The college football regular season, for the most part, is in the books. We broke down the playoff picture in the immediate aftermath. Here are seven things we learned (or had reaffirmed) this weekend.
Michigan Lost Because Of Themselves
Ohio State and Michigan played on the last Saturday in November. This was No. 2 vs. No. 3. This was the season’s most important game. This was one of the rivalry’s most important games. It meant everything. It went to overtime. It came down to an indeterminable judgment call on a 4th down conversion spot. It was a marvelous game. It ended as 2016 games are wont to do with social media schadenfreude.
Jim Harbaugh had some strong thoughts on the refereeing. The spot on the Barrett run was inscrutable. If he had been called short, referees could not have overturned the ruling on replay. Michigan has a better case for some missed pass interference calls and the Wolverines somehow earning more penalty yards on Jim Harbaugh tossing his playsheet than Ohio State had during the entire game.
Set that aside. Michigan lost because it had multiple chances to win and didn’t take them. They fumbled the ball inside the Ohio State five-yard line. They threw two interceptions that gave away points. They had a defensive breakdown on a long J.T. Barrett run. They missed crucial conversions on dropped balls or bad throws. They didn’t stop Ohio State from getting them.
The Wolverines had the better gameplan. They kept their cool. They gave everything they had. A play here or there could have swung the result. But, Ohio State was the team that made them.
Alabama Will Probably Win The Playoff
We’ve vented spleens in premature arguments about who will be in the College Football Playoff. The ultimate determination may not matter so much. Alabama finished off Auburn 30-12 in the Iron Bowl to go 12-0. The Tide defense has now gone 53 drives without conceding a touchdown. The last one scored on them came in the third quarter against Texas A&M on Oct. 23. They turn legit Top 30 yards/play offenses into UConn.
Yes, reaching the playoff is everything now. But, if you’re a fan of the second B1G team clutching to a chance to be the 4th seed, a Rose Bowl trip and a much easier draw may not be the worst postseason outcome for you.
Butch Jones Did Not Win At Life On Saturday
Tennessee was dead set for 9-3. That would have placed the Vols in the Top 15 and lined up a Sugar Bowl bid. A layer of fondant would have covered over a mostly crap season. It was not to be. Butch Jones had another “Butch Jones” game in him. Tennessee lost to Vandy.
The Vols blowing a double-digit third quarter lead against an inferior opponent was true to form. We even had a classic Jonesian math error. Tennessee trailed by 11 with 1:37 remaining. They needed a touchdown, a two-point conversion, a successful onside kick, and a field goal to tie.
Tennessee had the ball 4th and 4 from the 13-yard line. The decision there – to even the most blockheaded football mind – should be to kick the relatively easy field goal to bring the game within one score. Instead, Tennessee went for it, failed on a pass completed short of the 1st down marker, and lost.
Vols fans would have been excited to find out they would beat Florida and Georgia preseason, until being informed losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt would cost Tennessee the SEC East.
Lamar Jackson Wins The Heisman By Default
Louisville QB Lamar Jackson ran up a huge Heisman lead. Then, his 9-1 Cardinals team lost the two remaining games to close the season. Jackson completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in a blowout against Houston. He threw three interceptions in a 41-38 loss to rival Kentucky.
The statistical argument for Jackson remains airtight. He was a Top 15 passer. He put up better production than Dalvin Cook on the ground. Even though those losses leave a sour taste, there’s no real alternative. Though folks will doubtless try to talk their way into Baker Mayfield or Dede Westbrook.
Stanford’s Schedule Fell Apart
Stanford beat Rice 41-17 to finish 9-3. The Owls were their first Non-P5/ND opponent of 2016. The Cardinal entered the season with what looked like a brutal schedule, where ending up 9-3 would be commendable. That perceived gauntlet did not materialize. The Cardinal caught USC before the Sam Darnold switch. Road trips to UCLA, Notre Dame, and Oregon were softies. Stanford won six of seven down the stretch, without beating a bowl-bound opponent.
College Football Isn’t About Character Building
Charlie Strong’s job was in jeopardy. Texas players loved him. Fans respected him. The administration wanted him to work out. The team had multiple opportunities to show some sign this was working out. That sign never materialized. Whether it was poor effort, it was poor coaching, or both, the Longhorns were outscored 24-3 by TCU in the second half and lost. Strong may have had players best interests at heart. Alas, he was not a guidance counselor. Texas was paying him $5 million per year to coach football. The Longhorns have not been good at it the past three years.
There Are Too Many Bowl Games
What does “qualifying for a bowl game” mean in 2016? The field of 40 requires the participation of 80 teams. Even the requirement lowered to a .500 record, and five wins vs. FBS can’t furnish a field of 80. We must proceed to teams that won four FBS games, accompanied by two FCS wins or not. Drama is a 4-7 team fighting to keep its hopes alive with a strong APR rating.
FBS football will play all 40 games. The sport will add additional ones after the “moratorium” expires in 2018. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, let’s stop pretending this means something.