This was conference championship weekend, when all the dominos fell into place in determining the four teams that would make it into the playoffs.
There was only one certainty heading into the weekend: for the first time in its (now) six-year history, Alabama would not be one of them.
Otherwise, it was time to put up or shut up for the handful of teams that still had a chance.
Friday night featured the Pac 12 Championship, Oregon facing #5 Utah. It was the only game in town and had the country’s undivided attention. The stage was set for Utah to prove it—and the Pac 12 deserved a spot in the playoffs.
So what did the mighty Utes do with their perfect opportunity? They laid an egg; a duck egg, to be exact. Oregon Ducks 37, Utah Utes 15.
Utah was fresh from finishing an 11-1 regular season leading the nation in rushing defense, allowing just over 56 yards a game. Oregon running back CJ Verdell had more than that on a single carry (70) and finished the game with 208 yards.
There have only been *two Pac 12 teams in the five-year history of the playoffs; time will tell if two will be a finite number (my guess is there’s a pretty good chance that it will).
*The SEC leads by having six teams in the playoffs, followed by the ACC with five and the Big 10 and the Big 12 with three each. There was one token invitation to the team too proud (read: afraid) to join a conference: Notre Dame, which lost to Clemson last year 30-3 and demonstrating once again they are simply not ready for prime time.
Saturday kicked off with the Big 12 Championship. It may have been because I wasn’t in the best of moods after staying up late Friday night to watch my first Pac 12 game from start to finish since Nixon was President, but the Oklahoma-Baylor rematch had to be one of the most boring games I’ve seen in my life.
If it wasn’t for Baylor coach Matt Rhule—a disciple of the Bill Belichick School of Fashion—giving his third string quarterback a chance (the first string quarterback was injured; the backup was just insulting) to shine (2 completions for 159 yards and one touchdown) and take the game to overtime, I probably would have switched the station to see former Gator head coach Jim McElwain’s Central Michigan team take it on the chin.
The thought of an overtime game to decide a conference champion was exciting, at least until the two teams played an even more boring overtime period. Oklahoma: facemask penalty and two runs for a touchdown. Baylor: two incompletions and two sacks of the quarterback. Oklahoma 30, Baylor 23.
If style points are taken into consideration to decide which teams make it into the playoffs, the Sooners won’t be getting any for this one. Kudos to Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts for winning championships in two different conferences, the Big 12 and the SEC.
The most anticipated game of the weekend was the SEC Championship matching LSU against Georgia, two teams that I detest more than any others. Georgia has always been #1, but recently LSU has taken over the #2 spot, previously held by Tennessee.
It hasn’t been the same since the Vols stopped playing football in Knoxville about 10 years ago. You may recall that was when they decided to get rid of Coach Philip Fulmer, who posted a record of 151-52-1 in 17 seasons as the Vol’s coach.
In the last decade (post-Fulmer), their record has been a mere 69-68. It serves them right for kicking Phat Phil to the curb. Back to the game…
LSU and Georgia played in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium before a sellout crowd that was approximately 70% red and black when the game began; by the end of the third quarter it was closer to 70% purple and gold since a good portion of the Bulldog ‘faithful’ left the building once the inevitable outcome was pretty obvious. LSU 37, Georgia 10.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (28 of 38 for 349 yards and four touchdowns) put the finishing touches on bringing the Heisman trophy back to Baton Rouge for the first time in 60 years.
After the game Bulldog coach Kirby Smart was a hot topic on social media with commentary such as this: ‘Kirby Smart chose (Georgia quarterback) Jake Fromm over Justin Fields. That’s it. That’s the tweet.’
The only way things could be worse for the Dawgs would to finish the season ranked behind Florida in the polls…or perhaps Justin Fields entering the transfer portal and ending up at Georgia Tech.
Clemson and Virginia met for the ACC Championship on Saturday night. A certain sports network (the one with countless talking heads reminding you they know a lot more about sports than anyone else on the planet) reported Clemson had a 95% chance of winning. If they were as smart as they think they are, that number would have been 100%. Clemson 62, Virginia 17.
Tiger quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16 of 22 for 302 yards and four touchdowns) reminded everyone that he was still interested in an invitation to New York next week for the Heisman presentation, even if its just to be the first person to congratulate Joe Burrow.
While no one other than a sprinkling of the 5% of all college football fans that thought Virginia might actually win were watching the ACC matchup, everyone else was watching Justin Fields (19 of 31 for 299 yards and three touchdowns) lead the Ohio State Buckeyes to another Big 10 Championship with a 34-21 win over Wisconsin, the second time they beat the Badgers this season.
Buckeye running back JK Dobbins pitched in with 33 carries for 172 yards and a touchdown while his Wisconsin counterpart, Jonathan Taylor gained 148 yards on 20 carries for one touchdown.
So now that the games that matter have been played, here’s how it looks for the playoffs:
#1 LSU vs. #4 Oklahoma
#2 Ohio State vs. #3 Clemson
In other words just like I reported last week, back when I was just 95% certain.
The pairings for the other bowl games will also be announced soon, but before that I want to go on record by saying that for me, college football bowl games are like the first 46 minutes of any NBA game, the entirety of every NFL exhibition game and every single inning of Major League Baseball: meaningless.
The random pairing of two teams from different conferences are never particularly attractive; the empty seats you’ll see in most of the bowl games are all the evidence you need to see that.
That being said, here’s a recommendation for the NCAA: why not match up teams from the same conference in bowl games? Instead of Florida-Virginia in the Orange Bowl and Alabama-Michigan in the Citrus, why not pair the Gators and the Crimson Tide together in one of them? It wouldn’t matter which bowl—either one would sell out. Then pair Virginia and Michigan together; you’d be able to count ticket sales on two hands.
I’ll switch gears and close with this thought about the NFL (NFL = ‘Not For Ludwig’ although I do keep tabs on it for commentary like this): How in the Lone Star State is Jason Garrett still the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys? This is the same team that’s been to eight Super Bowls and won five of them.
Garrett, now in his 10th season with the Cowboys has posted an 83-66 record—barely over .500--at the helm of America’s Team and led them to the playoffs only three times and a post-season record of 2-3. Garrett must have some strange power over team owner Jerry Jones, who has been at the reins of the Lone Star Ship for the past 30 seasons yet somehow having the patience to continue with the redheaded blunder kid on the sidelines. Don’t be surprised when Jones comes to his senses and sends Garrett packing at the end of the season, if not sooner.
By the way, this week’s column was in the publisher’s inbox well before the playoffs were announced on Sunday afternoon. That way it could be posted online early enough for the selection committee to take a look…in case they were looking for help from another talking head.
And if the Committee Chairman announces their selections and says they were ‘up all night’ determining the four teams for the playoffs, either (a) he’s lying, or (b) the committee is not nearly as sharp as it needs to be. Whatever he says, there’s a 95% chance it’s another reason altogether: the committee was simply unclear if two teams with the same mascot could participate.
Scott Ludwig lives, runs and writes in Senoia. His latest book, “Southern Charm” is a collection of his first 101 columns for The Newnan Times-Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .