Thanksgiving week is upon us. For football fans that’s both great and sad news. It’s great because it means rivalry week is here, and pretty soon we will know “Who’s In?”, but it’s also a little sad because in the not so distant future we will enter the long, dark days of the offseason. Let’s make a pact to live in the moment and relish the football we have left and be thankful for another entertaining season. Today, we will also be looking at the one thing our teams currently in the “Playoff Picture” should be thankful for as well.
Sugar Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Alabama vs. UCF
Alabama should be thankful for Dan Mullen’s balls shriveling into raisins in the 4th quarter. Plenty of people, Greg McElroy included, might think it was the right call to punt from your opponent’s 44-yard line in a tie game with 6:57 to go in the game, and in some situations it probably is. This was not one of those situations. When you have a team that is better than you are on the ropes, have had success running the ball all night and have the opportunity to take a late lead at home then you have to go for it in that situation. Dan Mullen did not and left me feeling like the Joker asking the mob bosses if his balls dropped off.
UCF should be thankful that they live in a great climate, because from a football perspective they don’t have anything to be thankful for. The Golden Knights are a really good team who have already won the 2017 Rodney Dangerfield award for the most disrespected team in America. Also, there’s a 99% chance that their stud coach is moving on to greener pastures by the end of the year.
Rose Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- Miami vs. Wisconsin
Miami should be thankful for the ability to get up for big games. In the wake of Miami’s recent performance and the prominent rise of the Turnover Chain, we have almost forgot how close Miami came to losing to both Florida State and Georgia Tech. They started slow again on Saturday against Virginia before turning it on in the second half. Some of this is probably attributable to Miami just playing its best football right now and the fact that both of their big wins (Virginia Tech and Notre Dame) were at home, but the fact that they have elevated their level of play when they had to is undeniable.
Wisconsin should be thankful that the committee is actively trying to help their schedule. I’m firmly in the camp that believes an undefeated Wisconsin would and should be in the playoff, but the way the committee is so shamelessly trying to justify moving Wisconsin into playoff position is hilarious. In the last two weeks, the committee has conveniently bumped Wisconsin’s opponent into the top 25 only to promptly remove them once they lose. I will grant that Iowa kind of earned their way into the mix after thrashing Ohio State (convenient for the committee who otherwise could not have justified this), but the Michigan decision kind of confirmed what we suspected about the committee. The funny thing about this is that the committee doesn’t need to do this. They could have just started Wisconsin out high and had Kirby say, “We know Wisconsin doesn’t have the strongest schedule, but they are undefeated in the Big Ten and have earned the right to be here until proven otherwise.”
Orange Bowl- Auburn vs. Clemson
Auburn should be thankful for “good losses”. If nothing else, the CFB Playoff Committee has brought high comedy to the table over the last few years and that doesn’t look like it’s changing soon. One of the best sources of that comedy is when the committee starts outlining the best oxymoron in sports: “the good loss”. Any good loss has three qualities to it: 1) it’s to a top 25 team 2) it’s by a small margin (even though the committee “doesn’t incent margin of victory” don’t let me get started) and 3) it’s early enough in the year that you have a buffer. Both of Auburn’s losses check all three boxes and it’s a big reason why they are still very much in the playoff hunt.
Clemson should be thankful for their September schedule. I mentioned last week that Clemson’s four best wins were all really good, but there were some holes to poke in each of them. September was huge for Clemson because they picked up three top 25 wins right off the bat, but we are realizing now that the timing of those games was important too. Auburn is playing better football than Clemson right now, and there’s a really good chance they’d win a rematch. Virginia Tech and Louisville were both overrated in September, especially Louisville, so those wins looked better at the time and look better in hindsight than they would if these two games had come later in the season.
Fiesta Bowl- USC vs. TCU
USC should be thankful that the Pac-12 has an automatic New Year’s Six bid. The Trojans are a deeply flawed team, in part due to injury, but somebody has to win this conference and take that New Year’s Six spot. Seriously, can anyone find me a really good Pac-12 team? Washington, Washington State and USC are all pretty good, but there is no team in this conference that belongs anywhere near the playoff right now and honestly probably not a legitimate top 12 team in the bunch.
TCU should be thankful for the newly reinstated Big XII championship game. This might sound crazy considering they are only two weeks removed from an 18-point loss, but the Horned Frogs still have an outside shot at making the playoff. This chance is exclusively attributable to the fact that they are going to get another crack at Oklahoma in the Big XII title game. I’m not sure if they can beat Oklahoma in the second go-round, but that they get the opportunity is still something to be thankful for.
Cotton Bowl- Penn State vs. Oklahoma
Penn State should be thankful for James Franklin. This one may seem like kind of a copout, but the reason isn’t as simple as, “he’s doing a great job and has returned Penn State back to national relevance.” That’s part of the equation, but the full answer goes much deeper than that. Franklin has brought the Nittany Lions out of scandal, sanctions and disgrace more quickly than anyone could have ever imagined, and for that reason alone he deserves a hefty extension and the longest leash of any FBS coach not named Nick Saban.
Oklahoma should be thankful that defense doesn’t really win championships. That might be a polarizing statement because we love to cling to cliches and because the ESPN talking heads have indoctrinated us to believe this, but it’s true. If you don’t believe me, just look at the results of the last five national championship games. “Defense wins championships” was true once upon a time, but it died sometime this decade and no one, least of all your local radio guy, seemed to notice. Anyway, that’s why my current national champion pick is indeed the Oklahoma Crotchgrabbers…umm I mean Sooners…sorry.
Peach Bowl- Georgia vs. Ohio State
Georgia should be thankful that they play in the SEC East. The way that’s phrased makes it sound like I’m saying, “Georgia is overrated and their record is only good because they play in a weak division.” That’s not entirely true. Georgia is very good, but the fact that they play in a weak division has helped them stay healthier, fresher and not ask too much of a freshman quarterback. Also, the fact that the weak division they play in is the SEC East is beneficial, because the SEC is still perceived by many to be the best conference in the country even though that ceased to be true three years ago.
Ohio State should be thankful for “the brand”. There are plenty of people, myself not among them, who feel like both of the Buckeyes playoff appearances to date can be attributed to the fact that the CFB Committee and ESPN wanted their “brand” in the playoffs. I personally believed they should have been in both years, so I’m not sure I buy that. On the other hand, I’m not sure how many teams would get the benefit of the doubt after losing to a Kirk Ferentz coached team by 31 points, even if they did turn around and beat Michigan State by 45 the following week. It is worth noting though that the advanced metrics love this Ohio State with them sitting at 1st in the S&P+ rankings and 4th in F/+ rankings.
Cover Photo Courtesy of Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports