And so, with the release of the playoff committee’s final rankings, we have reached the end of the 2015 NCAA FBS regular football season (the other divisions ended their regular seasons weeks ago). Even though there’s still one more game to be played (Army-Navy), which could have actually been an important matchup for bowl positioning had Navy not lost to Houston. Since we already know which bowls Navy (Military) and Army (None) are going to, the game will have no effect on the post-season picture. At least you get to see two teams comprised of future competing in a long storied rivalry. More importantly, it’s a chance to see two teams using a triple option against each other in 2015. And most importantly, it’s the only college football game on that day outside of the FCS playoffs.
I’m beginning to question the wisdom of releasing playoff football rankings each week for the second half of the season, even if that wisdom basically amounts to “we can make a selection show out of this that will earn us money.” Last season, Ohio State leapfrogged two Big 12 teams after a (admittedly impressive) championship game win over Wisconsin. Of course, football rankings have a strange logic that moves teams up and down depending on whether they won or lost instead of starting a new ranking every week. So #6 Ohio State was rewarded for beating #11 Wisconsin, even though you would expect a team ranked number 6 to beat a team ranked number 11. Publishing a ranking that says you’re going to put TCU into the playoff then leaves them out a week later because Ohio State did what it was supposed to do according to your rankings doesn’t make much sense. Seems better to just publish one at the end of the year, but then you wouldn’t get a selection show for seven weeks.
We all know that it worked out pretty well for Ohio State and the selection committee last season, so this season they again had a Big 10 team leapfrog a Big 12 team in the final rankings. At least this time Oklahoma is still in the playoff. It’s probably worse news for Clemson, who despite being ranked number 1 were underdogs when betting started. And really, which team would you rather play?
- Option #1 is a team that embarrassingly lost to 5-7 Texas, struggled to win against #23 Tennessee and #11 TCU, but beat everyone else by double digits (including #16 Oklahoma State and #17 Baylor).
- Option #2 embarrassingly lost to 5-7 Nebraska, had one score victories over #15 Oregon, #7 Ohio State, #4 Iowa, 4-8 Rutgers, and 2-10 Purdue, required a miraculous loss of awareness by a punter to beat #14 Michigan, but managed to win the other six games (including two against MAC teams) by double digits.
Both are flawed resumes, but if I had to choose one it’d be Option #2. Unfortunately for Clemson, they’ll have to play Option #1. But almost everyone (including me) thought that Alabama would destroy Ohio State, and that didn’t happen.
Now it’s almost time for Bowl season, rewarding only the best teams providing entertaining matchups. Oh, right, they’ve added so many bowls (there are 41 now) and watered down the requirements so much that they’re letting in some 5-7 teams now (three of them!). While I know everyone else can’t wait for the AutoNation Cure Bowl featuring 5-7 San Jose and 6-6 Georgia State, these are the games that look most interesting to me:
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 19 3:30 EST) – #22 Utah (9-3) vs. BYU (9-3)
After taking a season off the Holy War returns in bowl form as thousands of Mormons once again descend on Las Vegas. The season has made Utah’s opening day win against Michigan more impressive, but their losses against UCLA, USC, and Arizona less so. On the other hand, BYU couldn’t beat UCLA or Michigan.
Russell Athletic Bowl (Dec. 29 5:30) – #10 North Carolina (11-2) vs. #17 Baylor (10-2)
The quality of this game depends on whether or not Baylor will have a quarterback, since they were down to putting a wide receiver at the position last game (they lost, by the way). Whether or not Chris Johnson can play after his concussion or Jarrett Stidham’s ankle is sufficiently healed remains to be seen.
Texas Bowl (Dec. 29 9:00) – Texas Tech (7-5) vs. #20 LSU (8-3)
Texas Tech has a very good offense. They also have an abysmal defense, so at least this game should be fun if you like scoring.
Peach Bowl (Dec. 31 12:00) – #18 Houston (12–1) vs. #9 Florida State (10–2)
Houston gets to represent the entire Group of Five in a major bowl. Houston’s main issue is that they may only be a decent team with a very good quarterback, since they lost to 6-6 AAC competitor Connecticut when Ward was out. On the other side, Florida State may be very good team with a merely decent quarterback (whether it’s Maguire or Golson). Quarterbacks are an important part of the team, but having an excellent one doesn’t matter if the rest of the team is completely outmatched.
Orange Bowl (Dec. 31 4:00) – #1 Clemson (13–0) vs. #4 Oklahoma (11–1)
National Semifinal #1
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 31 8:00) – #2 Alabama (12–1) vs. #3 Michigan State (12–1)
National Semifinal #2
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1 1:00) – #14 Michigan (9–3) vs. #19 Florida (10–3)
Two teams with first year head coaches that performed much better than expected. The only problem is that Florida’s offense was a lot more impressive before Will Grier got suspended, but their defense is still excellent.
Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1 1:00) – #8 Notre Dame (10–2) vs. #7 Ohio State (11–1)
Two teams that were beaten in three games by a combined seven points, otherwise they’d both be in contention for the National Championship. They’ll have to settle for what could be an entertaining Fiesta Bowl.
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1 4:30) – #5 Iowa (12–1) vs. #6 Stanford (11–2)
One of these teams had a very impressive win against Northwestern, and the other had a not so impressive loss against Northwestern. I’m still not sure that means that Iowa is going to win here, considering the rest of the team’s schedules, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1 8:30) – #12 Mississippi (9–3) vs. #16 Oklahoma State (10–2)
Mississippi beat Alabama, then lost to Memphis; they lost to Arkansas, then beat LSU and Mississippi State. In short, I have no idea how they’ll perform against Oklahoma State, who are looking to rebound since losing two straight after going 10-0 to start the season.
Alamo Bowl (Jan. 2 6:45) – #11 TCU (10–2) vs. #15 Oregon (9–3)
Matching up the preseason #2 and #7, with both teams once thinking they could get into the playoffs at some point. That didn’t happen, but they’re still both very good teams and offer an intriguing matchup.
National Championship Game (Jan. 11 8:30) – To Be Decided vs. To Be Decided
For all its flaws, the playoff system is an improvement over the BCS. I may complain about Michigan State being ranked ahead of Oklahoma, but at least both of them get a chance to compete for the championship on the field instead of in the minds of poll voters.