Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out
The czars who run college football must be ecstatic! With just a week to go in the regular college football season, the landscape is a complete mess. For the post-season lineup, there’s all sorts of room for drama, unfairness, passing out of unjust rewards, snubbing, hypocrisy — pretty much everything that we’re supposed to like about college football, whether we actually like it or not.
It’s a tough time for college football fans who dare to think that a champion should be crowned with much more objectivity than a dog show. The mess that is college football 2015 is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.
1. Playoffs and the National Scene. The playoff selection committee was quick to pencil (or ink) Alabama in, presumably because the Tide seem to be the best of the SEC and we all know the SEC is the toughest conference and whoever wins the SEC has to run a “gauntlet” of top teams.
So much for yesterday’s news. True, Alabama has played six top 25 teams. Well, they were all ranked when Alabama played them anyway. It turns out they weren’t really all that great.
Four (Wisconsin, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU) have been dropped from the rankings, leaving Alabama with a 1-1 record against top 25 teams with a loss to No. 19 Mississippi and a win over No. 23 Mississippi State.
Elsewhere in the SEC, East champion Florida successfully ran through the Florida Atlantic (2-9, Conference USA) portion of its “gauntlet” with an overtime win. South Carolina lost to FCS The Citadel, and Alabama and Auburn bolstered the conference’s “strength of schedule” with wins over Charleston Southern and Idaho.
The Big 12 is fresh out of undefeated teams and Ohio State is close to bowing out of a chance for the B1G title, which will probably go to either Iowa (this year’s team that has just managed to barely beat a bunch of mediocre teams) or Michigan State (which would have been decimated by an Oregon team with a healthy Vernon Adams Jr.).
Of course Clemson will be a lock for a spot if it wins out. We all remember from last year that no national playoff is complete without an undefeated ACC champion.
So the SEC is in because it is, after all, the SEC. The ACC is in because it is good at producing an undefeated champion. The B1G is in because it won last year and the conference is weak enough that it will have a champion with no more than one loss.
That leaves one spot open. You would have to hope that a second SEC, ACC or B1G team is out of the question, so it is down to Notre Dame, a one-loss semi-quasi Big 12 champion or Stanford, even with two losses.
If Notre Dame beats Stanford, the Irish are odds-on favorite to be in. But if Stanford wins, things get interesting, especially if it wins big.
It would probably come down to a choice between Stanford and a Big 12 team with a patsy out-of-conference schedule and no championship game to get through. If Stanford slips in, it could open up some interesting bowl possibilities for Oregon, which is widely and rightfully viewed as one of the hottest teams in the country right now.
This leads us to …
2. The Pac-12. The only thing out of the normal for the Pac-12 is Washington State sitting in a tie for second in the North. Stanford and Oregon remain at the top of the North, while the South is, as usual, a complete mess. It seems the more things change the more things stay the same.
USC and UCLA – both of which lost recently to North teams — play for the South championship next weekend. Whichever loses will pick up a fourth or fifth loss. Whichever wins will most likely pick up a fourth or fifth loss a week later against Stanford in the championship game.
That leaves the conference’s No. 2 bowl (whatever that turns out to be) to go to Oregon or Washington State.
Depending on the availability of WSU quarterback Luke Falk (who went down with a head injury this past weekend), Oregon could easily end up alone in the No. 2 slot with a win over the hapless Oregon State Beavers.
Anyway you cut it, reports of Oregon going to the Sun Bowl or the Las Vegas Bowl are now looking a little premature.
3. Oregon and USC. The quality of coaching that Oregon players receive was brightly on display Saturday afternoon when the Ducks dismantled the USC Trojans, who were riding a four-game win streak. A week after coming out on the plus side of a bash-fest with Stanford, the Ducks were just too talented and together for the Trojans.
It wasn’t just that Adams was 20-25 for more than 400 yards, with 6 touchdown passes.
Some things to think about — more touchdown passes than incompletions; one out of every four passes a touchdown; every touchdown pass to a different player; average completion of more than 20 yards.
Truth is, the Ducks’ receivers were wide open the entire game. The “fire Don Pellum/fire John O’Neal” contingent of Oregon fans would have had coronaries if it had been USC receivers that wide open.
The game encapsulated the difference between the Oregon and USC programs.
The Oregon coaches and team have pulled themselves together after some heavy losses to graduation and the NFL, along with some untimely critical injuries. The USC defense looked like it was playing its first game of the season, wondering where the Idaho Vandals were when they needed them most.
USC may come up with a sexy hire for its next head coach, but despite the talent and the neighboring recruiting pool, it remains a challenging gig.
The program’s mentality just doesn’t have Oregon’s solidarity. The program advertises the distractions (Hollywood, sunshine, beaches) as selling points, and it is difficult to develop the all-important upper class leadership when so many players put in their three years and then head off to the NFL.
For Oregon, there are certainly things to dislike about this 2015 season. The program’s response to adversity is not one of them. After a rocky start, the Ducks would give any team in the country a solid go right now.
They are going to be one nasty draw for whoever gets them in a bowl game.
Top photo by Gary Breedlove