What an incredible way to usher in a new era. The inaugural college football playoffs, the first national title, one decided by the players under the lights and not by a cold machine in a dark room, were the stuff of legends. It makes a fan wonder, what else have we missed? Or, better yet, what do we have to look forward to?
As an ardent Pac-12 supporter, I must admit I am a little disappointed that the Oregon Ducks couldn’t bring the first ever college football playoff trophy to the West Coast, but what a way to end a college football season. Can we keep doing this every year? After years of waiting, we finally have a legitimate way of ending the season and it really could not have been better. And lest we forget, Ohio State was one Big 12 Championship away from not making it into the playoffs. If former Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby had had the foresight – admittedly in an extraordinarily challenging matter under the circumstances – to have a Big 12 Championship Game, we may very well have been watching TCU, Baylor or – in what would have been the most likely situation, in my opinion – Alabama play Oregon in the national title game.
Even without a championship game, Baylor or TCU might have been playing instead of Ohio State for the title, had Bowlsby named an outright champion of the Big 12 instead of naming TCU and Baylor co-champions. The human element almost came into play as well; the computers of the BCS would have never been able to recognize that Ohio State was on their third-string quarterback and hamstrung by injuries. The playoff selection committee, on the other hand, did, dropping the Buckeyes down to fifth in the rankings and presumably out of the playoffs after J.T. Barrett – the quarterback who took over for the excellent Braxton Miller and somehow improved Ohio State’s offense – had his season end in injury. It was only their dominance over a very good Wisconsin side in the Big Ten Championship Game, combined with the Big 12’s own blunder, that gave the selection committee the confidence to select Ohio State. The Buckeyes were given an opportunity to write their own legend and my, how they did deliver.
A third-string quarterback and hometown kid, redeeming himself after sending out a message on Twitter that will be reprinted until the end of time (yes Cardale, you get to sit in school for the next six months), somehow beat the invincible Alabama and out-dueled Marcus Mariota, the Heisman winner and quite possibly the best quarterback in Oregon’s illustrious, albeit relatively short, history. Ezekiel Elliot looked like the second coming of Eric Dickerson and Cardale Jones looked like Ben Roethlisberger. Nor was Oregon cheated in any way. The Ducks forced four turnovers and were able to turn them into only 10 points, which ultimately doomed the green and gold, or in this case the inexplicably white and silver. Urban Meyer showed that he has the recruiting mastery of Nick Saban and the coaching ingenuity of Chip Kelly. But, more importantly for the future of college football, the Buckeyes just made Condoleezza Rice and the selection committee look like geniuses, and I have to say I couldn’t agree more with that assessment.
There are very few times in athletic history where the ultimate result matches the excitement, and even fewer when history aligns itself with excellence. There was a bit of everything this college season and it will be one that is deserving of being the first of its kind. March Madness is great – don’t get me wrong – but it makes the regular season feel, well, rather pointless. A team in March can get hot at the right time and basketball is meant to be played as a series, to truly determine the better team. The College Football Playoff, on the other hand, is a perfect synthesis of a grueling gauntlet of a regular season and the absolute lights-out excitement of the playoffs, culminating in a season that even a disappointed Cardinal fan can look upon with pure college football joy.
Sure, there are improvements to be made; I am a firm believer that an eight-team playoff is the real way we can make sure that the best teams all get the chance to prove their worth. Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12 learned the hard way that a lack of a conference championship makes getting into the playoffs extremely difficult. Yes, there are improvements to be made, but this year of college football was worthy of the history books, in every sense of the word, and I can’t wait for next year and our own shot at the title.
Nic Radoff is a perpetual optimist, often disappointed, though not by the College Football Playoff. Talk to him about sunshine and lollipops at nradoff ‘at’ stanford.edu.