PIECES OF EIGHT – MY 2016 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF

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I got my knee brace but peddle Mountain Dew instead of Dr. Pepper.

Last year college football would had been better served to immediately fast-forward to the Clemson/Alabama championship game over the two mismatch semifinals served up on New Year’s Eve.

This year would had been a good time to ‘invent’ the eight-team College Football Playoff. I would stop short of going Dan Wetzel and invite Western Michigan (how about North Dakota State while we’re at it?), but the best eight teams of 2016 make for great theatre. It’s all hypothetical and will not be a reality anytime soon, but here would be the four ‘quarterfinal’ games.

  • No. 8 Oklahoma (10-2) v. No. 1 Alabama (13-0) – Boomer Sooner will be represented at the Heisman Trophy dinner, with quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Dede Westbrook both invited. The Sooners went 1-2 in non-conference but swept through the Big XII schedule to earn OU its place among the top eight teams.
  • No. 7 USC (9-3) v. No. 2 Clemson (12-1) – In the actual final CFP rankings, USC finished No. 9, behind Wisconsin. I disagree, USC is the argument for an eight team playoff and finished as college football’s best team outside of Tuscaloosa and Washington privately celebrated when the Trojans were left out of the Pac-12 title game. As for the Badgers, they played Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State close, but as Washington State Coach Mike Leach would say, ‘(screw) playing them close.’.
  • No. 6 Michigan (10-2) v. No. 3 Ohio State (11-1)  I made a case for Michigan’s inclusion for the actual four-team CFP, but the Wolverines lost two of their final three games, albeit the last one in ‘controversial’ fashion. Of course most double-overtime ‘instant classics’ deliver some controversy. I would like to see an actual eight-team playoff contested on neutral sites in its entirety, but would  settle for a Michigan return trip to the Horseshoe. It will be good for business, but be warned sequels tend to fall short of the original.
  • No. 5 Washington (12-1) v. No. 4 Penn State (11-2) – No, the CFP did not get it right, which they will realize when the Chick-Fil-A Bowl looks exactly like the SEC Championship game, only with the Crimson Tide rolling a team in purple instead of orange. Some would argue Penn State ahead of Ohio State, but that would mean Penn State facing a Michigan team they were routed by in the regular season. As for the Huskies, it is fitting their kicker’s name is Van Winkle because it has been more than 20 years since the football program was last relevant. Again, one of my criteria is how teams play late and the Nittany Lions finished as well as anyone outside of Alabama and USC.

How it would play out:

  • Oklahoma gives Alabama a better game than Washington but the Crimson Tide prevails.
  • Penn State defeats Washington.
  • Michigan loses for a second time to Ohio State, Coach Jim Harbaugh will be at the ready for more excuses.
  • USC upsets Clemson. I elevated the Trojans to No. 7 to avoid the possibility of a first-round Alabama ambush.

In the second round, Penn State gives Alabama a scare but falls short. The other semifinal features Tommy Trojan against THE. The two schools last met in 2009 when the late Joe McKnight lead USC to victory at the Horseshoe. This time around, Ohio State does not get the call in overtime and the Trojans advance to the championship.

One could pick Tommy Trojan to win the whole shooting match, but I do not live with cardinal and gold glasses and shout ‘Fight On’ to everyone I know. It would be a classic but Nick Saban and Alabama repeat as National Champions.

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MICHIGAN REMAINS IN CFP CONVERSATION

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For those of you who believe the current College Football Playoff system is a travesty.

At the height of the rivalry’s 10-Year War, Ohio and Michigan played to a 10-10 tie in 1973. The Big Ten commissioner and athletic directors met the next day via a conference call and declared the Buckeyes as the conferences Rose Bowl representative. A mitigating factors supposedly was a season-ending injury to Michigan’s quarterback. In those days no one outside of the Big Ten champ went to ANY bowl game.

In 2016 Michigan and THE played double-overtime, and the Buckeyes prevailed in a controversial 30-27 decision that eliminates the Wolverines from College Football Playoff consideration.

Or did it?

The ESPN website known as fivethirtyeight.com has Michigan’s chances as slim and none, their metrics places UM at two percent, behind Wisconsin (34 percent), Penn State, Colorado, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. According to the site, Wisconsin’s chances improve to 81 percent with a win over Penn State along with a Washington loss to Colorado.

This is the same outlet that actually gave Donald Trump a 28.6 percent chance on election night, which was much more than the Washington Post and other publications gave the now President-elect.

The just released AP rankings have Michigan’s chances as better than Wisconsin. The Wolverines received 1264 votes, just 34 votes behind Washington and 27 ahead of the Badgers.

This time Michigan’s fate will lie with 13 members who make up the College Football Playoff committee. As things stand now, their decision may prove as controversial as Ohio State’s fourth down measurement.

For purposes of this exercise, assume top-ranked Alabama, No. 3 Clemson and possible No. 4 Washington win their conference title games. No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 7 Penn State will meet in Indianapolis for the Big Ten trophy, but in reality is considered a third-place game. No. 8 Oklahoma and No. 10 Oklahoma State also meet in the Big XII regular season finale.

Assume Alabama and Ohio State as in, along with Clemson. That leaves the remaining candidates for No. 4

  • 12-1 Washington, Pac-12 Champion.
  • 11-2 Wisconsin or Penn State, Big Ten Champion
  • 10-2 Oklahoma or Oklahoma State
  • 10-2 Michigan

The instant classic in Columbus allows Michigan to remain in contention. Ohio State won handily at Oklahoma early in the season, Michigan and Ohio State both beat Wisconsin and Michigan blew out a Penn State team that THE somehow lost to.

Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez is part of the CPF committee, but just one of 13 members, he likely will not be able to help Wisconsin’s cause. Former Washington coach Tyrone Willingham also serves on the committee, he was fired after a 0-11 season in 2008.

That leaves possible 12-1 Washington as the fly in the ointment. If the committee did opt to bypass the Huskies, it will not be U-Dub’s first screwjob (see 1984). If the Huskies lose to Colorado in the Pac-12 championship, then Michigan’s inclusion becomes less controversial. Ditto if Clemson manages to lose to Virginia Tech.

If Washington made the CFP ranked No. 4, only to be annihilated by Alabama (very possible), the committee would be open to endless criticism.

Not only could Michigan make the playoff, the Wolverines could even be elevated to No. 3. That would lead to a rematch of Ohio State and Mich-AGAIN in one semifinal along with Alabama/Clemson in a rematch of last year’s thrilling national title game.

ESPN and most fans outside of Seattle, Madison or State College would not complain about those two pairings.