By In Stuff

Saturday in November

Can we at least acknowledge what we might be losing? I — like probably 97% of all Americans — desperately want a playoff in college football. My reasons might be a little bit different from some. I want a playoff because I have come to really despise the bowl games. The more anyone looks into the bowls, the more they look like cartoonish money grabs and crazy financial schemes. There’s a nasty history of corruption there. There are too many of them, and all but a handful of them are irrelevant.  And so on.

But as for the structure of college football itself … well, I readily admit to being out of touch with mainstream America, because I generally don’t like playoffs. I don’t like the expanded playoffs in baseball. I don’t like the endless playoffs in the NBA or the NHL. I do like the NFL playoffs, because it seems to me the best way to handle such a violent sport (expanding the regular season would be lunacy), and I like March Madness because it’s unique, it’s one-of-a-kind, a 68-team (and growing) Battle Royale, where everybody gets into the ring at the same time and tries to be the last one standing. But in general, I like a regular season that matters more.

We all know that the BCS college football system, with its computers and polls and bowl series that isn’t a series, is incredibly stupid and illogical. We’ll all be happy to see it go. But I would again ask the question: Can we at least acknowledge what we might be losing? Because Saturday was amazing. Saturday was heartbreaking. Saturday was awe-inspiring. Saturday was one of the great sports days of the year.

And you know what? The Saturday before that was all those things too.

And you know what? The Saturday before THAT was thoroughly awesome.

And you know what? I can’t wait for next Saturday.

This Saturday, of course, a Baylor team that was giving up several thousand yards a game on defense lifted up and found the Buster Douglas level of inspiration and beat No. 1 Kansas State. It was remarkable. A longtime friend — Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett —  developed a game plan that entirely gummed up the deadly efficient Wildcats team. They forced Kansas State into three-and-outs. That meant the Kansas State defense was on the field too long. That meant that Baylor could (and did) simply knock around the Wildcats defenders. That meant Kansas State trailed. That spurred Kansas State to panic, to abandon the running game and go way out of character (like trying a bizarre double reverse when the game was on the line), which led to more offensive failings, which led to Baylor knocking around more Kansas State defenders, on and on and on until the blowout was complete.

Some will see it as Baylor simply exposing a team that wasn’t really the best in America. Others will see it as Kansas State coming in overconfident. But however they see it, this was an utterly amazing moment that many people will remember forever.

And it happened in the regular season.

Stanford-Oregon was even more amazing. If there has been one thing in college football that seemed certain all year it was that Oregon’s offense could not be stopped or even slowed. The Ducks, entering this game, were a blitzkrieg, lightning fast, rush to the line, don’t catch your breath, don’t show a replay, they’re going now, they’re running left, they’re throwing the cross, they’re going deep, they’re attacking the middle, don’t catch your breath, Kenjon Barner spins away, Marcus Mariota keeps, De’Anthony Thomas gets the first down, those crazy uniforms, rush to the line, don’t catch your breath. There was no way to stop that.

Stanford stopped it cold. Thirteen of seventeen times, Stanford stuffed Oregon on third down. Barner couldn’t break loose. Mariota missed passes — his receivers just weren’t open. Even Oregon itself did not seem to believe it was happening. Then Stanford’s tight end Zach Ertz made that absurd catch in the end zone — I’ve seen that replay about 100 times now and I STILL do not know if he was in bounds or not*. It was the play of the year. Many people will remember that Stanford-Oregon game — and Ertz’s great catch — forever.

*The announcers seemed sure that Ertz had caught the ball, and the replay people constructed one replay which stopped at precisely the right instant and seemed to show that he had control of the ball just as his right shoulder landed in bounds. Thing is, when they kept running that replay it seemed like the ball was still moving and then his back landed out of bounds. I’m not saying he didn’t catch it. I’m saying it’s so absurdly close, that I don’t think even replay can give us a 100% conclusion.

Many people will remember Johnny Football leading Texas A&M over Alabama forever … even though Alabama is now very much back in the national championship picture. Many will remember Pittsburgh missing that field goal that would have ended the dream for Notre Dame. Many will remember Les Miles trying his usual assortment of wackiness against Alabama only to have the Alabama kid, A.J. McCarron, lead the Crimson Tide to the final touchdown. And then McCarron broke down in tears.

And Georgia beating Florida in that insane and intense game in Jacksonville.

And Notre Dame going into Norman and pounding Oklahoma to let everyone know it’s for real.

