Michigan State brought tranquility to this year's championship race by eliminating Ohio State from the ranks of the undefeateds and paving the way for a Florida State–Auburn title game matchup devoid of the chaos and controversy that has so often defined the BCS era.
But it's in our nature as sports fans to create controversy when and if it's lacking. So, amid the unusual calm that wound up defining the final year of the BCS, let's engage in a little thought experiment that's sure to spark plenty of debate: If the college football playoff had begun this year, which teams would be in the mix for the third and fourth slots?
We made it. Championship Saturday is in the books, the BCS pairings are set, and the Heisman finalists are packing their bags for New York. There's plenty of bowl-season excitement ahead, but now that the 2013 regular season is in the books — with the notable exception of Saturday's Army-Navy clash! — it's time to take stock and reflect. Do we really need to say good-bye to Johnny Football? Should we just give Gus Malzahn his statue now? Did the entire world go mad and somehow forget about Notre Dame? Grantland's college football enthusiasts are here to share their thoughts on the best and worst this season had to offer. We're looking at you, Diesel.
We've never been able to have terribly productive conversations with readers who begin diatribes with "THE MEDIA " due in some part to the fondness those folks have for claiming NARRATIVE MANIPULATION. There are a couple of problems with this: namely, that the level of coordination it would require to execute whatever sinister plot you're convinced we've hatched against your team and only your team borders on the superhuman; also, that we would like to think our personal narrative manipulations occur right out in the open and consist of story lines for which no one would ever think to pay.
Then there are the times when we find ourselves in thrall to story lines already fully formed, to narratives asserting themselves with such force that there's nothing to do but sit back and take notes. We've been hollering for a couple of weeks now about the importance of the conference championship races and what a shame it is that they get glossed over en route to the big-money bowl announcements. About how the most beautiful thing about this game is found in its deeply weird regionalism, but the matchups between the best teams of those regions don't get their due affection. We're not alone.
Week 15’s response to serving as the opening act for Sunday night's BCS selection show — if you can call Week 15 a sentient being, and why not, since we already called it the season's "vestigial tail" — was a full-throated tantrum for attention, featuring all of the following: one would-be BCS buster getting tossed from the Cinderella carriage by a conference rival; one repeat quelling of a desert uprising; one cannibalization of a power conference; one league title for a team named for both a food and a bird; one team that lost all of its conference games in 2012 securing a bid for the national title game; the mere presence of Duke football in a conference championship game; bowl eligibility for a program created in 2009, achieved at the expense of the Sun Belt champ; a Heisman candidate in a wrestling belt; a two-year winning streak snapped less than half a game short of a BCS title bid; and this:
Surrounded by family, Urban Meyer eats postgame pizza very quietly in corridor beneath Lucas Oil Stadium. pic.twitter.com/80FtTVegWQ
We know that no. 1 Florida State and new no. 2 Auburn will play for the national championship on January 6. We'll get to that, but Week 15 sways quietly in the background for no person, no thing, no institution. Here's how it happened, in rough chronological order, and what happens next.
Florida prosecutors announced today that Jameis Winston won’t be charged with sexual assault. Unless new evidence comes forward, the case is “gone and dead,” ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack said on the network.
I didn’t earn a law degree in the last three weeks, but here are six initial thoughts:
As head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, Mark Richt has spent 13 years giving the Bulldog faithful an average of 10 good reasons for his continued tenure and three rationales for his ouster that often seem far more compelling. He perennially appears on the coaching hot seat lists while different names tell the same story: He can’t win The Big One, though that can mean either the Cocktail Party, the SEC championship, or the national championship. He can’t beat UGA’s archrival, which could be Florida, South Carolina, or Auburn. He lets the doormats stick around and, eventually, they get lucky and steal one. And it’s not like basketball season will rain revenge on Kentucky or Vanderbilt.
This season, Georgia boasted an absurd, near Pac-12 style offense featuring inevitable all-time SEC passing leader Aaron Murray at quarterback, an unfair underclassman halfback surplus in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and a wealth of receiving options. And sure, the defense lost a ton of NFL talent, but the team could simply outscore anyone, particularly the Stone Age offenses Florida and South Carolina were putting out there. Besides, you started to hear whispers about how Jarvis Jones was overrated, Justin Houston played out of control, and Alec Ogletree, Cornelius Washington, and Bacarri Rambo were replaceable. And hey, look how that schedule plays out — LSU and South Carolina at home, no Texas A&M or Alabama, at least until the SEC championship, and that seemed all but assured.
