He worked with Drinkwitz at Auburn and Arkansas State.
Georgia: Linebacker Robert Beal has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Beal played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2018, five in 2019. It’s unclear if he’s anywhere close to graduation since he could transfer anywhere and be immediately eligible.
Texas A&M: Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, who has already declared for the NFL, has announced he will sit out the Aggies’ Texas Bowl encounter with Oklahoma State.
Ole Miss: The Rebels have agreed to a home-and-home with Oregon State. Ole Miss will face the Beavers in Oxford in 2027 and then travel to Oregon State in 2030.
Mississippi State: Running back Kylin Hill will leave early for the NFL Draft but has elected to play in the Bulldogs’ Music City Bowl game with Louisville.
Arkansas: Receivers coach Justin Stepp has been retained.
COACHING STUFF FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
Florida State: Mike Norvell got a six-year contract that will pay $3.75 million initially and will include $250,000 yearly raise. The total value of the deal is $28 million. The salary pool will be $5.25 million.
New Mexico State: New Mexico State HBC Doug Martin calls allegations that he is a racist and forced players to play injured “ridiculous.” Martin says the allegations come from the parent of a player who has been “threatening me all year long.”
Colorado State: Bowling Green tight ends coach Louie Addazio (Steve’s son) will coach tight ends and Ohio State quality control analyst Corey Dennis (Urban Meyer’s son-in-law) will coach the quarterbacks.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL AWARDS NIGHT Maxwell Trophy: Joe Burrow, LSU Walter Camp Player of the Year: Joe Burrow, LSU Davey O’Brien Award: Joe Burrow, LSU Doak Walker Award: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin Fred Biletnikoff Award: Ja’Marr Chase, LSU Outland Trophy: Penei Sewell, Oregon Chuck Bednarik Award: Chase Young, Ohio State Jim Thorpe Award: Grant Delpit, LSU Lou Groza Award: Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia Ray Guy Award: Max Duffy, Kentucky
GOOD QUOTES FOR FRIDAY
Andy Staples of The Athletic on the chances Florida can make the big leap next season to make it to Atlanta: “Florida doesn’t look like it will have any huge changes, but the Gators will be coming off double-digit win seasons in each of the first two years of the Dan Mullen era. They’ll have an established starting quarterback in Kyle Trask, but whether they can ascend in the SEC likely will depend on what happens to LSU post-Joe Burrow and whether Georgia has an LSU-like offensive philosophy shift. If those two slip it could open the door for Florida.”
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports on how pairing Urban Meyer with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones might be a disaster: “There is no denying Meyer can coach college football. He is almost perfectly suited for it. The NFL may be the same sport, but it’s a different game and it would require Meyer to change not just the way he coaches the game, but his hardwired personality … The man is a control freak. He despises losing. He runs people around him into the ground. He abhors any voice speaking for the program other than his … If he ever was going to coach I the NFL, about the last place that would work is Jerry Jones’ Cowboys.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Former Gator and Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and New York Jets center Jonotthan Harrison are finalists for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award given for outstanding activities in the community … Ten former NFL players including former University of Miami running back Clinton Portis and FSU receiver Tamarick Vanover have been charged by the federal government with defrauding the NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account of almost $4 million. It is being reported by the Washington Post that former Gator Reche Caldwell will also be charged … Anthony Rendon, who helped the Washington Nationals win the World Series, has signed a seven-year, $245 million free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Rendon hit 34 homers and drove in 126 runs for the Nationals in 2019 … The Ladies European Tour will play a golf tournament at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in March with a $1 million purse. Will the women be allowed to wear skirts and shorts like they do on tour in Europe?