And so on. And so on. You’ve heard it: The whole college football season is a playoff. I know that’s the lame line that BCS supporters used to defend their indefensible system … but it still rings true. What other sport has this? Baseball’s individual games were always teetering on irrelevance anyway because there were so many of them; now eight teams make the playoffs, so the games mean even less. The NBA and NHL don’t even pretend that the regular season matters — especially the NHL, which, every now and again, just for fun, cancels entire seasons. Each week matters in the NFL, but no one week in October or November turns the entire league upside down.

This is only true in college football. Sure, you can say — people do say — that a playoff wouldn’t change any of that. The regular season would still be epic … only now there will be a playoff at the end!

Everything good will stay good, but now the bad will be good too! The incredible tensions of week-to-week college football will remain, but December and January will now light up! Everyone gets a new car! Trees will be made of chocolate! Televisions will start pouring beer!

Maybe. But you might know the line from Inherit the Wind: “Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, ‘All right, you can have the telephone, but you lose privacy and the charm of distance. … Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.'”

A college football playoff is progress. We want it — almost all of us. But I can’t help but think that we will be giving up something too. Days like Saturday will still be amazing, I have no doubt about that. I wonder though, if they will be quite as amazing.

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23 Responses to Saturday in November

  1. CJK says:

    Problem is so many weekends play out like last weekend, only it doesn’t mean what you think it meant at the time. Last week was a playoff for Alabama? Really? Not so much. Trying to determine which teams are better/more deserving than others is a fool’s errand. Play the regular season for positioning, take the best 8/12/16, and let them prove it against each other on the field. Right now, the BCS is based more on pre-season rankings than anything else.

  2. I’m with CJK, if every regular season is life or death under the current system, how do you explain Alabama being right back in the championship game a week after losing? If Notre Dame loses to USC next weekend, KState or Oregon could be right back in the game too.

    Every season is different, some years its going to play out most fairly and/or most dramatically with only a championship game, some years with a four-team playoff, and some years with something bigger than that.

    Just like some baseball seasons are going to be more fair and/or dramatic with the second wildcard team and some are going to play out worse.

    The regular season in college football is always going to be a big deal, because its fans are wildly passionate and care about national championships, conference championships, and beating hated rivals, which covers about half the games on most teams’ schedules.

    • Mike says:

      It was life or death both weeks for Alabama. The first week was death, the second was life. You just don’t get those crazy swings in pro football.

      I have to tell you that if Notre Dame losing to Pittsburgh meant that they’d only have a lower seeding in a 16 game playoff it wouldn’t have meant so much to me when they missed the field goal.

      Personally, I’m not interested in fair. And the regular season will suffer. The Alabama loss to Texas A&M wouldn’t have been nearly as devastating. Holding the number 1 ranking won’t mean nearly as much.

      You have to admit that regular season games just lose a lot of their oomph with a playoff. I don’t want teams to be able to recover from their losses except in rare cases (like this season. Alabama would be ranked behind Ohio State if not for NCAA sanctions).

  3. Joe: Foolishly, I miss the days of two-division baseball and no wild-card teams, which I grew up with. I remember the tension of crucial games every day involving the leagues’ best teams, willing to mortgage their future by trading their best prospect for 31 days of a middle reliever. This was better than three rounds of playoffs — in a year like 1987 or 1993, it was excitement even for the unaligned that will never be equalled.

    I don’t want a college football playoff. I agree that the bowl games mostly suck. But putting four teams in the title game instead of two is only going to move the debate about who to exclude to the No. 4-5 spot. Rarely is the national title unclear these days, and I don’t mind giving up certitude occasionally for the excitement of making every regular-season game matter.

    But the march of playoffs in American sports is inevitable. Once baseball fell — a game with a 162-game season, now winnable by the 12th best team in the game — there’s no reason to expect any other sport to hold out.

  4. Charles says:

    Well, Bill James says (not quite in these words, but close enough) that he likes playoffs because they increase the chances fora lousy team to win the whole ball of wax. Takes all kinds, I guess.

    If the call on the Stanford catch was close, and I agree it was, it ought not have been overturned, as I understand the rule. Not that I like the rule, mind you.


