Sean Pendergast

2018 New Year's Day, College Football — 4 Winners, 4 Losers

This blocked field goal by Georgia opened the door for their double overtime win in the Rose Bowl.
This blocked field goal by Georgia opened the door for their double overtime win in the Rose Bowl. Screen grab from YouTube
In its short four-year history, the last time there was as much hand wringing as we've had this season over whether or not the committee chose the right team to occupy the fourth and final spot was in the playoff's first season, in 2014, when Ohio State's 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game propelled them past Baylor and TCU into the playoff.

Much was made of allowing an Ohio State team that had lost at home to Virginia Tech earlier in the season into the exclusive four team tournament. As it turned out, the committee got it right, as not only did Ohio State win one game, they won both their playoff games and took home the title.

After two semifinals last night, one a classic (Georgia over Oklahoma in double overtime, 54-48) and one a drubbing (Alabama over Clemson, 24-6), it appears as though the committee got it right again, as the four seed is poised to take home the title for the second time in four years, as Alabama blew out Clemson and is an early four point favorite over Georgia for the championship.

Let's get to some New Year's Day winners and losers, shall we?


4. Nebraska
Considering they just finished up a regular season in which they won just four games, it's been a pretty damn good month for the Cornhusker faithful, who are some of the most passionate, diehard fans in all of collegiate sports. After enduring the coaching reigns of Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini, and Mike Riley, Nebraska was able to lure home state hero Scott Frost back to the cornfields of Lincoln. All Frost did as a head coach was take a Central Florida outfit that was 0-12 two seasons ago and lead them to a 13-0 season and a win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl yesterday. When so many departing coaches are out the door to begin working on their next gig, Frost saw the big picture. He wanted to finish what he started at UCF, so he's basically been working two jobs, and he turned UCF's New Year's Day win into an infomercial for Nebraska with his being on the sideline. Frost's decision is a great example of good karma. (Ironically, Frost's replacement at UCF, Josh Heupel, is catching all kinds of heat from Missouri players for walking out on his offensive coordinator duties with the Tigers before their Texas Bowl loss to Texas.)

3. Group of Five
So with UCF's win over Auburn, that gives the Group of Five (the non Power Five conferences who are guaranteed one bid to the New Year's Six bowls) participants in the New Year's Six bowls a 3-1 record over their Power Five foes. In 2014, Boise State defeated Arizona. In 2015, we all remember Tom Herman leading Houston to a win over Florida State. Western Michigan lost to Wisconsin last season, but now the Golden Knights have David back in the win column over Goliath. What does it all mean? Well, if the drums beat louder for an eight team playoff in future seasons, a logical format would be the five Power Five champions and three at-large teams. If the Group of Five wants to lobby for an automatic entry for their top ranked team as one of the three wild cards, it will help if they've shown they can actually hang on a regular basis with their Power Five foes in these bowl games.

2. Roquan Smith
What a show Oklahoma and Georgia put on in the first semifinal game in the Rose Bowl. You can tell a game is evolving into an all-time classic when you literally feel nauseous during the waning moments and overtime, and you don't have a rooting or gambling interest in the game. The Sooners and Bulldogs staged one of those games where EVERY play felt important, and ironically, in the end, in a game where there were over 100 points scored, the best player on the field was Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith. The 2017 Butkus Award winner and SEC Defensive Player of the Year was all over the field, and made the biggest play of the first overtime session when he stuffed Sooner RB Jordan Smallwood on 3rd and 2, forcing the Sooners into a field goal attempt. (Yes, the Sooner play calling in overtime will come up between now and the end of this post.)

1. Da'Ron Payne
The sequence that won the game for Alabama was fueled  by two of the greatest football plays in the menu of football plays — the fat guy interception and the fat guy touchdown. Both executed by the same fat guy! Behold, Alabama defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne!!!!

4. This Michigan kicker
I'm not sure what the line is for the level of player that is allowed to execute a crotch grab at an opposing team's bench, but I will say that if it's unacceptable for a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, it's probably not cool for a kicker in the Outback Bowl.....
Needless to say, a kicker grabbing his penis and talking trash to the opposing sidelines is a Class A felony in the karma handbook, so naturally South Carolina came back to beat Michigan in this game.

3. These idiots leaving fireworks in their car
Maybe I'm getting old or maybe I just don't like four hours of what sound like gunshots in my neighborhood while I'm trying to spend a peaceful evening at home, but I don't get the fascination with shooting off fireworks in one's driveway for New Year's. I mean, when the calendar flips, your first thought is "YEAH! IT'S A NEW YEAR! LET'S MAKE SOME EXPLOSIONS!!"? Ok, whatever. I get wanting to see an actual fireworks SHOW for something big like New Year's. A fireworks show like you see, say, after an Astros game is visually spectacular. I fail to see, however, how shooting a bottle rocket a hundred feet in the air and watching it shoot out some green sparks before fizzling out and landing in my backyard is super festive. It's not. it's a waste of time. So let the record reflect that I hope this happens to every single one of you suburban firework enthusiasts....
2. Lincoln Riley
After a regular season in which he orchestrated an MVP award for Matt Ryan, Kyle Shanahan came under all sorts of fire last year when his play calling pretty much cost the Atlanta Falcons a Super Bowl. Shanahan has since moved on to head coach the San Francisco 49ers, but it'll be a long time before people in Atlanta think of Shanahan for anything but his horrific play calling in the biggest possible spot. My guess is that Sooner fans won't be quite as unforgiving with their head coach Lincoln Riley, but make no mistake — Riley is going to be sick when he goes back and watches the two overtime possessions for the Sooners and sees that (a) backup QB Kyler Murray had one carry and Baker Mayfield had zero, (b) Mayfield threw just one ball into the end zone, and that was on a free play in which Georgia was offsides, and (c) on 3rd and 2 in the first overtime, he put the ball in the hands of Jordan Smallwood, whose only carry for the day came on that one play (for one yard). Let me remind everyone here that Baker Mayfield won the FREAKING HEISMAN TROPHY. This all came after Riley was a maestro in a 31 point first half. Riley is the youngest head coach in the FBS, he will get more looks at the playoff almost certainly, but losing a game in this fashion is carrying on an unfortunate trend of failure in these big games that became a burden on Bob Stoops.

1. Kelly Bryant
Well, I suppose now Clemson really knows what it felt like to be a Texan fan watching Tom Savage stumble around trying to quarterback a team after six games of Deshaun Watson, because last night the Clemson Tigers looked a whole lot like the Texans over the last eight weeks. When you're spending most of the season playing teams that you can just out-talent, the drop off in QB play is not as acute, but when you're playing Alabama, you notice Deshaun Watson's absence. It showed in every possible way, as Bryant's arm limitations allowed the Crimson Tide to crowd the box, and the game was pretty much a wrap from there. Bryant finished 18 of 36 for 124 yards and two interceptions, including a pick six that was basically a game ender in the third quarter. Watson's actual presence on the sidelines probably didn't mitigate Clemson fans' frustration. Instead, they probably spent most of the first half wondering if there was some loophole whereby Watson could miraculously cure his ACL tear and use his year of eligibility he had foregone to go pro.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast