With more than 40 bowl games played in the last month, and the NFL entering the playoffs, there has been plenty of football to watch. The college season in particular ended in one of the more exciting ways possible.
I will start by responding to my earlier claims. I had said before that the Big Ten was the best conference in college football. At the time, four teams were in the top ten, and ended with six fairly prominent bowl positions. However, they collectively went 3-7 in bowl play. Coupled with the utterly embarrassing shutout loss by Ohio State to Clemson, I apologize for my unbridled faith in grind-it-out football.
Throughout the past weeks, there were many great games.
On Dec. 30, Nebraska started strong but couldn’t keep up with Tennessee, who pulled away at the end to win 38-24. Stanford held off North Carolina 25-23, in what can be described as a “wild finish.” Trailing late, the Tar Heels tried to replicate magic that had brought them two last-minute wins early on against Pittsburgh and Florida State. They were able to bring it within two points by way of a scramble-drill laser from QB Mitch Trubisky, but the two-point conversion looking like an identical playcall wasn’t nearly as successful.
Later that day, Michigan, playing without Heisman finalist Jabrill Peppers, took on Florida State in a matchup of stout defense against strong offense. A nail-biter that saw stellar performances by Dalvin Cook and Nyquan Murray of FSU—including a last-minute TD reception—showed that Jim Harbaugh’s antics in Ann Arbor are not quite enough to win bowl games. Michigan lost 33-32.
The very next day saw Alabama square off with Washington as Clemson took on Ohio State University in the playoff games. Alabama’s top-ranked defense held Washington to just one first-quarter touchdown, and the foot was down the rest of the way. ‘Bama QB Jalen Hurts only threw for 57 yards, but the rushing attack was unrelenting, leading to a final score of 24-7. The Clemson-Ohio State matchup, as mentioned earlier, would be enjoyable for a Michigan fan who didn’t care about the Big Ten. OSU coach Urban Meyer, known for doing well in big games, was unable to orchestrate any success against a ridiculously talented Clemson team. It looked close, until the coin toss.
Because of NFL play on New Year’s Day, the bowls commonly played on Jan. 1 were postponed a day. One of the least-heralded saw Florida trounce Iowa, 30-3. Wisconsin played a slightly updated version of the University of Wisconsin ground game against undefeated Western Michigan. The defense held Coach PJ Fleck in check most of the game as the Badgers held on to with 24-16.
In the Rose Bowl shootout, the University of Southern California played Penn State. With more scoring than any previous Rose Bowl Game, the defensive coordinators were left hoping to not give up too much each drive. USC’s talent was on display, while Penn State rallied around quarterback Trace McSorley gunslinger style. Leading 49-35 at the beginning of the fourth, Penn State’s offense watched from the sidelines as USC was able to continue carving up their defense, leading to two touchdown to tie the game with just over a minute to go. A few plays later, the USC defense snagged an interception, which was returned to very near field goal range. As time expired, the field goal sealed the Rose Bowl for USC, in which 102 points were scored.
A rematch of last year’s national championship game, Alabama and Clemson faced off Jan. 9 to determine who would be crowned the best. The first three quarters felt like the Alabama football that had won them 26 consecutive games leading up to this point. They then uncharacteristically allowed points in the fourth quarter.
Starting the final frame up 24-14, Clemson QB drove the Tigers down the field twice against the vaunted Alabama defense to take the lead with roughly four-and-a-half minutes remaining. A more appropriate Alabama drive followed, punching it in with two minutes to go. A final march down the field for Clemson, capped by a tenth reception and second touchdown for Hunter Renfrow from two yards away with a single second remaining sealed the game for the Tigers. National Champions.
The Playoff setup has been questioned, examined, put to the test, reexamined, and the like. Some have proposed an eight-team playoff would be more effective. I believe the current system could be tweaked to be more effective, but I understand the end-all of the whole shebang is to make money. The conference championship games are able to provide a final game of revenue, with extra hype, for these teams. However, winning your conference should be rewarded anyway. Ohio State should not have gotten into the playoff. But what’s done is done, and a champion was crowned.