I watched the Duke-UNC game at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill with two friends, one of whom was French and still a little rusty on the rules of football. It took a while, for instance, to explain why a team would ever choose to decline a penalty. That established, I turned to the cultural side, and told her that Duke-Carolina was the politest rivalry in the country. I attributed that to either extreme proximity or regional decorum or the fact that the chief sport of contention was basketball, a kinder, more philosophical game. But she had been at UNC long enough to disagree; "everyone here hates Duke."
Conference championship games begin four days from now. The schedule narrows and the stakes elevate from here. But we can't leave this weekend behind. Not just yet.
The last full blast of the regular season, in all its usual home-and-home-jersey-wearing, weird-ass-trophy-presenting, mutual-offsetting-unsportsmanlike-conduct-penalties-awarding glory, is an annual reminder of why college football is the greatest show on earth. The 2013 offering, a sternum-shaking fireworks barrage of action at the highest and lowest levels of the game, offered a daylong master class in taking joy in the unexpected. Arrivistes triumphant, some entirely before their appointed times! Dynasties shearing off into the sea! Winless seasons averted! Gladiators lying prone! The end, at last, of that too-perfect power-conference logjam! Life! The Universe! Everything!
It was too impeccably constructed to last. Heading into Week 11, we had five contenders, one undefeated team from each of college football's most powerful conferences, humming happily in the rarefied air of the BCS standings' uppermost reaches. The fact that we were even presented with that scenario as far into the season as the second weekend of November was a minor miracle in itself. But Week 11 took out then–no. 3 Oregon and Week 13 did in another top-five outfit, Baylor.
It's so monstrously difficult to string together an undefeated college football season when there are so many moving parts, so many fragile parts. There's a team in Tuscaloosa currently gunning for a third consecutive national title, and it hasn't managed to pull off a perfect year in either of its past two championship runs. Things happen. Every once in a while, they all happen at the same time.
On Wednesday, new information regarding the sexual assault case against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston came to light. Here's what we know about the situation so far.
Who is Jameis Winston?
Winston is a 6-foot-4, 228-pound redshirt freshman quarterback from Bessemer, Alabama, who plays for the Florida State Seminoles. He was the no. 1 high school quarterback prospect in the class of 2012 and was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 15th round of that year's MLB amateur draft (he was a relief pitcher/outfielder for the FSU baseball team for the 2013 season). Additional accolades: USA Today 2011 All-USA First-Team All-American, Sports Illustrated Second-Team All-American, 2011 Alabama Gatorade State Player of the Year.
The best part about Nick Saban is how he never, ever stops being Nick Saban. For example, a reporter asked this question this week: "Coach, it seems like almost several times a year your team gets a magazine cover. A.J. [McCarron] got one today. Two questions. One, how does A.J. look as a cover boy?"
So, pretty lighthearted question right there. Nice midweek diversion for a team that's playing the Chattanooga Mocs this weekend.
A typical football coach might laugh and say something like this: "You know, after everything that A.J. has done for us over the past few years, it's great to see him get some recognition. He's a great kid, and he deserves it. And hey, he looks great in that letterman jacket!"
Sometime around 2 a.m. ET on Sunday, the winless Hawaii Warriors, who'd either led or tied the San Diego State Aztecs for four full quarters, found themselves stalled out near midfield. Time expired on what would have been a game-winning touchdown drive to trigger the team's first victory of 2013. As the officials reviewed the overtime procedures, we watched from a couch five time zones away, 14 hours into a nonstop college football binge, the 12th such bender in as many weeks. Clusters of adults with jobs and houses and no discernible ties to the University of Hawaii put down their midnight coffees, abandoned their phones, and launched into an animated This Is How We'd Do It armchair coaching session. For a then 0-9 team that plays its home games 4,500 miles away. Why?
There's a bias-free case for disinterested third parties to cheer on the toppling of every conference front-runner. There's a perfectly valid reason to raise our glasses every time a relentlessly immobile quarterback lurches free of the pocket for a cartoonish gain. There's a real motivation behind our obsession with cataloguing every clip of a winded defensive lineman trundling down the field with a purloined football, and why "MYRON PRYOR! 310 POUNDS OF GLORY!" will hold a place in our hearts until the end of days, and it doesn't stop with "because fat-guy touchdowns are the best." They are, but that's not the point. The point is the endless hours of amusement that can be yours for the low, low price of making a habit of taking joy in the unexpected.
Enter Week 12, which featured, among other occurrences, a Duke football team making its way into the Top 25, a Georgia-Auburn finish straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, and Ed Orgeron gunning for a division title. Never mind the bats, the boils, or the rain of frogs in Northwestern alternate jerseys. It's all part of the plan.
College football? On MY Tuesday night? It's more common than you think. We're sure you have many questions. We're here to help.
