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Friday, 16 January 2015

Parting Thoughts on the College Football Playoff

College Football Playoff trophyEven if you’re not a fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes, you must admit we got to witness something truly special.  For years, fans had been clamoring for the College Football Playoff to materialize, and we finally got our wish.  While this season was subject to many of the usual controversies about what teams are and aren’t deserving of a title shot, we took one giant leap forward in the mission to crown a true champion.  In no particular order, here are a few thoughts on the playoff now that we’ve all had some time to let Monday night/Tuesday morning’s results sink in.

This was one of the few games where the on-field pre-game interviews set the tone for what we’d see unfold shortly afterward. You didn’t even need to listen to the head coaches’ answers; the body language told the whole story. Oregon’s Mark Helfrich looked tight, almost as if he wanted to get the darn thing over with already after all the hype.  Ohio State’s Urban Meyer looked confident, which is an easy attitude to have when you’ve won two championships.

Oregon’s greatest strength turned out to be its biggest liability. The Ducks had lived all season by its high-tempo offense that had a talent for scoring points in less time than it would take you to head to the fridge for another beer. As the ESPN graphic clock illustrated so well in the championship final against Ohio State, the Ducks didn’t waste a lot of time between plays. Although the offense was fast-paced, it didn’t put up a lot of points and it was, unfortunately, good at sending the defense back onto the field after very short rest periods.

On the other hand, Ohio State was content to pound it, run the clock, pound it some more, and continue to eat up time. ESPN, to its discredit, didn’t show the time of possession differential (37:29 to 22:31).  The longer this thing went, it was incredibly obvious that Ohio State was dominating the time of possession and the Oregon defense was out of steam. One last point about ESPN: the graphics used during most of the playoff were small and hard to read, even on a decent-sized screen.  Who thought that was a good idea?

Meyer, the guy who ushered in the era of “The SEC is king, and Ohio State can’t get it done,” was the same guy who shut it all down. There were some amazing similarities between the 2015 College Football Playoff final and the 2007 Florida/Ohio State mismatch. The Gators, coached by Meyer, shut down Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. Marcus Mariota, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, didn’t look as inept as Smith but wasn’t able to live up to the expectation that he’d cap off the dream season by leading the Ducks to their first title. His receiving corps had been depleted by injury as well as the suspension of Darren Carrington for a failed drug test. The Ducks tried to write this off with the “next man in” mantra but anyone else paying attention knew this was a key loss to overcome. Smith was doomed, in no small part, and for a totally different reason, when Ted Ginn, Jr. injured his ankle celebrating in the end zone after returning the opening kick for a touchdown. The loss of the speedy, big-play threat was too significant of a hole to fill.

In a span of less than two weeks, the Big Ten has gone from hopeless to relevant. Earlier in the season, commissioner Jim Delany was in the broadcast booth during the Buckeyes’ game against conference newcomer Maryland. Delany was addressing how the Big Ten had slipped in stature and needed to find a way to compete with the SEC.  While it’s true that population shifts in favor of the South had helped the SEC rise to prominence in football, nothing stays the same forever and it was only a matter of time before others found a way to compete. 

To beat the SEC, Ohio State brought in an SEC guy.  Looks like that was the right play.  Michigan, which had been irrelevant since losing the #1 vs. #2 Judgment Day game with the Buckeyes, has too much tradition and money to stay lousy for a long time. Hello, Jim Harbaugh, and welcome to the league that everyone is talking about now.

Does anyone still think TCU and/or Baylor should have received a playoff bid over Ohio State? The sentiment behind expanding the playoff to eight teams is certainly understandable, but someone will wind up getting left out anyway.  You can already imagine the outcries on behalf of whomever is No. 9.  The playoff process was like a family road trip with arguments and crazy twists and turns along the way, but the destination was reached. In the end, the most complete team was awarded the trophy.



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