The 2019 college football season kicks off on August 24, 2019. One of the so-called “Week Zero” games will feature the Florida Gators attempting to chomp the Miami Hurricanes. (I’m not sure what the odds are for the game getting washed out by one of Mother Nature’s hurricanes…)
Although hope springs eternal this time of the year, let’s be realistic. Bill Hancock and company would have you believe all 130 teams across 10 conferences are in the mix for one of the four golden playoff tickets. No offense to Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp, but this is a bigger fantasy than Willie Wonka himself could conceive.
A team from the Group of 5 is never going to find the playoff Holy Grail. Never! The thought that these schools have the opportunity to do so is nothing but Billy-Bob-Hancock balderdash, male bovine excrement Group of 5 jingoism. You may hear a discouraging word from time to time from the UCF’s of the junior varsity world. But for the most part, Billy Bucks have bought off Group of 5 conference commissioners and kept the politicians at bay. Money talks; male bovine excrement walks.
Hats off to Jeff Tedford and his Fresno State Bulldogs for climbing to the top of the mountain in 2018. The reward? A game in Las Vegas against Herman’s Hermits, a team that barely finished above .500 and had its best player taking an NFL siesta.
Wouldn’t it be better for the Group of 5 to hold its own eight-team playoff, with quarter- and semifinal games played in December and the championship serving as a lead-off game on New Year’s day? Wouldn’t this be better than having quality Group of 5 teams playing in meaningless bowl games in front of thousands of fans disguised as empty seats? Think of the media rights deal the Group of 5 conferences could score. But alas, I am not a Group of 5 commish. If it is crumbs they desire, so be it. At least they’re being bought off with Panko-sized bread crumbs.
So, having eliminated our little brothers from the playoff mix, which of the Power 5 conferences have the best shot to make the big dance? Let’s start in reverse order with the conference indisputably bringing up the rear.
The beat goes on for Larry’s Legion of the Lost. Recently in Austin, Texas, Texas Tech won the men’s NCAA track and field event, beating out track and field powerhouse Oregon and its Pac-12 counterpart Stanford, among other teams. Outside of meat judging championships (I kid you not), this is the only college championship the Red Raiders have ever won. (And hats off to the Lubbock “Guns up Gang” for being the runner up in the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament and for sending a team to the College World Series.)
I hate to say it, but thank goodness the guys and gals in Seattle know how to row a boat. The school up north won both the men’s and women’s rowing titles. SEC fans’ reaction: “Why are y’all rowin’ when you can strap on a damn outboard?”
Back to football. In 2018, Wazzu went 10-2 with a loss at USC, which was aided and abetted by Larry’s lawyer’s review and overturn of a call that would have benefited the Cougs. Larry remained silent as three-loss LSU was given the Cougs’ spot in the Fiesta Bowl. But it’s only millions of dollars that Wazzu and the conference missed out on, money that wouldn’t have found its way to Livin’ Large Larry’s pockets. So who cares, right?
The Ducks are the odds-on favorites to win this season’s Pac-12 title according to most preseason rankings. But based on what we have witnessed to date from the Gurus of Grapevine (the CFP committee), drop the Auburn game and the Ducks’ playoff chances immediately go on life support. If history holds, Oregon would have to go 12-0 if they lose in Dallas, and even this might not be enough.
Beyond the Ducks, I just don’t see any Pac-12 team having fewer than two defeats in 2019. The Run for the Roses should be interesting, but I see Pasadena being the apogee for the 2019 Pac-12 champ.
Even with Sam Ehlinger back at QB, Texas’ Tom Herman is likely one more big recruiting season (the Horns’ 2019 class was excellent, even without the bouncing Bru McCoy) from matching Oklahoma’s talent.
If QB whisperer Lincoln Riley can get Bama grad transfer Jalen Hurts to play at the level he did against Georgia in the 2018 SEC Championship game, I see the Sooners pulling up a seat at the 2019 playoff table. But for this to happen, in its toughest out-of-conference tilt, Oklahoma will have to get by Chipper’s Cubbies (UCLA, for those of you who are scratching your heads right now) in LA. I’m not putting my chips down on the Chipper in this one.