Buffalo at Toledo
• What information do I, the discerning consumer, require in order to consume this game? The Bulls and Rockets take the baton from Monday Night Football to extend the glorious unbroken November streak of consecutive days with nationally televised football. Kickoff is scheduled for Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. ET in Toledo's Glass Bowl; the game will be televised on ESPNU and streamed on WatchESPN. So in order to maintain a steady consumption of football, we would've had to watch Dolphins-Bucs? Gross. Sacrifices must be made. Last Friday, we watched several minutes of Louisville-UConn. For lack of less disgusting imagery, America is basically hoarding football in its cheeks at this point in anticipation of a long, dumb, football-free offseason.
• For what or whom should I be watching? Home games at Toledo, particularly night games, are reliably good fun with a crowd that's regularly underrated in terms of spite output. The matchup to follow: The Bulls' mean-spirited defenders, particularly linebacker Khalil Mack, versus a Rockets offense that's averaging more than 33 points per game but may be missing its most potent offensive threat. David Fluellen, who has been beset by injuries for a couple years now and seems to put on effortless triple-digit rushing performances whenever he does see the field, is a game-time decision. Meanwhile, Mack needs one forced fumble to tie the NCAA career record, and two to break it.
• What’s at stake here? Buffalo's solo claim to first place in the MAC East. The Bulls are the division's only team with a perfect conference record, and the team right behind them are their regular-season finale opponent, Bowling Green. Is the "we will personally bake and mail cookies to anyone who gets on camera with a 'Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo' banner" pledge still in effect? It is!
The race to the BCS games commences each August as a clown car of near-limitless capacity. It careers into Week 1 crammed with 120-some teams, each anointed with some degree of possibility, however finite, of stringing together a perfect season and hoisting that crystal ball, or tossing oranges into a joyous throng, or ruining a perfectly good mascot outfit with greasy corn chip smears. (And good grief, that somehow looks even weirder written out than when it's actually happening.) Each week, squads tumble out, forced to trundle along behind. Every so often, bloody-minded interloper clowns with hooks for hands are discovered clinging to the undercarriage. This isn't symbolic language; why do you think nobody wants to tackle Jordan Lynch?
And no matter how tightly packed the contraption might seem rounding into November, no matter how dearly we might all wish to conclude the regular season with a handful of undefeated teams to confound the half-assed system that puts on the big-money games, it's just so famously difficult to make it through a full slate of FBS play unscathed.
In Week 11: The intact AQ squads get some elbow room; Oregon gets kicked into the sawdust; and Alabama remains in the driver's seat, maintaining a level speed of precisely five miles above the legal limit.
That hypothetical we posed yesterday, about whether it'd be more painful to be knocked out of the running for the national title by an outright loss or by the cruelty of polls and unfeeling computers and the glaring lack of a playoff system? Following a nasty pair of prime-time top-10 weeknight games, two of the FBS's best programs might be able to compare notes.
"We don't hold the cards anymore," said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich following his Ducks' failed comeback rally at Stanford, "but we never hold the cards."
He's right and he's not. In the absence of a playoff system, the last handful of contending teams can't control what exactly the pollsters and computers do with them. But it's still on them to make the best case. Last night Baylor did that, and Oregon did not.
You may not be in the mood to hear this the morning after a Seneca Wallace–Josh McCown duel, but America is currently riding an unbroken streak of days blessed with televised football that stretches back to last Wednesday and continues through November 27. We live in amazing times, and are particularly blessed in Week 11 of the college football season, which features the return of Tuesday #MACtion and eight total weeknight games, including two top-10 contests on Thursday. We're sure you have so many questions. We're here to help.
Bowling Green at Miami (Ohio)
• What information do I, the discerning consumer, require in order to consume this game? The Falcons and RedHawks kick off in Oxford's Yager Stadium Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPNU and streamed on WatchESPN.
• For what or whom should I be watching? A punishing shutout. The Falcons' defense is allowing a parsimonious average of 18.5 points per game; the RedHawks rank dead last in the FBS when it comes to scoring, averaging 10.9. Dead last means worse than Florida International, right? Turns out that's possible! But haven't we been surprised before by Tuesday MACtion firefights? Isn't that, like, MACtion's thing? We have, but Miami is winless in 2013 and that's highly unlikely to change here. If you're looking for a zero-win team with a shot at putting one in the W column, check in with Southern Miss at 3-5 Louisiana Tech Saturday night at seven.
• What’s at stake here? At 5-3 overall, Bowling Green can move into bowl eligibility with a win. And with just one conference loss this season, the Falcons are still technically in the thick of the MAC East race.