It happens about this time every year. A month into the college football season and the good teams and good coaches figure out what they have and what they don't have and the bad teams do the same thing.
And that is the start of Phase 2 of the college football season, which is based not so much on W's and L's, but on having the games played well enough to impress pollsters and selection committee members choosing the four teams in the College Football Playoffs.
It's then that you get questions such as: Coach, why were you throwing the ball on fourth down with a 49 point lead? Coach, what was the thinking in having your starting QB in the game when you were up by six touchdowns with only five minutes remaining?
As we have witnessed in the last few days with the unfolding and seamy college basketball scandal, big time college football and basketball is big business--billion dollars. Television contracts and shoe deals elevate coaches salaries, which increases the pressure to have better facilities, which increases the pressure to win.
But when you have a playoff system of four spots for at least five teams, you need to look for angles. Margin of victories sometimes turns as many heads and switches opinions as much as quality of opponents
Simply winning is not enough.
Think it doesn't matter?
Check what happened last season to Penn State. All the Nittany Lions did was win a share of the Big Ten East title, win the Big Ten Conference championship game and beat one of their division rivals in head to head competition.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
If you go through nearly every sports competition, the first tie breaker is generally head-to-head competition. If two teams are tied, who is better is determined first by who won when they met.
Well, Penn State came out ahead in head-to head (Ohio State) and then won the conference championship game.
But Ohio State beat Oklahoma in Norman, which the selection committee felt was a better win than anything that Penn State had on its resume, including a win over the Buckeyes.
Guess who went the playoffs?
Penn State's consolation prize was a trip to the Rose Bowl, but the Big Ten champions were shut out of an opportunity to play for the national championship.
Which brings us to the games over the weekend.
Let's look at two of last year's Final Four teams, Alabama and Ohio State. The Tide started the season ranked No. 1 and did nothing to disprove that opinion by beating Florida State, Fresno State and Colorado State. But the victories weren't overwhelming and there were suggestions that maybe this season's Bama team was missing just a little something.
Being No. 1 is important in the playoffs. because the top-ranked team is placed in the playoff bowl game closest to its campus. This season that would be the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Adding to the mix were hints that Alabama's first two SEC opponents Vanderbilt and Ole Miss might be challenges for Coach Nick Saban's team.
That was all that Saban needed as a "motivational'' tool. The Tide went up to Nashville and posted a 59-0 win over Vandy and then back to Tuscaloosa and took care of business with a 66-3 victory.
Two wins by a combined score of 125-3. Who's No. 1? Yeah, right.
Ohio State has less equity than Alabama. The Buckeyes already have a loss, having been pounded in Columbus by Oklahoma last month. The Buckeyes not only need to win games, they need to do it in impressive fashion.
Say hello to Rutgers, who had to deal not only with the Buckeyes on the banks of the Raritan on Saturday, but the homecoming of former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who is the Buckeyes defensive coordinator.
Final score: Ohio State 59, Rutgers 0. Count on Ohio State to do that whenever possible as a way of drawing attention from the selection committee.
Another school that needs to get attention is Washington, which like last season is drawing attention for its schedule, which includes no marquee games. The Huskies, who did make it to the Final Four last season, rolled over Rutgers, Montana and Fresno State, which didn't even get them into the discussion of the best teams in college football, even though they returned almost their entire roster from a year ago.
There is already speculation that if the Huskies are the Pac-12 champion, they could be the odd team out of the playoffs. Their 42-7 win over Oregon State on Saturday night drew almost no attention, especially since Washington State's upset of No. 5 USC on Friday night grabbed most of the spotlight. The two schools face off in their annual Apple Cup meeting which could decide the Pac-12 North.
In South Bend, Notre Dame is trying to get back among the contenders for the Final Four after last season's 4--8 embarrassment. But the Irish have no guaranteed slot or championship. They must depend on the support of the committee.
Beating Miami of Ohio was not enough. Beating them, 52-17, was a message sent, even though its value can be debated since teams from the MAC don't get as much respect, although the RedHawks are a MAC title contender this season.
Look for more statement games for the next several weeks as teams look for any edge. Right now only the ACC, with Clemson and the SEC with Alabama, should feel safe, in terms of the playoffs, simply by winning their conference.
Everyone else might need a power boost with a "what was that all about'' score.
And one more thing...Television has controlled the outcome of the Heisman race for the past 20 years, with appearances on national television and playing on teams with contending records being pre-requisites. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is the current favorite of more than a few national media members, which is fine. I have been a Heisman voter for more than 20 years and Barkley is certainly on my list. But I want to see what he does against Michigan and a Don Brown (Michigan's defensive coordinator) defense before I make any serious judgements. That game will be played on Oct. 21 in State College. Pa....Following a 41-0 loss to Georgia, Tennessee coach Butch Jones' would seem to be the target dejour for a hot seat roll. If a change is made, look for Ohio State's s Schiano to be a contender. The Vols went after Schiano a few years ago when he was at Rutgers (and before he went to the NFL as coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs...Let's get this straight. Louisville fires basketball coach Rick Pitino for his involvement in another scandal and replaces him on an interim basis with former Pitino player Dave Padgett? Padgett was also the Louisville Director of Basketball operations the past few years when all of the nasty accusations were occurring regarding hookers, strippers and paying players. Interesting. Isn't that like cleaning up the Mafia by arresting John Gotti and replacing him with Tony Soprano?[/membership]