When the Playoff was first announced, ESPN's Bill Connelly made the most prescient observation. He said three of the four teams would be obvious, and the fourth not so much.
And damn if that doesn't perfectly describe our situation in 2020.
11-0 Alabama is in as the No. 1 seed. 10-1 Clemson is in at No. 2. And even though they played only six games and trailed for much of the day Saturday, 6-0 Ohio State isn't going to fall out of the rankings the day after beating No. 14 Northwestern by 12 on a neutral field. The Buckeyes are in, and they'll be the No. 3 seed.
And No. 4 will be in with the 28th strongest résumé of the 28 teams to reach the Playoff in the system's 7-year history.
One of these teams will make the wrong kind of history tomorrow:
-- Texas A&M would be the first team to lose a game by 28 and make the Playoff. The Aggies beat two teams above .500: 8-3 Florida and 6-4 Auburn. Do we really need to see a repeat of Alabama 52, A&M 24? Especially when every Bama-A&M game is essentially the same game with different players?
-- Notre Dame would be the second team to lose a game by 24 and reach the field, but the first team to do so (2017 Georgia) later avenged its 41-17 loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship. Only one of the first 24 teams to reach the CFP did so despite losing its final game (2017 Alabama) but that team lost by 12. How much more do we need to see of the Irish on the big stage?
-- Oklahoma would be the first two-loss team in Playoff history. If 2016 Penn State (who beat two top-8 teams) and 2017 Ohio State (who beat three top-16 teams) couldn't get in, why should this OU team? Baker Mayfield couldn't win a Playoff game. Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts got blown out. What makes anyone think Spencer Rattler would flip that script? -- Cincinnati is a Group of 5 team. In the committees eyes, the Bearcats should be lucky they're ranked at all. Their last two wins came by six combined points. The Bearcats are a good team, but do they really stand a chance against Alabama? Really? Basically, it's the college football version of the great Vizzini's argument here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZSx3zNZOaU But you can't talk yourself out of every team. At some point the committee will have to drink out of its poisoned chalice. And easy as it may be to poke holes in the above four's collective résumés, they are the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh best teams in the country (in some order). -- Texas A&M won its last seven games, and its last six by double digits. -- Notre Dame beat two top-15 teams and four above .500 teams. They won eight games by double digits. And no matter how you slice it, they did beat Clemson. -- Oklahoma may have lost two games, but they avenged one of those losses and held 14-point leads in all 10 games. Among Playoff contenders, only Alabama can say the same. -- Cincinnati won every game they played, something their competition can't say. All but two were by 14 or more, including five straight by 21 or more. They beat two ranked teams, grinding out a AAC title game win over No. 24 Tulsa, in the rain, after a 28-day lay off. Quit stalling and make a prediction already. If I was on the committee, this is the field I'd pound the table for:
- Ohio State
Group of 5 teams are 7-5 in major bowl games, dating back to 2004. That's enough of a sample size to tell me the Bearcats wouldn't by definition fare worse than any of their competitors. It's the right time to put a Group of 5 team in, and Cincinnati is the right team. This is what I think the committee will do:
- Ohio State
- Notre Dame
Notre Dame has two wins over ranked opponents, Texas A&M one. Notre Dame has four wins over opponents with winning records, A&M two.
But if there's one through line running throughout the Playoff's history it's that the bigger brand always wins. Ohio State over TCU and Baylor in 2014. Ohio State over Penn State in 2016. Alabama over Ohio State in 2017. The justification is made up after the fact to fit the argument -- eye test one year, strength of record the other -- but more often than not, brand wins.
No matter who makes the Playoff, remember this. Most CFP semifinal games have been duds.
The average margin of the 12 semifinal games to date is 21 points. More games have been decided by 30-plus (four) than a touchdown or less (three). Alabama and Clemson will be double-digit favorites over whoever they face, and it'll take a major upset to prevent Tide-Tigers IV.
An ice cream headache of a loss for USC. Given a chance to win the program's second Pac-12 championship in 12 seasons, to Take Back the West as Clay Helton's staff put it, USC instead took a step backward.
The Trojans' 31-24 loss to Oregon was six years of frustration rolled into one night.
Consider: this tweet doesn't even include the time the Trojans roughed the punter, essentially giving them four turnovers.
Oregon threw for 108 yards on 19 attempts and rushed for 3.3 yards a carry with a long of 15. So how did they turn 243 yards of offense into 31 points? By scoring touchdowns on drives of nine, 32 and 41 yards.
