Bones of Cupcakes Litter Road to Final Four

Mike Merrell Editorials

Mike Merrrell’s Three-and-Out

The path to the national championship is teeming with eastern teams leaving bones of cupcakes in their wake.

The conference with the toughest, deepest competition is relegated to being the only of the Five Power Conferences with no more than a single “New Year’s Six” bowl.

And the Heisman Trophy will undoubtedly go to the best player east of the Rockies.

Last year Oregon and the Pac-12 went three-for-three in getting to the national championship round, having two New Year’s Six bowls and bringing home the Heisman. So far the snub for 2015 is complete, with only the Heisman left on the table.

All because the Pac-12 is a better conference this year and the sun sets first in the East. How this is playing out in the reality show called “Post-Season Goodies” is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.

1. Bones of Cupcakes. Here’s a list of cupcakes whose bones can be found on the path to the four playoff berths: Wofford, Appalachian State, Boston College, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Monroe, Charleston Southern, Purdue, Rutgers, Nebraska, Maryland, Texas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas.

Wait! One of those is still alive! Texas (4-8) beat Oklahoma.

If Stanford were added to the mix, the only additional cupcake bones would be Oregon State, Colorado and Central Florida.

The playoff selection committee says it considers strength of schedule. Just not to the point where it would consider whether Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State or Oklahoma could make it through a season without picking up at least two losses, when that season includes Notre Dame, Northwestern, Oregon, Washington State, Washington, California, Arizona, UCLA and USC, with USC getting two chances.

That was the meat of Stanford’s schedule, and it was a far cry meatier than any of this year’s playoff teams. Stanford may not qualify as a totally dominant team, but let’s take a look at the four who made it in:

Clemson, undefeated ACC champ: How did it work out for an undefeated ACC champ last year?

MSU was a broken finger away from picking up an early loss.

MSU was a broken finger away from picking up an early loss.

Michigan State: Beat the # 2 Pac-12 team (Oregon) by a single field goal at home when the Ducks’ quarterback was playing with a broken finger and the secondary didn’t even know each others’ names.

Oklahoma: Ran up wins over Akron, Tulsa, Tennessee, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas to offset a loss to 4-8 Texas. Not one of those teams falls into the overly-competitive category.

Alabama: If Stanford had scheduled Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Monroe and Charleston Southern, the Cardinal wouldn’t have had two losses. And besides that, Pac-12 reject Lane Kiffin is still Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

The root of the problem is, of course, having four playoff spots for five major conferences. If the Big 12 would just die and send half its members off to other Power Four conferences, with the other half going to whoever would take them, we wouldn’t have this problem.

2. Multiple New Year’s Six Games. The Pac-12 is also the only Power Five to receive only one bid to a New Year’s Six bowl game. Some of this has to do with tie-ins, and no doubt a lot of it has to do with money.

The talking heads rave about what a great (money-making) matchup Notre Dame vs. Ohio State is in the Fiesta Bowl, and thanks to cushier schedules they both have better records than Oregon, the Pac-12’s #2 team in the rankings. Notre Dame finished out the season with an okay win over Wake Forest (3-9), followed by an escape 19-16 win against Boston College (3-9) and a loss to Stanford.

If the bowl selection committee is considering injuries and strength of schedule, how can it possibly rank Notre Dame (10-2) seven places ahead of Oregon (9-3) when the Ducks finished strong, beating Stanford and USC two out its last three games – and riding a six-game win streak?

Oregons strong finish included a win over USC.

Oregon’s strong finish included a win over USC.

Two reasons: (1) Oregon picked up one more loss against a tougher schedule, and (2) The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The East was settled before the West; Easterners get up before those of us out West; they’ve got more votes; and they’ve gone to bed by the time half the Pac-12 games start.

In spite of everything, the Ducks did get a great draw with TCU in the Alamo Bowl. It will likely be more entertaining — and better played — than some of the New Year’s Six games.

3. The Heisman. Alabama’s Derrick Henry is the front-runner for the Heisman. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is mentioned, but you get the feeling that he’s on the list of those who get to smile and nod when the winner is announced.

Christian McCaffrey runs against Oregon.

Christian McCaffrey (5) runs against Oregon.

Not to take anything away from Henry. He has rushed 339 times for 1986 yards and he’s caught 10 passes for 97 yards. But at 319 carries for 1,847 yards, McCaffrey has nearly matched Henry’s production for rushing. Receiving isn’t even close. McCaffrey has 41 receptions for 540 yards. He also 1,109 return yards. That adds up to an all-time NCAA record for all-purpose yards, beating Barry Sanders with about 250 yards to spare. On top of that, he’s 2 of 3 passing for two touchdowns and a 395.9 passer rating.

It’s too bad for McCaffrey that he plays west of the Rockies, and that with Marcus Mariota winning the Heisman last year, it’s at least 40 years before anybody out West (with the possible exception of somebody from USC) is due to win again.

This season the Pac-12 has ten bowl games, with six of them against Power Five conference teams, although the SEC, which games the system better than anybody, is once again free of confrontation with the West. Still, the Pac has plenty of chances to make a statement. But then last year the conference went 6-2 in its bowl games, and see where we are.

The only consolation for Oregon fans is that it was the Ducks’ win over Stanford that knocked the Cardinal out of the playoffs, and possibly even cost them a Heisman.

And there’s always next year. Perhaps the Ducks will be back on top of the Pac-12 and it will be some other conference’s turn to be left out.

Top photo by Zombie Apple Attack

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