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The Other College Football Top 25: Playoffs, bowls and the Heisman race

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25. “ALL GLORY IS FLEETING.” Of the eight programs that have snared the 12 spots in the three-year history of the College Football Playoff, two, Oregon and Michigan State, who just 452 days ago played the game of the day in the country, just went a combined 7-17 this season in a hard, hard world. Seeing as how our country suffers from a lack of bowl games, this should spark a new, rehabilitative bowl concept wherein a 4-8 team plays a 3-9 team in the Interrupted Glory Bowl.


23. THE CONFERENCE-CHAMPION ISSUE. Since the dawn of conference-championship games, the Big Ten has had a five-loss champion (pre-bowl) in 2012, the Atlantic Coast Conference a four-loss champion (pre-bowl) in 2005, the Big 12 a four-loss champion in 1996 and a three-loss champion in 2003 (both pre-bowl), and the Southeastern Conference a three-loss champion (pre-bowl) in 2001. Before that dawn, the Big Ten had undisputed, three-loss champions in, for example, 1982, 1986 and 1998, and the Pac-12 had undisputed four-loss champions in 1963, 1977 and 1983, three-lossers in five other years since 1970 (all pre-bowl). Either none or almost none of those teams belonged in any proverbial national playoff, so it’s clear we’re going to be debating the value of a conference championship all the way into eternity.

22. THE REMARKABLE MATT RHULE, WHO JUST WENT 20-7 THE LAST TWO YEARS AT TEMPLE, GOES TO BAYLOR. A coach for whom unbiased fans want to root goes to a program for whom unbiased fans do not want to root. It’s the coach-hire equivalent of somebody bringing a candle to darkness, and it certainly lights up the Texas-Baylor game, which suddenly will feature two hotshot coaches born, in Pennsylvania and Ohio, 122 days apart in 1975.

21. OLD DOMINION! Imagine going to sleep after 1940, waking again in 2009, having seven fair-to-excellent seasons, then going 9-3 in 2016, reaching your first bowl game, and learning it’s in the Bahamas. It’s almost psychedelic.

20. ROSE BOWL: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (9-3) VS. PENN STATE (11-2). Some would call it a compelling collision of two teams that went a combined 17-0 in October, November and December, while others would call it a bowl of the aggrieved, the omitted or the what-if, and it’s probably better for your spirits in general to hang out with the former group.

19. FINAL FOUR: NORTHWEST MISSOURI STATE (13-0) VS. FERRIS STATE (12-2), SHEPHERD (12-0) VS. NORTH ALABAMA (9-1). As Northwest Missouri State seeks its third Division II title in four years, quarterback Kyle Zimmerman has 36 touchdown passes against three interceptions, and one of the overarching keys of life is that if you can go an entire autumn with only three interceptions, you have lived a good autumn.

18. THE RUSHING CHAMPION. It wound up as Texas’s D’Onta Foreman, at 184.36 yards per game and 2,028 yards in a hard, confusing year as the Charlie Strong era stopped at three years, but a big nod goes to the runner-up, San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, with his 155.23 per game and his 2,018 yards and his team’s 27-24 Mountain West title win at Wyoming and his greater amount of fun.

17. THE FIRST CONFERENCE TO GET FOUR BOWL BIDS IN THE NEW YEAR’S SIX FORMAT. Just three short autumns ago, some of us sneered at the Big Ten and its limited relevance, but that’s okay, we do not require any thanks for goading that league to regained heights.

16. FINAL FOUR: MOUNT UNION (12-1) AT MARY HARDIN-BAYLOR (13-0), JOHN CARROLL (12-1) AT WISCONSIN-OSHKOSH (12-1). John Carroll’s whopping 31-14 win at Wisconsin-Whitewater, which had won six of the nine previous national titles, set up a chance that the Blue Streaks might play the final against Mount Union, which had won the other three (and nine others before that), all in the same season in which John Carroll went to Mount Union and ended the Purple Raiders’ leviathan 112-game regular season win streak. Throw in that Mary Hardin-Baylor is the last unbeaten standing, and that Mount Union has won three straight playoff games on the road, and you have something.

