Another college football season ends, another SEC team wins the championship and again that team is Alabama. By midway through the third quarter last night I had bailed out to catch up on my DVR’sd episode of Person Of Interest last Thursday night, and watching Finch try and rescue the computer genius from suicide proved more infinitely more interesting that watching Notre Dame try and tackle Eddie Lacy.
All congratulations to Alabama, whom I hadn’t believed in to the end—even in picking them to win yesterday I was clear that I saw a Notre Dame pointspread cover (+7.5) as more certain than a ‘Bama win. It only took two possessions for me to lose that one too.
I know the media reaction today is about the Alabama dynasty and how it ranks with the best of all time. I guess I’m still going to go down fighting on the whole question of Tide dominance, because I see this as less about how good Alabama is, then whether the SEC really has made this whole bowl season a pointless endeavor and what it means for college football.
ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit correctly noted that this Alabama run isn’t over yet, so as long as Nick Saban doesn’t bolt for the NFL, maybe they will become the great dynasty of my lifetime. But right now I don’t see the Tide as good as the Nebraska teams that won three titles in four years between 1994-97 and came within a shanked field goal of winning another in 1993. I don’t see them as good as Jimmy Johnson’s Miami teams from 1986-88 that won one crown and came within two plays of going three straight.
The reason is simple—this Alabama team loses games at home. In November. Two straight years. The Miami team of the late 1980s and Nebraska in the 1990s didn’t lose games at home anytime. In fact, they hardly lost at all. The Cornhuskers three title teams were all unbeaten and the Hurricanes only lost a bowl game and at Notre Dame.
But if we shift the focus from Alabama in particular to the SEC in general, the picture becomes different. The losses in question came to SEC teams (LSU last year, Texas A&M this season). This was a year when the SEC looked like they might have at least come back to parity with the Big 12 & Pac-12 and maybe even a notch below. Forget that—while the SEC was surely disappointed with Florida, Mississippi State and LSU, the league still went 6-3 in bowls. All of them were comparably matched games and they covered a broad cross-section of conferences. Texas A&M’s hammering of Oklahoma and even Ole Miss pounding Pitt on Saturday afternoon were as much a testimony to conference strength as what transpired in Miami on Monday night.
Meanwhile, the Pac-12 and Big 12 failed to meet the moment. The Pac-12 won the Rose Bowl with Stanford having to fight five-loss Wisconsin to the bitter end. Oregon took care of its business against Kansas State. But USC & UCLA were huge disappointments, Oregon State a mild disappointment and Arizona’s one-point win over Nevada was hardly impressive. Arizona State’s beatdown of Navy was the only game besides Oregon where the league really made a statement. It wasn’t a bad bowl run for the Pac-12, but it wasn’t up to SEC standards.
The Big 12 was a big disappointment. Kansas State and Oklahoma were grossly overmatched against elite level teams in Oregon and Texas A&M, showing the conference has no real national title contenders. West Virginia, TCU and Iowa State all lost winnable games, two of them decisively. The Big 12 got four wins and Baylor’s hammering of UCLA was the league’s shining moment, but 4-5 doesn’t cut it.
Most SEC fans come into the season believing that their conference championship game in Atlanta is the real national title game and a lot of unbiased observers share the view. I’ve tried to resist it, but it’s increasingly hard to do so. If you have a year like this one where the conference looks like it’s come back to the pack a bit and they still turn in the best bowl performance up and down the card, what credible reason is there not to just assume this league is somewhere in between the NFL and the rest of college football?
I don’t buy the argument that the four-team playoff will make it all better. We’ve covered how bad the Big 12 was overmatched in bowls. I know a lot of people are convinced Oregon would have Alabama a real run, but what basis is there for such a belief? Oregon didn’t win the Pac-12 and the team that did, Stanford, was beaten by Notre Dame. Granted, this was before Stanford made a quarterback change, but while Kevin Hogan gave the Cardinal a spark, let’s not make it out like Notre Dame avoided seeing Tom Brady behind center in their October win over Stanford.
Furthermore, if you think Oregon would have defended the run any better than Notre Dame did last night, you didn’t watch the Ducks play USC earlier this year. Silas Redd ran through the Oregon defense and the Trojans hung 51 points on the board. Do you think Oregon’s offense, with its heavy emphasis on lateral movement and speed was going to blow Alabama away on the edges. Could Oregon beat Alabama? Sure. But a lot of things could happen. Notre Dame might decide not to arm tackle if they played ‘Bama again. But in both cases, what could happen in one game can’t overshadow the obvious structural difference that exists between the best teams in the SEC and the best around the country.
I also don’t want a four-team playoff to be just a rerun of the conference season. Some—including me—think Texas A&M closed the season as the best team in the nation. LSU took the Tide to the wire. So did Georgia. But we spend most of September and all of October and November watching these teams play each other. What is January going to settle that eight regular season games and a conference title game didn’t?
It may be that it’s come time for a split in the college football world. Let the ten or so football factories in the SEC grab a few of the best teams from other major conferences that aspire to be Triple-A programs for the NFL (Ohio State, Florida State, Oklahoma, etc) and create a 24-team superleague with a playoff bracket at the end. Let the schools that want to play college football do so.
Because right now our options are these—watch the SEC destroy everyone else each January, with the new format making it three times to watch that happen, rather than once. Or just replay the SEC schedule in January with its three best teams, plus one token to make it look like a national tournament. Or do what a lot of us have wasted our time doing and spend three months trying to figure out if the SEC is still up to snuff before waiting for the movie to end the same way.
The SEC proved its point. I was wrong about Alabama all the way through, wrong about the league when bowl started, and as my bowl handicapping record shown below shows, wrong about a lot else. But I think I’m right on this point—I’m not the only one tired of anticlimactic endings.
So in the form of a bitter congratulations to the SEC Football Factory—you won. Now take your ball and go play with people your own size. This isn’t even fun anymore.
FINAL BOWL HANDICAPPING RECORD
Outright Winners: 18-16
Pointspread Winners: 13-20-1
Totals Line: 17-17
*Did not pick Rose Bowl due to fan bias towards Wisconsin