Chuck Culpepper (c) 2014, The Washington Post. BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — At the seasonal time so ripe for rancor, almost all the argument has died. With so much potential for grand-scale bitterness, the whole frothing country probably has been reduced, argument-wise, to an 88-mile stretch of Interstate 35 between Fort Worth and Waco. It passes through Burleson, Alvarado, Grandview, Itasca and Hillsboro.
Apparently the last “a” in “Alvarado” has a long sound.
Hillsboro is a convenient place to refuel.
They’re going to keep arguing between Baylor and TCU at least up to this coming Saturday night, and if both those squads finish 11-1, they’re going to peek between fingers toward Grapevine, near the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. That’s where the 12-member College Football Playoff selection committee will announce the first-ever four-team playoff come Sunday, and that’s where the committee might have wound up weighing a season of 128 teams and 128,000 possibilities and narrowing it to Fort Worth and Waco.
Every big-body but six has lost at least two games. Only Alabama (11-1), Oregon (11-1), Florida State (12-0), TCU (10-1), Baylor (10-1) and Ohio State (11-1) occupy the top tier.
Maybe the conference title games — Oregon vs. Arizona, Florida State vs. Georgia Tech, Alabama vs. Missouri, Ohio State vs. Wisconsin — can sow the chaos we sorely lack for now.
This new week could have brought a whopping national argument about the Southeastern Conference. Early in the third quarter of a psychedelic night in Tuscaloosa, Auburn led Alabama 33-21. An Alabama loss would have meant the mastodon league of the era had failed to yield even one team with fewer than two losses. Might the four-team playoff omit the SEC?
Might God cry?
Top-ranked Alabama (11-1) proved as lavish as it is tough, surging ahead 55-36 and winning 55-44. Its head coach, a former college safety risen through defensive coaching ranks, showed a man can observe a rampant-offense era and modify himself at age 63.
“You’re not going to hurt my feelings by saying it,” Nick Saban said late Saturday night. “I’ve got it right here on paper — 456 passing yards [by Auburn]. We knew number one [D’haquille Williams] and number 18 [Sammie Coates] were great downfield receivers. We worked hard to try to keep those guys cut off, and we didn’t do a very good job of it.”
Thereby did the crazy season reach a crazy point: Saban, imploring offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin: “Let’s take some shots on these guys and see if they can cover us deep.”
There could have been a perfectly spiteful secondary argument about Mississippi State. Mississippi State could have finished 11-1 and held onto its key No. 4 ranking. From coast to coast, people could have argued over the SEC potentially having two teams in the final four. SEC envy, a common American condition, could have flared and required treatment with anonymous, comment-section therapy.
Mississippi State went to see the injured, beleaguered jalopy known as Ole Miss and got whacked, 31-17.
There could have been a melodramatic argument about Florida State. The Seminoles started playing rival Florida on Saturday and, by 2014 Seminole game plan, fell behind, this time by 9-0. A one-loss Florida State amid six other one-loss powers would have made for one boiling soup. So as Florida State (12-0) goes to Charlotte to play Georgia Tech (10-2), it has overcome deficits in seven different games of 21-0, 24-7, 23-7, 17-10 at halftime, 17-10 with seven minutes left (and a backup quarterback), 27-24 with eight minutes left and, of course, 9-0.
Other little side arguments fizzled. Eighth-ranked UCLA had a chance to win the Pacific-12 South, play Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game and start arguing for itself, but it let Stanford come to the Rose Bowl and pulverize it, 31-10. It’s 9-3 and out. Ninth-ranked Georgia once might have argued for inclusion, but no more after it scored to go ahead 24-21 with 18 seconds left at home against Georgia Tech, yet somehow did not win. It’s 9-3 and out.
There still could be an argument about Ohio State. But that argument changed tenor on the first play of the fourth quarter in Ohio State’s 42-28 win over Michigan. The marvelous freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett broke his ankle and stayed down, while anyone in possession of a heart groaned and couldn’t look.
Thus did the case for Ohio State mimic somewhat the case for another Ohio team: the basketball Cincinnati Bearcats of 1999-2000. That team ruled the land going into March until Kenyon Martin broke his leg even as that selection committee convened over in Indianapolis. That committee saw the big change and changed the big seeding to No. 2.
What will this committee do? A drop of any kind for the Buckeyes carries far more perilous consequences when the football playoff fields just four teams.
Ohio State, the committee’s No. 6 team last week, still has the opportunity to play Wisconsin and forge something stirring with third-string Cardale Jones at quarterback. The palette is blank but the struggle uphill. A committee that has hesitated to embrace Ohio State will study an Ohio State sans its sturdy young pilot.
That would figure to leave Baylor and TCU, Big 12’ers in the little 10-team league with no title game. As is known in every Waco nook, Baylor beat TCU, 61-58, on Oct. 11 after trailing 58-37 with 11 minutes left. Fort Worth will see TCU, the committee’s No. 5 team last week, come off its commanding 48-10 win at Texas on Thanksgiving night to play Iowa State (2-9) on Saturday noon. Waco might see Baylor, No. 7 among the 12 deciders last week, beef up its CV with a visit from No. 12 Kansas State (9-2) on Saturday night.
That could leave people at the gas pumps in Hillsboro and beyond arguing about matters such as what just happened at Jerry Jones’ funhouse in Arlington. There, Baylor led troubled Texas Tech by the 42-17 everyone expected. Then, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty got a concussion and troubled Texas Tech decide to cause trouble, pulling within 48-46 with 1:42 left. The Red Raiders then treated anyone interested to that rare two-point conversion where the quarterback winds up sacked at the 24-yard line.
When the conversion died, one argument didn’t.
After Hilltoppers hear roars, Thundering Herd falls silent
While the omnipotent committee sorts out a top four, it also will sit in its sparely decorated conference room, high above Grapevine and the land, and bestow other bowl bids. In that process, it will reward an underling from the 63 teams bubbling beneath the Power 65 of FBS, a subterranean scrap that just finished roiling over the weekend.
Colorado State, which had soared to 10-1 and big-bowl candidacy, lost, 27-24, at resurgent Air Force. Boise State, which the committee already ranks No. 23, reached 10-2 to look good.
And Marshall, which had a No. 24 ranking, an 11-0 record and a sense of entitlement about the big bid, took the mind-boggling 67-66 overtime loss on Friday to Western Kentucky. It was that inconceivable game in which a quarterback, Marshall’s Rakeem Cato, could throw seven touchdown passes and envy his rival.
Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty threw eight, making 15 in all, a Football Bowl Subdivision record.
It all came down to a two-point conversion that Western Kentucky converted — it’s forever amazing, what can swing on two-point conversions.
Also looming large in the Hilltoppers’ effort was that oft-overlooked contingent: doubters.
“They made a couple of comments before the game that shook me the wrong way,” Doughty said of Marshall, “and motivated me to put up a big performance.”
It’s a recurring travesty, as awards season begins, that awards fail to recognize the pertinence of doubters.