Ten Takeaways from the college football weekend:
1. Georgia was one of the four best teams in the nation. Ranked third in the Football Power Index (FPI) at ESPN. Ranked third nationally in offensive efficiency. Ranked fifth nationally in defensive efficiency. Was 5th in strength of record — well within the boundary of being worthy of a spot in the last four.
2. All of that said, I can’t really slam the selection committee for going with Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma as the four playoff teams. Oklahoma edged out Georgia for the No. 4 seed, with Georgia finishing fifth and Ohio State sixth. It’s one thing to make a case built on the metrics. And it’s also easy to downgrade the Sooners because of a defense that’s ranked No. 91 in defensive efficiency. But just watch Kyler Murray — an extraordinary player — run the show, and the Oklahoma quarterback has the talent and dynamic star presence to justify his team’s inclusion in the final foursome. Best QB (statistically) in the land. Best offense in the land. Best show in the land. I’m OK with the Sooners getting the call over a two-loss Georgia team. My goodness … the committee’s four selections combined for a 50-1 record this season. No apologies are necessary.
3. Sure, Georgia had the unenviable task of having to beat the No. 1 team, Alabama, in the SEC Championship to ensure a spot in the playoff. None of the other contenders had to take on an opponent as formidable as Alabama in their conference championship games. Oklahoma played (and defeated) No. 14 Texas. Ohio State had an unimposing opponent in No. 21 Northwestern. No. 2 Clemson, unlike top seed Alabama, had nothing to worry about when encountering a mediocre Pittsburgh team for the ACC Championship. And Notre Dame … well, Notre Dame didn’t have to sweat out a conference-championship Saturday because the Irish don’t belong to a conference. (More on that in a bit.) It was a tough break for Georgia, being at an extreme disadvantage in making a closing argument relative to Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Ohio State. But that’s the tradeoff, right? Good SEC teams are elevated by the overall strength of the conference. Good SEC teams are able to polish their metric ratings because of the conference affiliation and the impressive strength-of-schedule in the SEC that reinforce the resume. SEC teams almost always receive the benefit of the doubt just by being members of the league. But there is also a price to pay — and Georgia paid it on Saturday by losing narrowly to Alabama after being exposed to such intense risk on a day when fellow playoff candidates faced less daunting circumstances. And after absorbing that second loss on the season — and by failing to capture the conference title — Georgia came up short.
4. By losing, Georgia gave the selection committee more than enough padding and insulation to support its four-team choices. By losing, Georgia gave the committee some welcome protection. Sure, there was controversy over the Bulldogs’ exclusion. But there would have been a raging, smoking, hazardous firestorm of controversy had the committee put two SEC teams into the four-team tournament for the second consecutive year. Can you imagine the height of the flames had three Power 5 conferences been excluded from the playoff in order to go with two SEC squads? The Pac-12 didn’t have a worthy representative … but the Big 12 and the Big Ten each had a viable, attractive, impressive candidate in Oklahoma and Ohio State, respectively. Because of Notre Dame’s undefeated season, the committee wasn’t able to accommodate both the Big 12 and the Big Ten … but by slotting Okahoma into the four, the committee preemptively quieted the loudest protests about its alleged pro-SEC bias.
5. So in that context, Georgia was victimized twice. First, having to take on Alabama. Second, Georgia was a pawn in a political game … and was removed from the chess board so the committee could prove its fairness, and show its SEC-resistant strength.
6. I can’t feel too sorry for Georgia. After all, the Bulldogs had Alabama all but beaten — leading 28-14 in the third quarter — but couldn’t put the Crimson Tide away. After intercepting Bama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the second time, the Bulldogs were in great shape. They had the football. They had a 14-point league. There was only 6:48 left in the third quarter. And Tagovailoa would eventually leave the game with a high ankle sprain; Jalen Hurts took over and a made a Disney film. But from the time threw that second interception until the end of the game, had five offensive possessions that produced no points, four first downs, and only 109 yards on 28 plays. During this stretch Georgia went 0 for 5 in third-down conversions, with QB Jake Fromm going 0-for-5 on his third-down throws. And on Alabama’s final four possessions, Georgia’s defense was plundered for 221 yards and three touchdowns.
