This will be the least suspenseful Selection Sunday ever. Let’s just get it out of the way early. I still believe Ohio State is the best team in the country, but I also believe the committee will announce this field on Sunday:
Peach Bowl: LSU vs. Oklahoma
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson
While Sunday will be boring, the actual College Football Playoff will not be. Any of the three unbeatens are legitimate threats to win it all, a rarity in this system. Oklahoma will enter as a severe underdog, and the reasoning why was on display Saturday.
This Big 12 champion is not like the others. Imagine a Lincoln Riley-coached team ever, ever doing this before Saturday: faced with a 4th-and-7 at the plus-44 with 6:11 to play in a 3-point Big 12 title game, Riley punted. I repeat: in the biggest moment to date in his team’s season, he took the ball away from the Oklahoma offense to put the Oklahoma defense on the field. On purpose.
Oklahoma beat Baylor 30-23 in overtime, and for the first in a long time OU won the Big 12 because of, not in spite of, its defense.
The Sooners led 10-0 just over 10 minutes into the game, then found itself trailing 13-10 at the half thanks to two Jalen Hurts turnovers and three punts. The Sooners forced Baylor’s top two quarterbacks Charlie Brewer and Gerry Bohanon out of the game — Brewer to injury, Bohanon to ineffective play — only to see third-stringer Jacob Zeno hit an 81-yard touchdown pass on his first throw and a 78-yard completion on his second, turning a 23-13 lead with 10:31 to play into a 23-23 tie with 3:25 left.
But that punt with 6:11 left because, outside of Zeno’s two completions and a 33-yard Bohanon touchdown pass on a 3rd-and-20, Baylor ran a total of 52 plays.
Those 52 plays gained 71 yards.
This Big 12 championship team is unlike the four, but the end result is very much the same.
Oklahoma since hiring Lincoln Riley
2015: 11-2, Big 12 champion, College Football Playoff semifinalist
2016: 11-2, Big 12 champion, Sugar Bowl champion
2017: 12-2, Big 12 champion, CFP semifinalist
2018: 12-2, Big 12 champion, CFP semifinalist
2019: 12-1, Big 12 champion, CFP semifinalist
Has any program had a more eventful 7-year stretch than Baylor? Full disclosure: I held on to this #Nugget all week, and it admittedly would pack a better punch had the result in Dallas been different. But, still, Baylor just completed the first 1-11 to 11-1 (now 11-2) 2-year turnaround, ever, by any team, in the Power 5 conferences. And that’s not even the craziest thing that’s happened to that program in the past seven years.
Baylor football program since 2013
2013: 11-2, first outright conference title since 1980 (first in Big 12)
2014: 11-2, 61-58 win over TCU, back-to-back Big 12 champions, CFP snub
2015: 10-3, program-best AP No. 2 ranking in October
2016: Art Briles fired, 6-0 start turns into 7-6 finish
2017: Matt Rhule hired, 1-11 season
2019: 11-2, Big 12 runner-up, Sugar Bowl berth
For my money, the only program that comes close to matching that is Auburn’s 6-year stretch from 2008-13
2008: 5-7, Tommy Tuberville fired
2009: Gene Chizik hired, 8-5
2010: 14-0, national champions, Cam Newton wins Heisman
2012: 3-9, Gene Chizk fired
2013: Gus Malzahn hired, 12-2, SEC champions, BCS runner-up
Georgia is (still) so close, yet so far. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, opened in 2017, is quickly becoming a house of horrors for Georgia. It’s where the Bulldogs lost the 2017 national championship game, to Alabama. It’s where they lost a win-and-you’re-in SEC championship last December, also to Alabama. And it’s where Kirby Smart’s team was drubbed 37-10 by LSU in another win-and-you’re-in game on Saturday. Much like Alabama, it simply wasn’t Georgia’s year; the Dawgs were without their top three receivers and running back D’Andre Swift was clearly not 100 percent.
This program is 35-7 since 2017 and it’s recruiting as well as anyone in the country. It’s not as if the the Mercedes-Benz roof fell on the Georgia locker room on Saturday. But three prime window years have now passed without ending the program’s national championship drought, and the thing about windows is they can slam shut at any time without warning, often right on your fingers.
Let’s consider the poetic justice of Ohio State’s Ryan Day hiring, shall we? Ohio State beat Wisconsin 34-21 for the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes trailed 21-7 at the half and, when combined with LSU’s dominance in Atlanta, the thinking here is it’ll be enough for the committee to swap LSU and Ohio State at Nos. 1 and 2.
And while no one in their right mind actually wants to play Clemson right now (they beat Virginia 62-17 by the way, their 28th straight win and seventh straight by at least 31 points) Ohio State should welcome the challenge.
Remember, in 2016 Ohio State reached the Playoff without winning its division and was absolutely embarrassed by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. JT Barrett threw for 127 yards and two picks in a 31-0 loss, and afterward Urban Meyer vowed it wouldn’t happen again.
He hired Ryan Day to reimagine Ohio State’s downfield passing game, and since that hiring Buckeye quarterbacks have ranked fifth, third and fifth nationally in passing efficiency while the program has gone 28-3. The guy Urban hired to fix the deficiency Clemson exposed will now lead Ohio State in its next semifinal game — which happens to be against Clemson.
That loss changed the entire trajectory of Ohio State football, and we’ll see just how much Ohio State has evolved in the desert.
Oregon’s season shows the tragic beauty of the 4-team Playoff system. If you read enough people in the know, it’s a when, not if, the College Football Playoff expands to eight teams, most likely in 2026. Your milage will vary on whether or not it’s a good thing, but there’s no denying it will be different. An 8-team playoff would, most likely, award guaranteed berths to each Power 5 champion, thereby turning college football’s non-conference season into something that isn’t quite the NFL preseason, but is still fundamentally different than the sport we’ve known for the past 150 years. Again, I’m not here to tell you if that’s good or bad, but it will be different.
Case in point: the 2019 Oregon Ducks.
Oregon crushed Utah 37-15 for the Pac-12 championship on Friday night. The 11-2 Ducks will head to the Rose Bowl, and the only reason Mario Cristobal’s team isn’t Playoff-bound is because of what happened on the first Saturday night of the season.
As you’ll recall, the Ducks gagged away a game unlike any team gagged away a game all year against Auburn in Dallas:
— A dropped touchdown pass turned a 14-0 lead into 10-0
— Leading 14-3, Justin Herbert fumbled at the Auburn 9, which Big Kat Bryant returned 83 yards the other way
— Leading 21-20 in the fourth quarter, Oregon failed to convert a 4th-and-1 at Auburn’s 41, then failed to stop an Auburn 4th-and-3 at the Tigers’ 47 with 1:21 to play.
Bo Nix threw a 26-yard touchdown for a 27-21 Auburn win, and a game Oregon did not trail until 00:09 showed on the clock on Aug. 31 irreparably altered the three months that came after.
That’s what separates college football from every sport in this country, and that fabric will be lost when the Playoff expands. It’s up to you whether that’s a good thing or not.
(Of course, the argument against the current system is that, had Oregon played Akron instead of Auburn, we’re not even having this conversation because the 12-1 Ducks are in the Playoff.)
The Super 16. The Nuggets is once again honored to vote in this year’s FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll. Here’s the final ballot of 2019.
1. Ohio State
8. Penn State
14. Notre Dame
16. Boise State
Odds and Ends
a. Florida Atlantic crushed UAB 49-6 to win its second Conference USA title in three seasons. You know who enjoyed the game as much or more than FAU? Ole Miss.
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) December 7, 2019
They’re showing Lane Kiffin and FAU on the scoreboard of Ole Miss’ basketball game. https://t.co/OU4enEj0cN
— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) December 7, 2019
Life sometimes proceeds quickly. pic.twitter.com/lroqnl0Njs
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) December 7, 2019
b. Memphis went through the same song and dance, as the Tigers beat Cincinnati for the American championship 29-24 and then immediately lost Mike Norvell to Florida State.
c. Much respect to Luke Fickell and Cincinnati. The Bearcats lost to Memphis at Memphis last Friday, held leads of 7-0, 14-10, 21-17 and 24-23 and threw into the end zone as time expired but just couldn’t close the deal.
d. Also, much respect to Norvell and Memphis. It’s hard to beat a good opponent twice in the same season. It’s even harder to do that twice in eight days.
e. At the same time Cincinnati’s football team was losing to Memphis for a conference championship, Cincinnati’s basketball team lost to crosstown rival Xavier on the hardwood.
f. It won’t be enough to get them in the Cotton Bowl, but Bryan Harsin and Boise State turned in an extremely good season. The Broncos are 11-1 after a 31-10 win over Hawaii for the Mountain West title.
g. Hawaii’s nine wins are the most since 2010.
h. App State is officially the best team in Sun Belt history. Eli Drinkwitz’s Mountaineers held off Louisiana-Lafayette 45-38 for the conference title, turning in a 12-1 record for the first time in league history.
— App State Football (@AppState_FB) December 7, 2019
i. It felt totally unnatural to see it happen on a Saturday afternoon instead of a Wednesday night, but they did play the MAC Championship on Saturday and Miami (Ohio) brought it home, 26-21. It’s the RedHawks’ first MAC title since 2010 and first under head coach Chuck Martin.
— Miami Football (@MiamiOHFootball) December 8, 2019
j. Joe Burrow’s final passing numbers heading into the Playoff: 314-of-401 (78.3 percent; the FBS record is 76.7) for 4,366 yards (10.9 yards per attempt) with 44 touchdowns against six interceptions. The FBS single-season record for passing efficiency belongs to Tua Tagovailoa, who posted a 199.44 mark last year. Burrow is at 202.98. Hand that man the Heisman.
That’s a warp for another season of #Nuggets. Whether this is your first time through or you’re here every week, please accept my sincere thanks for giving us your time and attention. Let’s do it again next year.
God bless college football.