Thoughts on the 2017 season

Alabama has won (again) and the college football season has officially ended. It wouldn’t be college football without a little controversy of course, and 2017 had its fair share. We saw some pretty great games (Rose Bowl and national championship come to mind) and a few surprise story lines (Notre Dame anyone?) But the 2017 season will boil down to one thing for me: Mercer.

That probably sounds strange so let me elaborate. The week before the Iron Bowl, undefeated Alabama had FCS foe Mercer coming to town. This is common practice in the SEC actually, to schedule cupcake games in November. Can’t blame them I guess, it works right? At any rate, Alabama handled them easily as expected for their final non-conference game, a non-conference schedule that also included Fresno State, Colorado State and Florida State.

Meanwhile, Ohio State was fighting for their playoff lives after dropping their second game of the season on the road to Iowa. You’ll recall their first loss- a September non-conference game against eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma.

Let’s do a thought exercise really quick. Suppose Ohio State had put Mercer on the schedule in September instead of Ohio State. They get the easy win. Their only loss ends up being on the road to Iowa and they win the Big Ten. Does Alabama still get into the playoff?

That would be a big, fat negatory my friends. And that’s why Mercer is the story line from this season. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is already candid about taking a look at schedule strength and maybe not making it so tough. Is anyone listening?

This is the new trend in the college football playoff era. Wins and losses are the name of the game. Schedule wins, not losses. Do you think we’ll continue to see Oklahoma and Ohio State play non-conference games? That would be a big, fat negatory. No sir, not when FCS junior varsity punching bags are willing to line up and take a beating for a few hundred thousand dollars.

Ohio State plays in the Big Ten, meaning they already have 9 conference games to navigate. Why take any risks with those 3 non-conference games? Prepare to see a lot more home non-conference games for the big boys against the not so big boys.

And why? Because the playoff committee foolishly rewarded Alabama for scheduling a cupcake. They sent a very loud, very clear message to every team in the country- go get the easy wins. Ohio State went on to soundly beat Pac-12 champion USC in their bowl game. Alabama went on to beat Clemson and Georgia to become champions. Could Ohio State have done the same thing? Is Alabama better than Ohio State? We don’t really know, because one of them took the easy way into the playoff while the other played a much harder schedule and fell just a little short.

So what if Alabama had played Oklahoma and Ohio State had played Mercer? Who knows. Perhaps they both win, and perhaps that marquis win for Alabama propels them into the playoff ahead of Ohio State in spite of not winning their own conference. I won’t pretend to know.

But one thing I do know. The Mercer Rule is in full effect moving forward in scheduling. About 3 years from now you won’t see high profile teams lining up to play each other in the regular season. Not when FCS doormats are available to step on. And that’s a real shame.