Back in the day, before there was a BCS, before the bowl season was one big three-week participation ribbon for every team that finished at or above .500 in college football, the bowl season had massive concentration on New Year's Day.
In short, there were fewer bowls and a large number of the ones that existed (and certainly all the ones that mattered) were played on New Year's Day. There was also no BCS or College Football Playoff. Instead, the polls decided the national champion, and as a result, many years, there were three or four bowls that had true championship implications, oftentimes being played simultaneously.
As the national champion was often not decided in a head-to-head matchup, it was most definitely an imperfect system, but in some ways it was gloriously imperfect, giving us months (sometimes years) of subsequent debate (always fun!) and one day a year of a fire-hose deluge of meaningful college football right in the face.
New Year's Day pre-1993-ish was College Football, proper noun status! It was awesome.
Through the BCS years, with the major bowls all being spread out over three days and the BCS title game not taking place until a week later, the bowl season had become watered down and largely vacant of any real feel. So while New Year's Day yesterday wasn't the sheer volume of games we'd grown to love back in the '80s and early '90s (only five games yesterday), it did finally have meaning again with the first ever semifinal matchups in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
And in two games flush with story lines and game-shaping personalities, we wound up with a championship game that certainly would not have taken place in the two-team BCS Title Game Era. If we were still playing under the BCS guidelines, we almost certainly would have gotten a matchup between 12-1 SEC Champ Alabama and 13-0 defending national champion Florida State.
Under the four-team College Football Playoff, 12-1 Pac-12 champ Oregon and 12-1 Big Ten champ Ohio State not only crashed the party, but flipped over all the furniture, ate all the food and emptied the liquor cabinet.
The Ducks knocked off Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles in a turnover-laden rout 59-20, to the chagrin of practically no one outside of Tallahassee, and the Buckeyes ran off 28 straight points after falling behind 21-6 to eventually knock off the Crimson Tide by a score of 42-35.
And so it is that college football will now get its Super Bowl-style buildup for the next 12 days as Oregon and Ohio State will face off in what should be a high-scoring, fast-paced title game in Arlington at Jerry Jones's monstrosity of a stadium. Two teams whose head coaches share similar offensive styles and tendencies, and two teams whose winner would probably have been celebrating a Rose Bowl win over the other under the old BCS system, will now get a shot at the title on January 12.
The new playoff format and the games themselves yielded some winners and losers. Let's take a look....
4. Neutral college football fans With a four-team dance card of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State, as standards go in 2014, you truly had four "bluebloods" of college football, four teams who'd been in a national title game in the past seven years. (Cue Big 12 fans arguing that this is why TCU and Baylor were left out, and they may be right, but oh well.) You also have three of the more oppressive (and to many, obnoxious) fan bases in America.
You have Florida State, whose fans on Twitter have no problem with how the Tallahassee police department chose to treat Jameis Winston's alleged sexual assault with the urgency of an unpaid parking ticket. You have Alabama fans, many of whom are fine people who ultimately get cancelled out by Harvey Updyke's poisoning trees and that one dude rubbing his nuts on an unconscious LSU fan at the Krystal Burger. And you have Ohio State, where the police wear riot gear on the day of home games.
Then there's Oregon, the nouveau riche of this bunch and a school that I am assuming has a fan base, I just wouldn't know because none of them have told me "fuck off" on Twitter (like the other three schools' fan bases have...hundreds of times). Their Heisman-winning quarterback is a God-fearing lad who cried when mentioning his parents in his speech (unlike, say, FSU's Heisman-winning quarterback, who cried because he forgot the melted butter with his shoplifted crab legs). Hell, their mascot is a duck, for God's sakes. Who hates ducks?!? So Thursday was a win for every neutral fan who is hoping a school that won't rub our noses in it will win this thing.
3. Cardale Jones Um, so this is what Ohio State's third-string quarterback looks like? They started this summer with Braxton Miller, who was a nice player and all, and then he went out with a shoulder injury. The Buckeyes then turned to J.T. Barrett, who was responsible for 45 touchdowns before breaking his leg in the Michigan game. So then out trots Cardale Jones, who is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds and looks like he could play one of the Decepticons in the next Transformers movie. He threw for 243 yards, ran for another 43 and, most important, picked up ten huge third downs, many in bad distance situations. Jones was a beast, so I'm assuming if Jones goes down early in the title game, the Buckeyes' fourth-string quarterback is some sort of robotic gorilla who shoots laser beams from his eyes and runs the 40-yard dash in 2.3 seconds.
2. Fans of the "RKO out of nowhere meme" The Oregon rout over Florida State not only gave us Jameis Winston's first loss as a college quarterback, it gave us this cataclysmic disaster of a fumble and the latest in the "Randy Orton, RKO out of nowhere!" meme....
1. Johnny Manziel He never came close to sniffing a national championship at Texas A&M. Hell, he's not even playing college football anymore, but somehow, Johnny Manziel managed to make himself part of the Oregon/Florida State proceedings on Twitter...
— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) January 2, 2015
This is how you become the two-time King of Content in my portion of this here blog.