It should be a very interesting run for the other numerically stunted conference in 2019. Urban Meyer is back in the world of media. This time he’s eschewing the boys and girls in Bristol and going FOXY with former Trojans Matt Leinhart and “Momma-I-Lost-My-Trophy” Reggie Bush. I imagine Matt and Reggie won’t beat around the bush when it comes to recruiting Meyer to the USC sidelines in 2020.
Jim Harbaugh’s Flounders (technically called “Wolverines”), like the Trojans, plan to open it up on offense in 2019. Harbaugh has hypothetically handed the offense’s reins to Mike Gattis, last seen coaching at Bama. We’ll see how this works out. Their early season matchup against Army in Ann Arbor won’t be a layup.
Undefeated Ohio State head coach Ryan Day (3-0 with an impressive beat down of the Beavers) takes the helm for his first full season. The jury is out on Georgia transfer Justin Fields and the other guys in the Ohio State QB room. Greg Schiano was sent packing and the Grinch stole away to Oklahoma, so there is a new defensive coordinator pairing up with the new head coach.
Like the Pac-12, I see no B1G team with fewer than two games in the “L” column. Accordingly, I see a traditional Rose Bowl matchup and continued groveling for an expanded playoff field emanating from Midwest and B1G Network owner, FOX.
Have you seen the Tide’s 2019 out-of-conference schedule? First, Bama meets “the Duke” in Atlanta for the opener. Then, they face a gauntlet of New Mexico State, Southern Mississippi and Western Carolina, all at home. (Don’t you dare whine, Saint Nick, when students decide to stay in the frat house with cheaper snacks and beverages, cool AC and sofas to recline upon instead of showing up to watch the Tide crush weenies in tsunami-like fashion.)
In addition to this cupcake fest, Bama draws permanent cross-conference foes Tennessee and South Carolina from the East. Auburn draws permanent foe Georgia and also Florida. This is a fair fight?
I see Georgia devouring Notre Dame at home and then chugging the Gators at the Cocktail Party. I think the Tide and UGA play for the SEC championship in the “ATL,” with at most one loss between the two teams. To my great discomfort, I see both Bama and UGA in the 2019 playoff.
Sans Clemson, the ACC, not the Pac-12, is at the bottom of the Power 5 totem pole. Clemson’s roster today is as dominant in the ACC as was Bobby Bowden’s group during Florida State’s great run. These Tigers are not pussy cats, matching up against Texas A&M and South Carolina from the big, bad SEC out-of-conference.
The days of “Clemsoning” are in the past. Newly minted $9M man Dabo Swinney may drop a game. Nevertheless, I think Clemson, even with big losses on its defensive line, cruises into the playoff.
So, the beat goes on with Alabama making a fifth consecutive playoff appearance. Hopefully we’ll get round two of Saban vs. Riley, this time with former Tide QB Hurts driving the Sooners’ wagon. Clemson vs. UGA would be a great semifinal game, but the Tigers are kicking it and Georgia has yet to clear the final hurdle. I see a Rocky IV championship game matchup of Bama vs. Clemson.
The Group of 5 “champ” will have to be content with matching up against a two- or three-loss Power 5 team.
The Rose Bowl is most certainly not a bad consolation prize for the Pac-12 and the B1G, but the playoff, in many respects, has diminished all of the non-playoff bowls. With two SEC teams in the final four and the ACC never missing the playoff, expect a redoubled push for an eight-team field.
I’m getting ready for Dallas. I hope to see lots of other Oregon fans in Jerry’s Palace. And I hope that we Duck fans will feather the place post-game and not have egg on our faces.
Georgetown, Texas Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.
Jon Joseph grew up in Boston, Massachusetts but has been blessed to have lived long enough in the west to have exorcised all east coast bias. He played football in college and has passionately followed the game for seven decades. A retired corporate attorney Jon has lectured across the country and published numerous articles on banking and gaming law. Now a resident of Aiken South Carolina, Jon follows college football across the nation with a focus on the Conference of Champions and the Ducks.
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