I know what you’re thinking. Why would he be posting his final thoughts and rankings before the biggest game of the year? Because right now everything online is about the Oregon-Ohio State matchup. I’m the only one talking about the totality of the season, including the other bowls. So here goes, the top things I learned and observed this season and my final rankings.
1. The SEC was grossly overrated
This was pretty much a given all season with how the media (looking at you ESPN) absolutely got off talking about the SEC, especially the SEC west. But during bowl season they were exposed. Mississippi State, LSU, Alabama and Auburn were all favored in their games. They all lost. Arkansas was favored and won, Ole Miss was an underdog and got absolutely neutered by TCU. Texas A&M should have been the favorite once we found out West Virginia’s starting QB was retiring, but whatever. When a bunch of 7-win teams in South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida are carrying the SEC banner through bowl season, you know the once powerhouse conference you had is now right on par with everyone else.
Which just goes to show one thing. There is much more parity than people think in college football. How teams matchup really matters. Conferences aren’t better or worse than one another. Facing familiar teams changes things. Teams in the ACC could beat Georgia Tech because they were familiar with them. Mississippi State couldn’t, probably due to a level of unfamiliarity. It doesn’t mean the ACC is better than the SEC, even though several ACC teams beat up SEC teams this year. It means there is party in college football. There are good and bad teams in all the conferences. Granted there is a definite dropoff after the power 5, no doubt about it, but those 5 are pretty much on par with one another and it’s time everyone realized that.
2. The playoff was a huge success
The highest ratings ever were for the two semi-final games. That’s a huge success. Also the playoff committee was a huge success. Lots of people doubted Ohio State. Not me. I said for the last 4 weeks that if everyone on the top won out they would get in because of more quality wins of decent competition than either TCU or Baylor. Granted, in hindsight, Florida State had no business being in the playoff. TCU sure did. Better team for sure.
But therein lies the problem with the playoff at the same time. How do you always get it right? At the time they seemed to have it right. Intuitively we all knew Florida State wasn’t that great of a football team. Good, not great. But they were undefeated from a power conference. You couldn’t leave them out even if you knew that Oregon, Alabama, TCU and Ohio State were the four best teams. So the playoff has to have some kind of balance between the best teams and most deserving. Florida State wasn’t one of the four best, TCU was. But Florida State deserved to be in the playoff more for not losing a game, even if it was ugly at times.
This is a debate that will continually rage on. But I like it. And I like 4 teams. 6 is ideal in my opinion. I would like to see 1 and 2 get a first round by and have 6 play at 3 and 5 play at 4 later in the day after the Army-Navy game. Then winners play the semi-final bowls. I think 8 is just too many. But I am happy with four. Because if it were the BCS we would be watching Alabama and Florida State play for the title tonight, not the two teams who earned it on the field.
3. Preseason rankings are getting more and more worthless
Remember Kenny “Trill?” Ha. All the early season hype for beating a highly ranked South Carolina team…that finished with 7 wins. So in the preseason we had Oklahoma at 4, Auburn at 6, South Carolina at 9, Stanford at 11, LSU at 13, Texas A&M at 21, North Carolina at 23 and Washington at 25. Also Florida, by votes anyway, would have been ranked 27 and Texas at 28. I mean, wow. Just…wow. Horrible, horrible prognostication there.
So why are there preseason rankings at all? In fact, why are there AP, Harris or Coaches polls in the first place? We don’t need them anymore. We know who the champion will be, the one who wins tonight. Rankings are outdated. They are a relic of tradition, nothing more. Yet so much of the sport and the hype depend on them. Why? Texas A&M got ranked as high as 6 riding a win over a team that turned out to suck. What if the playoff committee had released rankings at the end of September? Texas A&M would have been high. Thus, Alabama’s beating of the Aggies 59-0 gave them a huge boost, even though it turned out the Aggies were bad.
It is time to do away with preseason rankings. They are terrible. They are inaccurate. They hurt the game. Instead, the preseason rankings should be the same as the final rankings of the season before. Start from somewhere that makes a little sense. Move teams around once they play a game at least. Incorporate recruiting classes then, even though its well documented most recruits never start their first seasons anyway.
4. The Big Ten ain’t so bad after all
Ohio State beat Alabama. Michigan State beat Baylor. Wisconsin beat Auburn. Not a bad showing for the top three teams in the conference. Turns out they are pretty well on par with the other power conferences. Also the pick up of Jim Harbaugh by Michigan is kind of a big deal because of point 5 coming up. But the Big Ten is seeing Penn State on its way back, Minnesota getting pretty good, and Nebraska recommitting to being elite. Add Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin to the mix and you have a nice collection of teams. Right now it is the Big 12 that needs some help, not the Big Ten. The bottom of their conference (Kansas, Iowa State) is embarrassingly bad.
5. Coaches matter
In spite of hype, recruiting and talent, it seems the most consistent programs are those with solid coaches. In the college game coaches make more of a difference than anywhere else. This has been part of why the SEC has been so dominant for several years. This is also why the Pac-12 is getting better each year it seems. Coaches matter. And Jim Harbaugh to Michigan is a big deal because of it. Next year the Wolverines will make a bowl game, mark my words. The year after they will be in the hunt for a New Year’s bowl. And in year three Harbaugh will have Michigan competing for the Big Ten championship. The last game of the season might start to mean something again.
6. The Big 12 needs to be 12 again
Imagine a scenario where TCU and Baylor played each other again to close the season for an undisputed Big 12 champion. Do you think Ohio State gets in over the winner of that game? I doubt it. The Big 12 has many options. They need to get two schools already. Cincinnati and BYU are the two most likely candidates, neither of whom needs to be persuaded. But when you are only 10 teams and 2 of them are Kansas and Iowa State, you have trouble as a conference. Texas and Texas Tech didn’t help out much either. Oklahoma State was decent, Oklahoma wasn’t bad, neither was West Virginia. And we all know the top 3 were pretty good. But if you throw in Cincinnati (shared AAC championship) and BYU (who went to double overtime with the other AAC champion Memphis) and you have two teams that would have been at that Oklahoma State/West Virginia level. The Big 12 needs them. Time to get it done.
7. Final Rankings
Obviously 1 and 2 are interchangeable based on who wins and loses the game tonight. The rest is based on the totality of what we now know this season. My rankings are based only on how good I think a team is. I basically think of it like this. Any team would beat all the teams ranked below them and lose to all the teams ranked ahead of them. That simple. Also takes into account if two teams did play each other in the season as best I can.
2. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
6. Florida State
8. Georgia Tech
11. Kansas State
12. Arizona State
13. Ole Miss
14. Mississippi State
15. Boise State
21. Notre Dame