Fall Back

The “fall back” weekend is one of my favorites of the year. The late autumn air turns crisp and bracing, the leaves change colors and scatter over our yards, and the clocks fall back gaining us another precious hour of rest.

The college football world seems to have fallen back too because even the new playoff committee rankings are rekindling old controversies.

The playoff committee released its initial rankings last week amidst charges of SEC bias. The league boasted three of the top four teams, aggravating fans of other conferences. Then Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher piled on by inferring that negative coverage of his Seminoles was a result of ESPN’s relationship with the SEC Network.

Fans of a certain age recognize that all this noise hearkens back at least to the 1960s. Then the charge was northern bias, particularly in favor of Notre Dame. In 1966, the Fighting Irish outpolled unbeaten Alabama for the national championship despite the Irish settling for a 10-10 tie on the road at #2 Michigan State. In 1977, #5 Notre Dame leapfrogged the Tide and other schools after the bowl season to claim another disputed national championship.

Claims of bias are not limited to the Irish, nor are the current complaints the first leveled at ESPN. In 2006, the four-letter network’s Kirk Herbstreit and his GameDay buddies lobbied long and hard for an Ohio State-Michigan rematch for the national title. Florida narrowly edged out Michigan to get a shot at the Buckeyes, then trounced them 41-14 in the national championship game to trigger the first of seven consecutive SEC titles. That streak would never have started had Herbie and the rest of his Big Ten-centric crew had their preference.

So, the charges of favoritism and unfairness are nothing new, they are simply fall back positions that have been around a long time.

By the way, SEC fans should not gloat. The conference is very unlikely to land two teams in the playoff. Expect the committee to increasingly move toward regional representation as the SEC West teams continue to knock each other off. A one-loss conference champion from any of the other four Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12) will get the nod over a two-loss SEC that doesn’t win the league (and perhaps even a two-loss champ).

Here is a projection of the four teams most likely to land in the playoff: 1) The SEC champ assuming the team has only one loss. 2) Florida State – the Seminoles must win out though. 3) Oregon – the Ducks look like the class of the Pac-12 after finally handling Stanford. 4) TCU – the Horned Frogs have a charmed (lucky?) season going.

A question remains however. How does the committee rank TCU over Baylor when the Bears beat the Frogs head to head? If both finish the season with one loss, shouldn’t Baylor get the nod?

Around the Nation

What a wonderful weekend of games we have in store. In the Big 12, Kansas State plays at TCU in a game that could decide the conference and a playoff spot. Baylor faces a test at Oklahoma. The Big Ten’s premier matchup of the year takes place in East Lansing when Michigan State hosts Ohio State. Notre Dame travels to Arizona State as the Irish need some luck to stay in playoff contention. Finally, the SEC West gantlet continues when Alabama travels to LSU.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 11; Nov 4-8 2014)

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