  5. Mark Daniel says:

    Here’s a question, why does #6 Florida play LA-Lafayette and then Jacksonville St the past 2 weeks? Why does Georgia play Georgia South? S. Carolina against Wofford? ‘Bama vs. WEST Carolina? A&M vs. Sam Houston St?
    I think the BCS should have some WAR-like component such that when you schedule a complete cupcake you get negative points.
    Also, how is it possible to have like 6 SEC teams at 10-1? I know it helps to play Wofford and Sam Houston, but shouldn’t they play each other also?

    • Schlom says:

      Or how about the fact that Georgia will have a chance to play for a spot in the National Championship Game after a season where they beat only two teams with winning records – Florida and Vanderbilt (who didn’t beat a single team with a winning record)?

    • mistrx75 says:

      It’ll be three by the end because they’ll have to beat Alabama in the SEC title game. But yeah, they’ll get to be in the NC without having played LSU, Florida, Texas A&M, or even 8-3 Mississippi State.

  6. mdwannabe says:

    I don’t mean this as flippantly as it might sound but who cares if you think there are too many bowl games? This is a tired argument, and is a very egocentric view to take. As if every bowl game that is played has to be interesting to you Joe. But as a Stanford when we were going through 2002-2008 with not a winning season, the slow improvement to get within reach of a low tier bowl was something. Me and my fellow alums did hope we could all have a reason to celebrate the season someplace new and exciting. We hoped that maybe it would give us just a little press and improve our recruiting (but it probably doesn’t matter). Look at Duke this year or San Jose State, teams that don’t matter to you at all probably, don’t matter as national stories really, but their fans have some extra reason to celebrate huge strides in their program. Why is too many bowls a bad thing? Just change the channel and watch something else scrooge.

    • Well said. As a Cal fan, I’ve had a great time watching Cal play in minor bowl games like the Las Vegas Bowl, the Insight Bowl and whatever they called the one in San Francisco the year we went bowl.

  7. donald says:

    That’s pretty cool for Georgia.

    It needs to happen now, cause they pick up Alabama and LSU next year.

    So for now, WOOF bitches.

    • Poseur says:

      UGa picks up LSU, but not Bama. Bama, after avoiding all of the best teams in the East last year, played Mizzou and Tennessee this year. Next year, after avoiding all of the best East teams for two straight years, Bama will play Tennessee and Kentucky.

      Bama will continue to play two really tough games, lose one, and then make the title game by virtue of playing in the toughest conference, conveniently ignoring the fact the conference is much easier if you only have to play two ranked teams all year.

  8. Ima Ryma says:

    A playoff in college football,
    Replacing all the bowls abound,
    Is likely a logical call,
    But makes less cash register sound.
    College football programs are not
    For love of youth in sports and such,
    But how much revenue be brought.
    The Penn State scandal said as much.
    Each bowl (insert a sponsor’s name)
    Gives each college all the more chance
    To get more from the cash cow game.
    The only major is finance.

    Colleges have just one field goal,
    The yearly drive to money bowl.

  9. Mark Coale says:

    Another reason to love european football: no playoffs. You get your league cup and the champions league too, but in the epl and la liga and so on, the reg season champion is the champion. Period.

    • Chris says:

      What do you consider the champions league then? Is that not a playoff consisting of each leagues winners? Isn’t that what the college football playoff aims to accomplish?

      In the EPL it works because there are 20 teams and they all play identical schedules. With so many times that is near impossible in college football.

    • Also, in the English lower divisions 1st and 2nd place are automatically promoted, but the 3rd through 6th place finishers have a playoff to determine the final spot. Which might be the most pressure-packed series of matches in the world, since the revenue difference between the League Championship and Premier League is something like 80 MILLION POUNDS.

  10. yoyodyne says:

    Of course, it was never a double-reverse as TMQ oft notes, it was a simple reverse. Count:

    1st handoff – QB to Split-end = End-around,
    2nd handoff – SE to WR = Reverse.

    The SE runs right and then the WR *reverses* to the left.

    It takes a 3rd handoff in another direction to be a double-reverse which are as rare as unicorns in real life.

  11. Ebessan says:

    I don’t want a playoff because the national championship in college football has absolutely nothing to do with what makes college football enjoyable, and focusing everything on the machinations of giving out a friggin’ crystal football sucks out the soul of why people actually care about the sport.

  12. It’s all playoff playoff playoff, commercial commercial commercial. Gotta appreciate European football, no commercials and no playoffs until the Champions League! IDC about NCAAF but i do watch the Rose Bowl Game every year, love that!

  13. Ed McDonald says:

    I will not miss the endless analyzing of the weekly polls. At all. Good riddance.

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