The text messages on New Year’s Eve started to roll in sometime during the heart of the Orange Bowl.
The IPAs, per usual, were flowing. But the messages weren’t New Year’s or IPA related.
How and when are we finally going to get some good playoff games?
There’s no running from it. College football’s semifinal playoff games, many of which I have attended, have been largely bad. This year, of course, carried that theme forward.
Alabama and Georgia, both greater than a touchdown favorite, cruised. The games were boring, if I’m being honest.
And so, we’re left with another year without a compelling build-up into the National Championship. (Which has a chance to be thrilling, and we’ll get to that.)
Only three of the fourteen semifinal games have been decided by a touchdown or less since the CFP began. That is not an ideal percentage when it comes to entertainment, and the frustration regarding the system seems to be reaching a boiling point.
The true origin of these blowouts isn’t the system but a handful of teams—Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson—that make it up.
Of those 14 games, those four teams have been victorious in 12 of them. That staggering domination, coupled with a slew of non-competitive games, have only enhanced the angst.
How do you fix it? There is no good way.
I am a proponent of expansion for a few reasons. First, I believe tying playoff access to conference championships would be a wonderful thing. I also believe getting playoff games on college campuses, the lifeblood of the sport, would help immensely.
Would it create more competitive games? Yes and no. More games, perhaps a 12-team or 16-team playoff, would create more opportunities for drama. That is not a deeply analytical assessment of our current system; it’s merely a numbers game.
I look at Saturday’s lineup as a perfect example of what other playoff games could look like. Baylor-Ole Miss, Ohio State-Utah and Notre Dame-Oklahoma State were all matchups we could have potentially seen in an expanded format. And each one was thrilling in its own way.
The reality, however, is somewhat simple. If 5-star players keep flocking to Alabama and Georgia and a handful of others, the balance of paper will remain the same. And, while an expanded playoff could keep star players on other teams from opting out early and create more intrigue, the end result could ultimately be the same.
What is clear, however, is that the current system isn’t working. Change is needed. And with ratings likely lacking once again, it could be coming.
Money talks. Right now, it’s screaming louder than it has in some time. The answer isn’t always more, but right now less doesn’t seem to be doing the job.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. I’ll talk about the winning playoff teams below, but let’s recap both teams on the losing end of the semifinals. Let’s start with Cincinnati, which failed to cover the 13.5-point spread against Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. I thought the Bearcats’ first offensive drive was impressive, and they hung around through the first half. But the difference in athletes, especially up front, was striking. Cincinnati could not stop the run, and that did the Bearcats in. However, I can’t help but show some love. This was a brutal matchup. It doesn’t mean Cincinnati didn’t belong. The Bearcats had a superb 2021, along with a superb 2020, and they were deserving of a playoff spot. They just got worked by a better team. It happens. Beating Alabama requires Alabama-type talent. They just don't have it right now.
2. As for Michigan, well, Georgia happened. I picked the Bulldogs to win the National Championship before the season began, so I am happy with this outcome. But I thought Michigan would put up a fight as a touchdown underdog, and it was clear early on that this game would not go well for Jim Harbaugh. Georgia’s offensive line controlled the Wolverines’ pass rush, and the Bulldogs’ defense was overwhelming. Michigan couldn’t do much of anything, although let’s not let that take away from what Jim Harbaugh and his group accomplished this year. Harbaugh almost got fired, took a pay cut, and won huge during a year he had to win huge. The Wolverines will lose some key defensive stars, although the roster is ripe with young talent.
3. The Rose Bowl was glorious. I had Utah (+ 6.5) and (+ 4), although I never felt good about those bets. That was largely because wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who finished with 15 catches and 347 yards receiving, never stopped getting open. Ohio State erased a big deficit to kick a game-winning field goal with only seconds remaining. While the College Football Playoff games were duds, that was not the case here. It’s worth noting that the Pac-12 has not won a bowl game in 2020, 2021 and now 2022. That is not ideal!
4. I had Pittsburgh (+ 3.5) against Michigan State in the Peach Bowl. I’ve had similar bad beats, although I’m not sure I’ll shake this one for some time. The Panthers, down to their third-string QB, led by double digits in the fourth quarter. Then the game got weird. Then Michigan State went ahead. Then, with less than 30 seconds remaining, Davis Beville threw a pick-six on a play that seemed to last 85 minutes. Final score: Michigan State 31, Pittsburgh 21. Tilt.
5. We try to handicap emotion in bowl games. We fail at this in some instances, although it can become apparent quickly what teams want no business playing. Enter Mississippi State, which was my worst bet of the bowl season. I played the Bulldogs (-10) in the Liberty Bowl against Texas Tech. They lost 34-7, and I knew that was a losing bet within about 90 seconds. The tackling was awful. The effort was bad. Mike Leach… woof.
National Championship: Georgia (-3, 52.5) vs. Alabama
It’s a rematch. We begin with the obvious. We can’t start anywhere else.
The last time these two teams played, Alabama was in complete control for the last 45 minutes. What can be lost in the 41-24 beatdown, however, is that Georgia led this game 10-0. The Bulldogs closed as a 6.5-point favorite, and they looked the part out of the starting block.
But then quarterback Bryce Young took over, with his arms and his legs and his exceptional comfort under pressure, and Georgia looked mortal for the first time all year.
Starting QB Stetson Bennett had a weird game for the Bulldogs. He threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns. But his two interceptions were enormous, and he missed on a handful of key throws.
The biggest pieces of the first game, in my eyes, were pretty clear: Alabama’s offensive line and Young, who looked like a superhero.
As for the rematch, let’s begin with Alabama. The effort we saw against Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl was reminiscent of the program we saw each year before Lane Kiffin arrived. Kiffin, of course, unlocked a new dimension for the passing game that was passed on to the offensive coordinators that followed.
This game was about defense and the running game, specifically Brian Robinson. The Tide’s starting RB was banged up through the close of the regular season. Against Cincinnati, however, he couldn’t be slowed. The offensive line, which struggled in pass protection, was superb at creating holes to run the ball.
Young wasn’t perfect. In fact, I thought Cincinnati largely kept him in check. The Bearcats created pressure, and he wasn’t nearly as comfortable as he normally is in those situations. I also think the absence of wideout John Metchie III, who torched Georgia before leaving with injury, was enormous.
Georgia, meanwhile, was nearly perfect against Michigan. It’s hard to find flaws. The offense could have done more, although the game was in hand so early on. It’s hard to fault the Bulldogs for sitting on the football for about three quarters.
Tight end Brock Bowers, who finished with 10 catches and 139 yards receiving, is one of the most exciting young tight ends CFB has seen in some time. Running back James Cook, who flashed his versatility catching passes, is another matchup nightmare.
And here we are, back where we started. While Alabama found the perfect formula to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, I believe duplicating that effort will be extremely difficult.
It cannot be overstated how good Young was in that first game. If he can do that again, Alabama will likely win. But Georgia has seen it up close now, and the defense responded in tremendous fashion against Michigan.
I’ve said it all year, and I’ll say it once more. I picked Georgia to win the national title in the spring. I bet Georgia to win the national title along the way. Those futures are enough to get my juices flowing for this game.
But I still think Georgia at (-3) is the play. I don’t love the total, so I’ll probably stay away.
But I do expect the Bulldogs, with all those 5-stars, to finally climb the mountain.