It would be hard as a USC fan to choose between the turnovers and the penalties as the most frustrating aspect of this loss, but this quote may push penalties over the top.
USC went 5-1 and won the South, but it's hard to call the year a success given Oregon won the league for the second year in a row and sixth in the last 12, and beat USC for the sixth time in eight tries.
And Oregon wasn't even supposed to play in Friday's game. 2020, man.
They won't win the national title, but San Jose State is the team of the year. No team overcame more to accomplish more than Brent Brennan's Spartans. They held their training camp 300 miles off campus. They played "home" games in Hawai'i and Nevada, kicked out by their county's health department.
And they turned the hardest season in school history into the best in school history.
San Jose State closed a perfect 2020 regular season with a 34-20 win over Boise State. Their first win over Boise, ever, secured the program's first Mountain West title, and the first conference title of any kind since 1990.
The 7-0 season of 2020 is not the first undefeated season in school history. The 1939 SJSU team went 13-0... but that team didn't have to play its home games in Vegas.
FRIESThe Super 16. Here's this week's FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll.
- Ohio State
- Notre Dame
- Texas A&M
- Coastal Carolina
- Iowa State
- North Carolina
Seen and Heard Seen
Marshall's passing attack could have gotten off to a better start. The Herd's first completion came midway through the third quarter.
Alabama's John Metchie should play defense. This play was bonkers.
Put this in the 2020 time capsule.
"Surely we are going to reschedule this game, right...?"
-- Billy Napier, after the Sun Belt Championship was canceled.
"Because they're dadgum 10-1. They lost once, and it was to Clemson."
-- Dabo Swinney on why Notre Dame should make the Playoff.
"Seven straight SEC wins. Some schools ain't even playing seven games. I don't care what league you're in. If you're gonna pick the best four teams, we're one of them."
-- Jimbo Fisher, stating A&M's case
Odds and Ends
a. They're technically further away than they've been in four years considering they won't make the Playoff for the first time since 2016, but I think Oklahoma is actually closer to a title than they've been at any point since 2017. Consider this: the Sooners scored three second-half points against Iowa State... and won. That would've been a 20-point loss in 2018.
b. Ball State is the MAC champion for the first time since 1996. What a job by Mike Neu and his staff to break through in Year 5 of their program.
c. Shame on all of us -- myself included -- for not making a bigger deal of Bill Clark winning two Conference USA titles in three years, four years after brining the program back from the dead. Blazer football spent two years in the grave and came back stronger, going 34-16 post-revival.
d. The Ole Miss-LSU game was everything it should have been. Tigers wideout Kayshon Boutte set an SEC record with 308 receiving yards, LSU forced six turnovers... and won 53-48.
e. It was the second time this season Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral threw five interceptions in a game. He threw 15 touchdowns in nine games -- 12 in two and three in the other seven.
f. The other wildest game of the day: Stanford at UCLA. Stanford led 20-3 at halftime, UCLA led 34-20 with five minutes left, and Stanford won 48-47 in double overtime, stuffing the Bruins as they went for two and the win. Stanford finished the year 4-0 when quarterback Davis Mills wasn't held out due to a false positive.
g. Stanford and San Jose State spent six games as nomads. They won all six.
h. Horrifying if it happens to you, hilarious for the rest of us.
i. Utah trailed Washington State 28-7 at the half. Utah won 45-28.
j. Ball State's defense made Buffalo play left handed in their 38-28 win on Friday night.
k. Ohio State's Trey Sermon set a school and Big Ten Championship record with 331 rushing yards. He started the day with 344 on the season.
l. Minnesota and Wisconsin played for Paul Bunyan's Axe for the 130th straight season after the game was canceled earlier this season, thereby keeping college football's longest running annual rivalry alive. Wisconsin won 20-17 in overtime; they've now kept the Axe 16 of the last 17 years.
m. Army scored one touchdown on Saturday, but one was all they needed to beat Air Force and win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the third time in four years. The Black Knights won the C-I-C just once from 1989 to 2016.
This is the end of the road for Nuggets in 2020. Whether you're here every week or this is your first time through, I want to offer my sincere thanks for giving us your time and attention.
We all owe players, coaches and staff a sincere thank you for making this season happen. As we all learned in August, college football is not promised to us.
Here's to a 2021 season where every seat is filled and every game is played.