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.

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.

1990 NFL SIMULATION: NIGHTMARE SCENARIO

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One of the most iconic players of his era was running back Christian Okoye. A track star at Azusa Pacific University, Okoye played football for the first time at age 23 and his rare skill set at 6’1″, 260 pounds earned him an early second round draft selection by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Okoye soon picked up the handle of Nigerian Nightmare as his career peaked in 1989. Slowed by injury the following year, Okoye would be joined by Barry Word to give coach Marty Schottenheimer the most devastating one-two running punch in the league.

Meanwhile, pull up any Detroit Lions game from the 1990 season on the WhatIfSports software and you will see ridiculous stat lines out of Barry Sanders.

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Sanders Gretzkied the single season record books with the following stat line: 2,587 rushing yards, 2,734 yards from scrimmage and 31 touchdowns.

Barry scored four times in a Thanksgiving Day win before out-doing Bo Jackson with a legendary performance on Monday Night Football. In the first quarter alone Sanders ripped the Raiders defense with touchdown runs of 25, 27 and 27 yards. Late in the second quarter Sanders took off on a 54-yard run which led to a field goal. On the first play of the second half Sanders added another 25-yard run and would later score his fourth touchdown of the night to cap off a 48-17 win. For the night Barry finished with a ridiculous 368 yards, a total not close to being surpassed in an actual game to this day.

After the season simulation I ran additional sample games involving the Lions and Sanders. In one game against Kansas City he rushed for 265 yards and six TD, 272 yards and two TD against the Saints, 250 yards and two TD against the Giants, 306 yards and a score against Denver and finally 337 yards and two scores against the Chicago Bears.

According to the metrics, Wayne Fontes should have ran Barry on every play.

Other highlights of the 1990 season.

  • Following a 1-15 season, the Chicago Bears rebounded with a 13-3 season with Jim Harbaugh at quarterback.
  • The Los Angeles Raiders appeared poised for a third AFC Championship in four seasons on the back of Bo Jackson with a 14-2 campaign.
  • The simulation Super Bowl XXIV champion (and actual Super Bowl XXV champion) New York Giants saw their season on the brink with a 6-6 record at one point. The G-Men would win their last four games to advance to the postseason.
  • It was a good year for the NFL to expand the playoff field, as all 12 playoff participants won 10 games.
  • This was also the year Derrick Thomas recorded 20 sacks, including seven in an actual game against the Seattle Seahawks. The game ended with Seattle quarterback David Krieg eluding an eighth Thomas sack and throwing the winning TD pass. Had the Chiefs won that game they would had been the number two seed in the AFC.

As in the actual season, Kansas City traveled to Miami for the Wild Card round, but in fiction the Chiefs prevail behind three Barry Word scores and a pick six. The Giants defense of their previous years championship ended with a loss at Philadelphia while the Lions lost at Washington, with Earnest Byner outrushing Barry Sanders 170 to 132.

In the AFC Divisional Round the Steelers scored a 20-17 upset at Buffalo behind two Louis Lipps touchdown receptions. Meanwhile the Chiefs and Raiders renewed their longstanding rivalry. Kansas City scored the final 20 points after Bo Jackson went down in the third quarter. Little did Kansas City sports fans realize the Chiefs success that day would ultimately doom the Kansas City Royals. In the NFC, Chicago and San Francisco easily scored home wins en route to the championship round.

In the AFC Championship, the Chiefs earned a Super Bowl trip behind three Derrick Thomas sacks in a 21-6 win at Pittsburgh. Later that day the 49ers and Bears met in another epic postseason battle, with Mike Ditka getting his third Super Bowl trip in an 18-15 overtime win that became an instant classic.

While the actual Super Bowl XXV became defined by wide right, the simulation version featured a clutch kick. The Kansas City front four again took center stage as Neil Smith recorded three sacks. At the end of regulation the Chiefs holder kneeled near the Super Bowl logo with a Chicago return man stationed under the goal post with  Kick Six in mind.

He never got the chance, Nick Lowery’s 58-yard effort cleared the crossbar, the AFC had its first Super Bowl title in 11 years, Schottenheimer chased his label as postseason failure and Lamar Hunt proudly hoisted the trophy of the game he helped conceive a quarter-century earlier.

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In simulation, Barry Sanders rewrote the record books in 1990.