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.