7. And Georgia coach Kirby Smart made one of the most incomprehensible strategy calls I’ve ever seen, calling for a fake punt on a 4th down and 11 from the 50-yard line with just over 3 minutes remaining in a game tied 28-28. Alabama sniffed it out ahead of time, keeping its defense on the field and keying on freshman QB Justin Fields, who was lined up in the “up man” position in front of the punter. The gamble was 100 percent doomed from the start, but Smart compounded his mistake by staying with the fake instead of barking out “Kill, Kill, Kill,” which means — change of plan, PUNT the ball. Of course, ‘Bama smothered Fields after his short gain, and on the ensuing possession Hurts completed passes of 19 and 16 yards before galloping in for a 15-yard TD run for the winning score. With that nonsensical decision to fake a punt — when Alabama knew what was coming was poised to pounce — Smart virtually handed that game to Nick Saban and The Tide.
8. For the second time in less than a year, Alabama broke Georgia’s spirit — and Georgia’s heart. First it was last season’s national championship game, with Bama winning in overtime. Next came Saturday’s stunning comeback by Alabama — the largest comeback win ever in SEC championship game history. Check this out, and a hat tip to The Athletic for the note:
There have been 290 total plays run in the past two Alabama-Georgia matchups. Alabama led for nine of them (3 percent) and won both games. In 120 minutes of football, plus an overtime period, Alabama has led Georgia for one minute between the two games. In last year’s national championship game, Georgia led or was tied the entire way, until Alabama won on the final play. On Saturday, Georgia led or was tied until Jalen Hurts’ touchdown run with a minute to play.
9. Alabama’s senior-class members are an astounding 54-3 during their football careers in Tuscaloosa — the most wins by a senior class in FBS history. And with the win over Smart, Saban is 16-0 in games against his former assistants who went on to become head coaches. (That includes a 4-0 mark this season.)
10. My biggest complaint? Notre Dame’s free pass. And I like Notre Dame. I think coach Brian Kelly has done a wonderful job of changing some of his methods, improving communication with his players, freshening his staff, and making intelligent mid-career adjustments in his coaching. And, at least for now, it would have been wrong to deny the 12-0 Irish a place in the playoffs. But something has to change. You can’t ask all of these contending teams to play under two sets of standards … you can’t ask Power 5 teams to bunch up in conferences, and play more pressurized conference schedules, and put themselves at extra risk for another damaging loss in a conference title game … you can’t do that and allow Notre Dame to go it alone — an independent contractor who has no obligation to fend off conference rivals, no worries about having to play that dangerous extra game for a conference title. While No. 1 (Alabama) and No. 4 (Georgia) were fiercely slugging it out in Atlanta, and No. 5 (Oklahoma) was furiously rallying to survive and prevail over Texas, the Fighting Irish were (metaphorically speaking) enjoying a cold beer, savoring a cigar, and propping their feet up on a relaxing day of stress-free leisure in the recliner.
That ain’t right. And under the current setup, Notre Dame should never be seeded any better than fourth. Notre Dame should automatically enter this tournament as the bottom seed; teams like Oklahoma who are fighting for survival on championship Saturday should be rewarded with a more favorable seed than Notre Dame on selection Sunday.
Moving ahead … at some point, a line must be drawn: Hey, Notre Dame … you want to be eligible for the CFB Playoff and the national championship? Great. Now go join a conference and get back to us when you sign the deal. Because that’s the only way you’ll be eligible. Make a decision: protect your private stash of precious TV money or make it a mission to win a championship.
BONUS BIT I: The whiny percentage of Mizzou fans are funny. This is a program that can’t come close to filling the stadium for its home games … a program that traditionally does a poor job of selling its ticket allotment to bowl games … an SEC program that doesn’t feel like an SEC program because the fans are so ambivalent. And now this: The Mizzou faithful is insulted by Mizzou’s assignment to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, where the Tigers will play unranked Oklahoma State. Really? Awesome.. Why would a more prestigious bowl have a desire to extend an invitation to a program that historically struggled to sell its allocation of bowl tickets? (Mizzou sold only 50 percent of its designated ticket supply for last season’s Texas Bowl.) Why would a more prestigious bowl want to roll out the red carpet for a yawning fan base? This misplaced haughtiness is absolutely hysterical. But for the passionate Mizzou fans who care — and will be there — thank you. You deserve praise. The whiners are delusional.
BONUS BIT II: With the latest snub of Big Ten football, the selection committee sent a message to the B1G: Your conference already had fallen behind the SEC, and the ACC … now you’re looking up at the Big 12. Big Ten, you’re in a slump. And you are not worthy of a spot in the playoffs, especially when your top program, Ohio State, is morally repugnant under its current head coach.
Two years in a row; no Big Ten. Embarrassing.
Thanks for reading …