4. The SEC West Okay, so the greatest division in the greatest conference of the greatest sport in the greatest country the world has ever known somehow managed to go a dreadful 2-5 during bowl season in games in which they were favored to go 5-2. (The only SEC West underdogs were Texas A&M +3 against West Virginia and Ole Miss +3 against TCU.) The five losses were to Ohio State (covered ad nauseam here), Georgia Tech (an ACC school!), Wisconsin (last seen losing 59-0 to Ohio State), TCU (no shame in that, but shame in losing 42-3) and Notre Dame (1-5 in last six games before the bowl).
How does this happen? How does a division of a conference in which the pollsters see five of those teams as Top 25 material, and all seven as, say, Top 35 material, lose five games to that group of teams? Well, it's simple, really --
First, virtually everyone in the SEC West was anointed at the beginning of the season. Here were the preseason rankings:
2. Alabama 6. Auburn 13. LSU 18. Ole Miss 21. Texas A&M
Then, A&M knocks off preseason #9 South Carolina on opening night, shooting the Aggies into the Top 10. Meanwhile, outside the conference, each school has these as its best out of conference wins during the first few weeks:
ALABAMA: 33-23 over West Virginia (7-5, Big 12) MISSISSIPPI STATE: 35-3 at South Alabama (6-6, Sun Belt) OLE MISS: 35-13 over Boise State (11-2, Mountain West) AUBURN: 20-14 at Kansas State (9-3, Big 12) LSU: 28-24 over Wisconsin (10-3, Big Ten) TEXAS A&M: 38-10 vs Rice (7-5, C-USA) ARKANSAS: 49-21 at Texas Tech (4-8, Big 12)
Nothing here that screams "LOOK AT THE SEC WEST'S DOMINANCE!" but they collectively don't need anything to scream that because they've already been anointed by voters as "DOMINANT." (And yes, I know the AP and coaches' polls didn't directly decide the playoff bracket, but they most certainly shaped the committee's viewpoint heading into the process. They had to. It's human nature.)
So then they head into conference play where all they're doing is beating each other, and it becomes one big self-fulfilling prophecy. Mississippi State gets into the top ten because they "knocked off three straight top ten teams in LSU, A&M, and Auburn" -- three straight top ten teams who went a combined 1-1 against Big Ten runner up Wisconsin, and one of whom ended up losing to 7-5 Notre Dame. In other words, they were top ten teams because a bunch of voters said they were, not because of anything they'd done that was markedly different than a lot of the other good teams in college football.
So how does a division like the SEC West go 2-5 in bowl season when they have five of the top 23 teams heading into bowl season? Simple, they DON'T have five of the top 23 teams. They have some good, but overhyped teams with QB issues that have been feeding off the waffle run-off of previous SEC seasons, and these teams are collectively not all that different from the decent to good teams from other conferences. They were just labeled as better before the season started and then proceeded to beat each other up, symbiotically feeding off of each other's hype.
3. Lane Kiffin One other myth got exposed in these semifinal games and that's "rehabilitated image" of Lane Kiffin as a coaching mind. "Look at what he's done with this Alabama offense! Man, maybe he needs to get another shot!" That's what fans of schools desperate for a head coach were saying. Hell, many University of Houston fans were legit enthused when Kiffin's name was tied to their opening a few weeks ago! However, let's not forget that Kiffin is working with five star material across the board in Alabama. Nick Saban gets great players. Not good players...GREAT players. Lauding Kiffin for putting together a high octane offense at Alabama is like lauding your buddy for throwing a great bachelor party in Vegas. In short, you have to be a complete buffoon to screw it up. (By the way, against Ole Miss, Mississippi State, LSU and Arkansas, that vaunted Kiffin offense averaged 17 points a game in regulation. Just sayin.) Last night, Kiffin was exposed for being the tone deaf play caller that he is, ignoring a running game in the second half that was pounding Ohio State at over a 5 yard per carry clip. Kiffin had Derrick Henry steamrolling for eight yards a carry and kept trying to get cute throwing the ball. Also, on the final drive of the game, with no timeouts, his offense operated with the urgency and awareness of a 78 year old at Luby's. (And with the Gump-like luck Kiffin has, all of this means that Kiffin will now probably get hired to coach the 49ers.)
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2. TCU After systematically dismantling Ole Miss and making them look as helpless as an FCS team, there is little doubt that TCU belonged somewhere in this field, probably ahead of Florida State. (Even though the Seminoles were undefeated, Vegas still had them rated as low as eighth in oddsmaker power rankings.) If we go back and evaluate the selection committee for the playoff (and we have to do that, right?), we need a more thorough explanation of why TCU fell from third all the way to sixth after beating Iowa State 55-3 in the final week of the season.
1. Jameis Winston So now we likely bid adieu to one of the winningest but certainly one of the most hated college quarterbacks ever. Several months from now, Jameis Winston will be some NFL team's problem. Fortunately, on his way out, we finally got to see how he handles losing, and if you can read Jimbo Fisher's lips, it appears Jameis doesn't handle it all that well....