THIS ONE WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE A YEAR AGO:
In the old BCS system, Oregon and Ohio State would have most likely been meeting in the Rose Bowl, not the College Football Playoff national championship game. But this is not last season, but the new world with a playoff that hopefully will determine the best college football team. Gone are polls and computers that decided who would play in a one-game, winner take all championship game. For most of the system's fifteen plus year life, many in the college game felt that BCS formula tended to get it right. But after what happened on New Year's Day, are we so sure anymore?
After a season in which the Big Ten was considered the worst of the Big Five conferences, where Ohio State ended up using a third string quarterback to drill Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, we still find the Buckeyes in the title game. And other than a misstep at home against Arizona, Oregon won big against a number of very good Pac-12 opponents, yet would have come up short behind an undefeated Florida State team in the BCS. It makes me want to rethink some of our conventional wisdom regarding the last fifteen years, but that would require a lot more time and we have a game to watch tomorrow night.
I've watched a lot college football this season, and if you doubt that, just ask my wife. I felt that there were really six teams that were pretty closely matched, with the Big 12's TCU and Baylor getting closed out, more by virtue of the system itself than anything else. Florida State, while getting through the season unbeaten, certainly had plenty of flaws. But they did succeed in winning them all, with a non-conference schedule that included games against Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida. Granted, none of them ended up in the hunt for the playoffs, but all of them played in bowl games. To the committee's credit, they dropped the Seminoles to third, indicating that in the BCS era, they shouldn't have made the cut.
Now that brings us to Alabama, the third team from the SEC West to ascend to the top of the rankings in 2014. It was assumed, and I still think correctly so, that the division that included the Tide, Ole Miss and Mississippi State was the strongest in the nation. But that didn't necessarily mean its champion was the best team in the country, although I picked Alabama to win the playoffs. The SEC didn't perform particularly well in the postseason, but I tend to discount that given the quirks of the format, with too much time between games and twenty year olds eating too much holiday fare.
But now we have a game to break down, a Big Ten versus Pac 12 matchup of traditionally different styles. Three yards and a cloud of dust against a track meet disguised as a football game. We have a twenty-two year old starting his third game against the Heisman Trophy winner, poised and ready to finally take his team to the promised land. But the inexperienced QB is being coached by Urban Meyer, a two time national championship coach, who was able to get more out of Tim Tebow than he was able to deliver in the NFL. Mark Helfrich, the successor to Chip Kelley at Oregon, is facing perhaps the toughest team he could have drawn in the tournament, mainly because the Buckeyes have a lot of speed and size on defense.
I picked Alabama to be facing Florida State in the final, so I don't feel particularly qualified to pick a winner in Monday's final. A case can be made for both teams, with Marcus Mariotta's poise and experience on one side versus the balance and coaching of Ohio State on the other side. My prediction is for a great game and I'll have my Bud Light and remote in hand to enjoy the finale of another terrific college football season.