This college football season fiasco, where no amount of coaching, testing, or contact tracing could stop the coronavirus from wreaking havoc, stumbled upon an inevitably chaotic end to what could be celebrated as championship Saturday in a normal year.
Instead as Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly threatened a playoff boycott on Friday and Ohio State stumbled his way to the Big Ten title On Saturday, when 22 players dropped out – many of them believed to be related to the virus – the college football playoff committee could make a decision that is not as neat and tidy as it would have liked.
This and other years, despite its boastful footballing spirit, the playoff committee has been little more than a boxing matchmaker, posting weekly leaderboards in November and December to build interest (and outrage) before ultimately becoming a fairly obvious one Four team field that will make broadcasters happy.
Now in its seventh season, the committee has never had such a mess of confusion as the one it needs to sort out before announcing on Sunday which four teams will play in the January 1 semifinals – one at the Sugar Bowl and the other after one Change on late Saturday night in Arlington, Texas where it may or may not be called the Rose Bowl.
There are no September non-conference games to use as a barometer. There is no common number of results as the state of Ohio (6-0) has played five games fewer than its other leading competitors. And what about Notre Dame, who won their first 10 games and beat Clemson in double overtime this season when the Tigers missed Trevor Lawrence? On Saturday, Notre Dame was throttled by the Tigers with Lawrence between 34 and 10.
After that weekend, the committee may also need to consider the impact of virus test results on a team’s competitiveness.
Players missing for the state of Ohio on Saturday included star receiver Chris Olave, linebacker Baron Browning and Punter Drue Chrisman. Ohio State doesn’t announce whether players have tested positive, however Chrisman said on Twitter that he had (and that “this virus was not pleasant”). Under the Big Ten rules, players who test positive will have to sit out 21 days, increasing the chances that some of the Buckeyes who missed Saturday’s game will also miss a playoff semifinal in less than two weeks.
The state of Ohio, which had valet parking to reach the playoffs – the Big Ten changed their rules to allow the Buckeyes to play for their championship despite three games being canceled – is looking for more allowances. Coach Ryan Day said after Saturday’s 22:10 win over Northwestern that the Big Ten were “very hard” keen to change a rule put in place to keep players safe, the players 21 days long after they test positive.
The Buckeyes have plenty of reasons to seek help after Saturday’s game.
The state of Ohio didn’t finally take the lead until the end of the third quarter – or scored a touchdown. They got by when Day finally decided it wasn’t a good idea to keep his quarterback Justin Fields performing scattershot throws and only passed the ball to Trey Sermon, who set a team record of 331 yards over 29 runs.
“Somehow I knew it would go like this today,” said Day, who was also without two assistant coaches, probably also because of the virus. “It’s exactly how this season went.”
When the horse chestnuts are a raft from N.F.L. Talent they also have to hope that the playoff committee continues to shorten their easy schedule, which includes relatively close wins against Indiana No. 11 and Northwestern No. 14, as well as four wallopings by teams with record losses.
Texas A&M, anchored in fifth place in the playoff rankings, holds its own as the second-best team in the Southeastern Conference, the marquee league of college football. The Aggies, who are 8-1, sent Tennessee on Saturday in a superficial manner (34-13). Their only loss was a drubbing through senior Alabama, but they did claim a win over Florida that took on a greater shine after the Gators traded haymaking in the SEC title game with Alabama late Saturday night before falling 52:46.
“Seven SEC victories in a row,” said Jimbo Fisher, coach of Texas A&M, in his team’s playoffs. “Some schools don’t even play seven games.”
If Notre Dame finds themselves in a precarious position – they only have two wins against teams with one record win – the Irish have some history on their side. In 2001, the undefeated Nebraska entered the old Bowl Championship Series after being defeated by Colorado (62-36). And two years later, Oklahoma lost to Kansas State 35-7 undefeated, but they were still playing for the title.
The championship games began to turn sideways before Saturday.
The Sun Belt title game was canceled Thursday due to a viral outbreak in Coastal Carolina that rose to an 11-0 record with a second win over Louisiana that throttled the Big 12 regular-season champ, Iowa State, into his season opener wanted to contribute.
The Pac-12, the clown car of the Power 5 conferences, had raised his hopes of sneaking into the playoffs in undefeated Southern California for the first time in four years. When Washington, the North Division champion, dropped out of the title game because of virus cases, the conference chose not to simply declare the Trojans champions. Instead, it slashed Oregon – which dumped the US. on Friday evening, 31-24.
As a result, the Pac-12 managed to crown a champion – and a team it’ll put in the New Year’s cup – that didn’t even win its division.
It’s likely Oregon will be on its way to the Fiesta Bowl, but even the bowl games are an uncertain affair. Eleven were canceled and more than a dozen teams – including the US. – said they would not play in a bowl.
The playoff managers, who were under pressure to postpone their Rose Bowl semifinals because families were not allowed to attend under local health guidelines, said Saturday night that the semifinals would instead be held in Texas, where fans could be accommodated. (The announcement came when Stanford and U.C.L.A. were playing at the Rose Bowl with no fans.)
Whether the Rose Bowl name can be used in connection with the game rests with the Pasadena, California City Council, whose contract with the Tournament of Roses, which owns the game, states that it cannot be moved to another location.
The decision will surely be made by Kelly, the Notre Dame coach, who suggested his team might not play if his players’ relatives were not allowed to watch.
“Please,” said Kelly on Friday. “Somebody has to wake up in this room and find out. Or you might as well call this the professional league. “
Now it’s all about whether he gets an invitation.