Instead of firecrackers, Georgia and Oklahoma spent New Year's Day exploding the scoreboards at the Rose Bowl. Hours later in New Orleans, Alabama entertained folks when a defensive lineman of 300-something pounds grabbed an interception one moment and rumbled from the offensive backfield the next to catch a touchdown pass with soft hands and nimble feet.
Two playoff games. That's been it so far during this postseason for football without the initials of "NFL."
That's good. No, that's great.
Better yet, that leaves one playoff game for the college guys. Since Monday consisted of Georgia surviving that 54-48 shootout over Oklahoma in double overtime in Pasadena, Calif., and Alabama ending Clemson's hopes of consecutive national titles with a 24-6 blowout in the Sugar Bowl, those SEC teams will meet Monday night in Atlanta for this year's championship trophy. As we've seen since the start of the College Football Playoff in 2014, four teams are plenty along the way to a Final Two before the crowning of that one.
So what's that, you say? We need eight, 12 or even 64 participants? I mean, have you been listening to Washington State coach Mike Leach or something? I'm in the minority, but I hadn't a problem with the way major college football decided its champion before the CFP came along. You had the traditional bowl games, the computers, the polls and the controversy. OK, I see you nodding out there, but you also have controversy with the present system, because controversy follows human beings around during these situations.
Which brings me to this: Not only is Nick Saban brilliant as a college football coach, but when it comes to analyzing the past, the present and the future of the playoffs in his sport, he is as wise as they come. That's because he's a plain-speaking visionary who captured four of his five national championships in his current gig at Alabama, and he also agrees with me.
Just leave the current CFP system alone.
Well, unless you wish to get rid of the whole thing.
"I said this when we had two teams, and y'all wanted to go to four teams [when] we had two teams: It was always somebody that thought they should be one of the teams," Saban said Sunday during a pre-Sugar Bowl news conference. "If they have four teams, there's going to be somebody that thinks they should be here. You have 65 teams in a basketball tournament or 68 or whatever, and then you have a two-hour show on ESPN about the teams that didn't get in. So I don't think it makes a difference how many teams we have. There's always going to be somebody who thinks they should have been in … somebody else should have been out, and they should have been in."
Yep. That's pretty much it.
Consider the whining, for instance, after Alabama made the Final Four this season over Big Ten champion Ohio State without the Crimson Tide capturing their division or conference. Then again, Ohio State was Alabama last season, when the CFP selection committee pushed aside Big Ten champion Penn State to pick the Buckeyes. Speaking of Penn State, the Nittany Lions rolled through most of their schedule again this season as an elite team. There also was Wisconsin making a case for reaching the playoffs with its only setback to (ahem) Ohio State, the owner of two losses. UCF went undefeated, and the Knights stayed that way after they handled Auburn in the Peach Bowl, but UCF wasn't close to becoming a CFP pick by the committee.
Notre Dame. USC. Miami. TCU. Washington. They all were at least pretty good this season. If you go by Leach, who has spent the past dozen years advocating a massive playoff system for college football, this parity is more than enough proof that his sport should follow the path of college basketball, where 60-plus teams has been the norm for its tournament.
Just last fall, Leach began his last rant on the subject to reporters by mentioning how Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) teams have used a playoff system for years involving multiple teams over many weeks, and he added, "They play it, and they figure it out." Then he said of NFL executives, "They, in fact, organize a playoff system. And how many teams are in there? Well, a hell of a lot more than four (12, to be exact, out of 32 NFL teams). And then they sort it all out. They have one battle after the next, and at the end, guess what? They sort out a champion, and it's called the Super Bowl."
Yeah, but Leach joins others wishing to expand the college football playoffs by refusing to put all of this into perspective. For one, when it comes to that lower division, that's a different game than what we saw over the weekend in Pasadena and New Orleans, featuring significantly larger guys colliding at faster speeds. As for NFL players, they are trained to last through the combination of a 16-game slate of the regular season and four more outings as a possible wild-card team on the way to the Super Bowl.
That's compared to Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) players who prepare for only 12 regular-season games and a possible bowl game.
"What people don't realize is how much of a toll a college football season takes on the body of a 19-year-old kid, and as an example: When I finally started my senior year, I was suffering by the eighth or ninth game," said Tre Gammage, a former linebacker at Miami (Ohio) University, my alma mater, where "student-athlete" isn't just a throw-away term. Gammage graduated in May 2015 without a thought of pursuing a career in professional football, and he was elected last November to the city council in Hartsville, S.C., while pursuing a career in organizational consulting for education.
At Miami (Ohio), Gammage's schedule was typical for the majority of his like-minded peers across the country. He averaged 17 hours per semester in class work and 20 hours of football stuff. That didn't include game day activities, summer camp, spring ball, winter conditioning and non-mandatory things that really were mandatory.
Now imagine a student-athlete for a team such as Georgia instead of Miami (Ohio). In addition to that extra game you played against Auburn after the regular season for the SEC title, you had a bunch of extra meetings taking you away from class work, and you also had a bunch of extra practices bringing you more aches and pains. Then you had to do mostly those same things all over again for Oklahoma (regarding the game, the practices and the aches and pains), and now you have to repeat that scenario for the Alabama game.
Oh, and think about this. If you were a Georgia student-athlete these days on the football team, and if the NCAA had lost its mind to give you even more games to play by approving an eight, 12 or 64-team playoff, well, you get the picture.
Neither is this: Remember that hilarious look of terror on the face of Georgia running back Nick Chubb, when he joined other Bulldogs on a ride at Disneyland before the Rose Bowl? It went viral. None of that happens with an expanded playoff system, because the more games you add, the more this becomes only a business trip for schools.
"Look, I have talked about this a lot in the past, and I know there's a lot of media attention that surrounds playoff games, and there's a lot of interest, and I don't deny that fact," Saban also said in his Sunday news gathering. "But I think one of the most significant things about college football that has provided a lot of positive gratification for a lot of players through the years that have had successful seasons is the reward of going to a bowl game. And I think the more playoff games that you have, the more it minimizes the importance of bowl games. So if we're going to increase the playoffs, I think that's going to minimize the importance of bowl games. I said this when we had a playoff, and it did to some degree.
"So I think somebody out there just needs to figure out what is best for college football, and let's go down that road. But I don't think that if we expand the playoffs, that bowl games in the playoff are going to be able to coexist very well. And I don't think that's a good thing for college football."
Nope, because it isn't.