15. CHRIS PETERSEN WITH A MONTH TO PREPARE. On the one hand, Washington’s coach is a world-class preparer. On the other, he’ll have to prepare by watching – and watching, and watching – Alabama’s defense on film, which could cause glumness or even seasonal affective disorder.

14. DABO, DESHAUN AND DISTINCTION. The mix of the Clemson coach (Swinney), the Clemson quarterback (Watson) and the Clemson team has joined only Alabama and Ohio State among programs with multiple playoff berths, which means that when people sit around and list the royal programs, they ought to include Clemson and then follow that by perhaps trying to do something productive.

13. JACKRABBITS AND BISON. Whenever these two species convene in the Dakotas, there can be commotion, as when the Jackrabbits (South Dakota State) upset the Bison (North Dakota State), 19-17, on a touchdown pass with two seconds left in October. The fact it’s a rematch in an FCS quarterfinal in the Fargodome is a biological wonder.

12. THIRTY-TWO TOUCHDOWN PASSES AND ALMOST INTERCEPTION-LESS. As P.J. Fleck’s Western Michigan (13-0) heads for the Cotton Bowl, quarterback Zach Terrell has the fewest interceptions in the country among major-college players who played more than seven games, and he played 13. His two interceptions in the Mid-American Conference championship game were double the total from his first 12 games, and one of the overarching keys of life is that if you can go an entire autumn with only three interceptions, that was a good autumn.

11. THE INCREDIBLE JIM HARBAUGH. He has made Michigan matter again, which thrills some and upsets others, a ratio of about 50-50 as it often seems half the people in America went to Michigan.

10. THE INCREDIBLE BAKER MAYFIELD. Pending the Sugar Bowl against Auburn, that 197.76 passer rating for the Oklahoma quarterback exceeds even the NCAA record of the great Russell Wilson for Wisconsin in 2011 (191.78), so that Mayfield figures to wind up standing above all quarterbacks since the Princeton-Rutgers game of 147 years ago, a 6-4 Rutgers win featuring abysmal passer ratings.

9. THE INCREDIBLE LAMAR JACKSON. Fifty-one touchdowns, passing (30) and rushing (21). Think how fun it would be to score one in life.

8. AND THE INCREDIBLE ZAY JONES. His 158 receptions this season and 399 receptions this East Carolina career are both NCAA records, and his 145.5 receiving yards per game was more than 20 yards ahead of second place, and to think he didn’t even start the plays with the ball.

7. THOSE PENN STATE SECOND HALVES. Outscoring Wisconsin 24-7 in the Big Ten championship game left Penn State outscoring its last nine opponents 239-60 after halftime, and was such a marvel that not even the players can explain it, a reminder that the inexplicable is often one of the most enchanting things about sports, for which we all spend a lot of time trying to explain everything.

6. WHAT THEY DID THIS YEAR AT COLORADO. It’s a bit of a shame not to see the Buffaloes in the Rose Bowl – they’re Alamo-bound – because the Rose Bowl always signals rebirth (in a new year), and what they did in going from winning two of their previous 27 Pacific-12 games to winning eight of their 10 as a South Division champion was the runaway rebirth of the year.

5. THE SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION POINSETTIA BOWL. This annual occasion, which this time has Brigham Young and Coach Craig Bohl’s reawakened Wyoming, is the best bowl name going in a crowded, contentious field of names, finishing first by some measure over the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. When your country has room for something called a San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, you know that is a country which, while undoubtedly eccentric, is rich in possibility.

4. THE YEAR OF JAMES CONNER. After a cancer diagnosis last winter followed by 12 chemotherapy sessions, the Pitt running back returned with 1,060 rushing yards, 299 receiving yards 20 touchdowns, eight Pitt victories, two Pitt victories over top-five teams and one exhilarating entry to the stadium back on Sept. 3 that outpaced all of it.


2. THE DECADE OF ALABAMA. As Nick Saban’s quest against human frailty continues, the Crimson Tide has gone 13-0 without anything resembling an escape, and has won 25 games in a row dating to that messy 43-37 thing against Ole Miss last year, proving that losses are not the end of the world even if they do seem close to it.

1. THE NAVY-ARMY GAME. Nothing outranks it.

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