Notes of Note in College Football

Last week we wrote that an eight-team playoff was here—almost—due to match-ups in four conference championship games that approximated quarter-final pairings.

Well, yesterday’s final rankings from the College Football Playoff Selection Committee may have hastened the arrival of a true eight-team tournament.

Despite polite public comments to the contrary, the exclusion of Big Ten and Pac-12 Conference champions from this year’s playoff field has caused quite a bit of consternation in Rosemont, Illinois (home of the Big Ten) and San Francisco (home of the Pac-12). After all, the No. 1 criteria for selection, as published by the CFP committee is supposed to be…drumroll, please…winning conference championships.

Having said that, I believe the committee made the right choice in picking one-loss Alabama over two-loss Big Ten Champion Ohio State for the No. 4 playoff spot. At the same time, I was, quite frankly, surprised that the committee put aside politics and went with Alabama.

There was no drama in ranking Clemson, the ACC champ with only one loss and a blowout win over Miami in the league title game, at No. 1. Or ranking Oklahoma, with only one loss and a blowout win over TCU in the Big 12 title game, No. 2. Or picking Georgia, with one loss and an impressive win over Auburn (avenging its earlier loss) in the SEC title game, at 3.

The question of who should be No. 4, however, had every talking head in America picking sides between Ohio State, which defeated Wisconsin for the Big Ten title, and Alabama, which was idle after losing to Auburn a week earlier.

Ohio State was bypassed for two reasons. 1) The Buckeyes had two one-sided losses on their resume. One, a 15-point loss to Oklahoma, was excusable. The other, a 31-point loss to unranked Iowa, was not. 2) Alabama is much more consistent and dependable than Ohio State. Coach Nick Saban’s team played consistently well all year, losing only 26-14 to Auburn when a number of key players were sidelined by injuries. The committee knows that the Tide, because of its stellar defense, will not be blown out in the semi-final against Clemson. Ohio State, on the other hand, was embarrassed by Clemson in the semis last year, 31-0, and the committee was afraid it might happen again.

But that isn’t going to make Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany (or Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott) any more willing to accept the fact that they’ve been shut out of the playoff. Look for the rumblings about an eight-team playoff to start soon.

Pac-12 Championship: Great game, disappointing crowd. The 49ers and the Pac-12 closed off and draped the entire upper deck at Levi’s Stadium, leaving a capacity of about 45,000 on the lower levels of the bowl. Those sections were a little more than half full, which means the in-house attendance was less than 30,000. Contrast that with the Big 12, Big Ten, ACC and SEC games, all of which drew huge crowds of at least 64,000 fans.

It reminded us of how well the Pac-12 Championship game did in its first two years playing before sellout crowds on the campuses of Oregon and Arizona State. A neutral site game isn’t going to work in this conference. This isn’t the SEC, where college football is king. The Pac-12 needs the 30,000 fans from a home team to create a championship atmosphere and fill the stands. Unfortunately, the league has two more years to run on its agreement with Levi’s, so we’re looking at small crowds again in ’18 and ’19.

Pac-12 Bowls: The Pac-12 has taken a lot of heat in recent years for playing lesser opponents in post-season bowls. Not so this season. The conference will send nine teams to post-season bowls, and six will play ranked teams. Consider these impressive match-ups:

Cotton Bowl: No. 8 USC vs. No. 5 Ohio State

Fiesta Bowl: No. 11 Washington vs. No. 9 Penn State

Alamo Bowl: No. 13 Stanford vs. No. 15 TCU

Holiday Bowl: No. 18 Washington State vs. No. 16 Michigan State

Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona vs. Purdue

Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. No. 24 North Carolina State

Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon vs. No. 25 Boise State

Cactus Bowl: UCLA vs. Kansas State

Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah vs. West Virginia

Heisman Update: Stanford will almost certainly have it’s fifth second-place Heisman Trophy finisher in the last nine years, as running back Bryce Love is expected to be the runner-up to quarterback Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma (pictured above). In years past, Stanford running back Toby Gerhart (2009), quarterback Andrew Luck (2011 and ’12), and running back Christian McCaffrey (2015) were victimized by Eastern bias, late kickoff times, and at least in one case, a lackluster promotional effort by the Athletic Department. This year the culprits were Love’s sprained ankle and some bad timing. Stanford’s PR people, led by Alan George, did a great job. Love gave Heisman-worthy performances. But he played the last half of the season on a bad ankle. If anything, his gutty play on one ankle should’ve made him more deserving, but the injury prevented him from having enough spectacular highlight-reel moments to overtake Mayfield. Also, a great Sports Illustrated story on Love came out the same week he missed a game with Oregon State; then he had his only bad game against WSU a week later. As they say, timing is everything.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year: There are lots of legitimate contenders this year. All have good arguments, and all have flaws in their resumes. Cal’s Justin Wilcox turned around the Bears’ program, but fell just short of bowl eligibility. USC’s Clay Helton won the league championship, but he should have…he has the best team…and he suffered a brutal loss to Notre Dame. Oregon’s Willie Taggart started strong, then was undone by an injury to his quarterback. ASU’s Todd Graham overachieved with wins over Washington, Oregon, Utah and Arizona, but got fired so his athletic director could hire an old friend who hadn’t coached in nine years. WSU’s Mike Leach scored huge wins over division champs Stanford and USC, but got embarrassed by Cal and Washington.

In my mind, Stanford coach David Shaw should win the award. His Cardinal bounced back from two early losses to win eight of nine games and claim the North Division title. He won most of those games with his best player hobbled by an ankle injury. He made a crucial switch at quarterback to revitalize his offense. He beat Washington and Notre Dame, and his team was one yard away in the championship game.

Shaw’s been so good every year that we take him for granted. We shouldn’t.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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