Chuck Culpepper (c) 2014, The Washington Post. In the hectic throes of some Louisiana lunacy, as the football-addled minds of an American Saturday night grasped what tumbled out of Baton Rouge, at least one thing grew clear.
The 12 acting members of the inaugural College Football Playoff committee have lost their minds. They ought to cancel the flights they’ve booked to start meeting in Dallas on Monday and Tuesday. They ought to stay home and hide from chairman Jeff Long’s phone calls as if he’s an ex-spouse, a member of Congress or a reporter.
The way this soupy season is careening, their mission seems about as much fun as 10 hours of cable-news Ebola hysteria.
It probably seemed an honor at the time they accepted their posts. They would make college football history or, in other words, deeply meaningful American history. They would get six free weekly trips to the Dallas Metroplex. Maybe the resort they will frequent has a Heisman-worthy sommelier.
Yeah, well, bad ideas often seem good at the time, as when somebody calls you over to the bar at 1:30 a.m. and says, “Hey, I bought you a shot.” Now they’re about to start deciphering the indecipherable. They’re about to try to pinpoint four teams from a season rife with A-beating-B-which-beat-C-which-beat-D-which-beat-A. They’re about to weigh the merit of teams separated only by one hotly disputed pass interference call or by other distinctions infinitesimal or less. For one thing, they’re about to look at the Pacific-12 and try to figure it out. Good grief.
Not only does it appear we’re headed for a slew of one- and two-loss teams with all their various fanatics carping for inclusion, but Mississippi, which fell from No. 3 to No. 7 in Sunday’s Associated Press poll, just became one of the one-lossers because of a ludicrous sequence in Baton Rouge. The Ole Miss loss made an unclear picture less clear.
When Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace scrambled eight yards to the LSU 25-yard line and out of bounds with a 10-7 deficit and nine seconds to play, he looked the picture of frantic competence. His team could join the ranks of those staying unbeaten through the whew of friendly pass interference calls such as the one that had erased his interception two plays earlier.
Then Ole Miss brought on the field goal team but did so with a lack of zip that could drive a fan to hurl household knickknacks. It took seeming epochs to line up. The officials called delay of game. The tying field goal changed from 42 to 47 yards. Distrusting his freshman kicker, whose face did appear to have had a sporadic relationship with razors, Coach Hugh Freeze opted for another play despite his timeout total of zero. Nerve endings from one state over short-circuited. Wallace threw an interception.
Fortunately for Freeze, people in the American South tend to remember such monumental televised blunders for only the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately for the committee, Saturday ended with the last gust out of Seattle and with two big-time teams (Mississippi State and Florida State) unbeaten and 17 more with one loss, just as LSU has awakened and started shouting from the two-loss crowd. The hapless committee will issue its first rankings Tuesday and will have six weeks to sort out all the one-losers and two-losers in an inscrutable season during which Mississippians and Texas Christian University’s Horned Frogs and others have upended the order in a sport less stratified and more jumbled than ever.
For a system that was supposed to beget more clarity, it seems now that four teams might prove less clear than two. Next, they will have to go to eight to muddle it still more.
Traditional powers slumping
One clear thing is the allure of dilapidated kingdoms and what a day-long display Saturday brought. By mid-afternoon, Texas fell to 3-5. By early evening, Michigan fell to 3-5. After nightfall, Tennessee fell to 3-5.
Texas, with its gaudy history, its accompanying entitlement and its 128-27 record from 1998 to 2009, took a 23-0 thud at Kansas State and heard the home fans in the Other Manhattan chant, “We own Texas.” Oddly, Texans had not realized this.
Michigan, with its gaudy history, its accompanying entitlement and its 368 wins in 40 seasons between 1968 and 2007, not only took a 35-11 mauling at Michigan State to make it six losses to the Spartans in the last seven. No, the Wolverines also committed the delusional absurdity of driving some sort of stake in the Michigan State ground shortly after taking the field. That got some very tough Spartans guys all huffy about etiquette — good grief — such that Michigan State rammed an unnecessary five-yard touchdown run down Michigan throats with 28 seconds left, after which Coach Mark Dantonio spoke of where Michigan State had stuck that stake. Now the Michigan where once stood Schembechler is reduced to bemoaning improper etiquette, a profound indignity.
Tennessee, with its gaudy history, its accompanying entitlement and its 157-40-2 record from 1989 to 2004, had another night of tangential competitiveness against Alabama, trailing by 20 after 17 Alabama offensive plays in a 34-20 reiteration. The freshest indignity came with the return of Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who departed Tennessee for Southern California after one season in 2009 to earn five years of long-distance Knoxvillian wrath. Kiffin entered the stadium flanked by two police officers just in case. He wore sunglasses and headphones, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com.
He called plays for, among others, receiver Amari Cooper, who caught what seemed like 50 passes for 5,000 yards even if it really was just nine for 224 with one for 80 on the first, perfunctory play.
Mind-bogglingly to those of any age exceeding single digits, Tennessee has a shot at a fourth consecutive 5-7 season and a fifth out of six — a 5-7 bonanza — while all three Saturday losers will try to wriggle into bowls with fan bases that can recollect when these things didn’t require such wriggling. For so many years people dreamed of some playoff format yet never imagined that when it came, all rationale would omit not only Texas but also Michigan and Tennessee and, while we’re at it, Florida, which was mercifully idle Saturday.
With about 1 minute 25 seconds left in Fort Worth on Saturday, TCU led Texas Tech by only 75-27 and drained off chunks of the clock as it went. Starting quarterback Trevone Boykin long since had rested after his seven touchdown passes. A second and then a third and then a fourth quarterback had come in for televised custodial services.
Just then, Trevorris Jackson took a handoff as a hole half the size of Lubbock opened up on the right side. He breezed from 25 yards in to change the score from 75 to 82. That means TCU stands 6-1 with an 82 in its dossier and with the lone loss a garish hiccup to Baylor after TCU led by 21 in the fourth quarter.
How much will the committee prize an 82? It’s always a good question, but then these people probably don’t need any more questions.