top of page

CFP Field Set; Coach Carousel Continues; Stanford Fall Guy Speaks Out

And then there were four.

The College Football Playoff field has been determined. No. 1 Alabama, fresh off a surprising, impressive upset win over Georgia in the SEC championship game, will meet No. 4 Cincinnati, the only remaining undefeated team in America, in the Cotton Bowl. No. 2 Michigan, which obliterated Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, will meet No. 3 Georgia in the Orange.

A few observations.

* This year's field includes only two of the Power Five Conferences. The SEC, of course, got its usual two participants. But with Cincinnati, the first-ever Group of Five team to get in, taking one of the remaining spots, only one other Power Five conference (the Big Ten) could be represented.

* So the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 will be staying home. Why are there no cries of outrage? Well, after Oklahoma State lost a heart-breaker to Baylor in the Big 12 title game, there were no legitimate outliers who could claim they should've been included. And the playoffs will soon be expanded to, most likely, 12 teams, so this is a problem that will be alleviated in the not too distant future.

* To my mind Michigan should've been No. 1. Alabama had a number of unimpressive wins this year, and should've lost to Auburn last week in the Iron Bowl. Michigan's only loss came to Michigan State, and it was the result of two bad calls—one by the game officials in overturning a TD scored by the Wolverine defense, and one by head coach Jim Harbaugh in inserting his freshman quarterback at a pivotal juncture, only to see him give up a costly fumble.

* The CFP committee no doubt wanted to avoid an Alabama-Georgia rematch, and a good case could be made for the Tide, so Nick Saban is No. 1 yet again.

* Despite his zaniness, I have to admit I'm rooting for Harbaugh to win it all. So tired of Saban, Kirby Smart, and that SEC arrogance. I dealt with the Big Ten folks when we had the conference in our bowl game. A very classy group.

On to other matters.

Talking Heads: Having watched a full season and observed all the microphones in action on numerous occasions, we can now make it official. The announcing team of Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt is clearly the best in college football. Johnson's delivery and level of excitement are just right. Klatt's insights, honesty, and play calls are without peer.

Coaching Carousel: Another day, another big name coach bolts for more money. This time it's Oregon's Mario Cristobal—who recruited amazing talent but never made the College Football Playoff and who was humiliated by Utah in the regular season and the conference title game this year by almost identical 38-7 and 38-10 scores—returning to his alma mater, the University of Miami.

Cristobal is a great recruiter, but a very average coach. He is a horrible clock manager and has found a way to lose to vastly inferior Stanford teams on a number of occasions.

His move makes a lot of sense. Not just for the coin. With Lincoln Riley arriving at USC, things just got much tougher in the Pac-12. No more will Cristobal be able to raid Southern California for top recruits at will. And the ACC is a weaker conference across the board. Florida State is in decline, and Clemson was exposed this year. The opportunity is there for a Miami resurgence.

Whittingham Keeps Winning: I’ve been saying this for years, but there can be little doubt now that Utah's Kyle Whittingham is the best coach in the Pac-12. Whittingham produced an undefeated 2008 Sugar Bowl team while still in the Mountain West, then proved he could win in the Pac-12, making title game appearances in 2018 and ’19, before blowing out a top Ten Oregon team to win the conference championship this year.

I doubt Kyle would leave Utah, but if Oregon wants to guarantee a top 10 program, I'd be waving that Nike money in his direction.

Wilcox Speculation: Many local sports pundits believed that Cal's Justin Wilcox would be hired as the new coach at Washington. I think Wilcox is an excellent coach, and believe he could've done a good job at Washington. But there was no way Athletic Director Jen Cohen would hire him.

Why, you ask?

Because the Huskies beat Cal this year.

How can you fire your coach on the basis of a 4-8 seasonalong with a few off the field problemsand then hire the coach of one of the few teams he beat?

Speaking of Wilcox, he would be a good candidate at Oregon if Whittingham either is not pursued or turns it down. He played for the Ducks and knows the territory. And he'd find it much, much easier to recruit players to Eugene than Berkeley.

Ownage: Even in the midst of a 3-9 season, the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson own the 49ers. They seem to bring out the worst in our local lads—fumbled kickoffs, ugly interceptions, missed PATs—and every trick play they try works like a charm, like yesterday's fake punt for a touchdown. Niners' coach Kyle Shanahan didn't help his cause with some head-scratching play calls.

Who Are These Guys? Giants GM Farhan Zaidi gets a lot of credit—deservedly so—for finding diamonds in the rough like Lamonte Wade Jr, Kevin Gausman, Wilmer Flores, Darin Ruf and Mike Yastrzemski. But Warriors' GM Bob Myers has been just as good in finding nuggets among the castoffs and under-achievers. Consider Juan Toscano-Anderson, Gary Payton Jr., Nemanja Bjelicka and Otto Porter Jr., all of whom have contributed mightily to the Warriors' amazing 18-4 start.

Fall Guy: Interesting comments from John Vandemoer, the ex-Stanford sailing coach who was fired by the university for his part in the "Operation Varsity Blues" scandal, where scumbag "counselor" Rick Singer was creating phony sports resumes to help applicants gain admission to elite colleges.

Vandemoer accepted a donation from Singer (who was trying to gain admission to Stanford for a student pretending to be a sailing recruit,) and turned it over to athletic director Bernard Muir, who'd pressured him to raise funds for his program.

Unlike all the other defendants in this sorry tale, Vandemoer didn't keep a dime. In his new book, "Rigged Justice" and an interview with the Chronicle's Ann Killion, Vandemoer pulls no punches in his evaluation of athletic director Muir, who he believes is marginalizing all sports other than football and basketball.

"Smaller sports are going to continue to be pushed away," he says. "It's going to take real leadership to change things."

Vandemoer sees Stanford athletics, with its current administration, "going down a deep dark path." That dark path included cutting 11 sports last year, until the decision was reversed after a public outcry, barrage of media criticism, lawsuits, and pressure from the "36 Strong" group of Stanford sports alums.

And as for whether Muir and other coaches were involved in Singer's scam, Vandemoer says, "One hundred per cent. There's no question in my mind."

More Administrative Bloat: Speaking of Muir, one thing he is really good at, is hiring more administrators. Stanford just posted a new job for a senior associate athletics director for human resources.

The “senior” associate AD will report to an “executive” associate AD. At Stanford it's common now to have an assistant AD who reports to an associate AD who reports to a senior associate AD who reports to either an executive associate or deputy AD. It would be comical if it weren’t so pathetic.

Not long ago, I was having lunch with one of Stanford’s cavalcade of administrators with “athletic director” in his title, when I suggested he probably needed to get back to work.

“Not really,” he smiled. “I really don’t have anything to do.”


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//

bottom of page