College football was Game of Thrones before George R.R. Martin ever wrote a single word. For more than a century, the appeal of this season-long race to the top was that anyone could die at any moment.
Every game is appointment viewing, simply because every single game has the potential to ruin your season. A Clemson-Florida State game bears the intensity of an NFL conference championship game in early November, and an Ohio State-Indiana game that’s tied in the third quarter has the same Turn the channel NOW is the equivalent of a close 1 vs. 16 game in the NCAA Tournament, but in August. If Ned Stark can die in Season 1, then so, too, can Ohio State’s national championship hopes in Week 1.
Alabama received the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll, released Monday, while Florida State came in at No. 3. . The two will meet next Saturday in Atlanta. In theory, this game should represent all that’s right with college football. What could be better, more college football-specific, than Alabama and Florida State putting their season on the line in a national championship-level game before Labor Day?
Well, not exactly.
I wonder if this game is too big of an opener. The winner will move to the front of the Playoff line, undoubtedly. But the loser, as long as it’s close, probably won’t be moved to the back.
Look at it this way: no 2-loss team has reached the College Football Playoff in the 3-year history of the system, but would it be any surprise to see the Tide or the Seminoles bust that barrier? Say Alabama loses close to Florida State and falls at Mississippi State in November. Is an Alabama team with wins over Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn and the SEC West champion getting left out? What about a Florida State team with losses to Alabama and NC State but wins over Miami, Louisville, Clemson, Florida and, say, Virginia Tech?
CBS Sports, Athlon, Phil Steele, College Football News, The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and (assuredly) a host of others I didn’t bother to look up picked both Alabama and Florida State to reach the Playoff, which feels a little bit like a threshold has been crossed, where the sport is a little bit less like its past self and a little more like college basketball, where each year Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State play in a Final Four-lite every November, shake hands afterward and say, “See you again in April.”
Next Saturday’s Alabama-Florida State game is (best I can tell) the highest-rated opening game in college football history. And because of that, no one’s season is at risk. Because these teams are so highly thought of, nothing’s at stake.
While Ned Stark may have died in Season 1, these characters are too big to be killed off this early.