What We Learned From Week 15 in College Football: Playoffs Are Here; MSU, WMU, CMU, ND In Bowls
For Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State, the college football championship hunt begins.
Meanwhile, Michigan State, Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Notre Dame are going to bowl games.
As for Michigan fans, sorry but you have to wait until next year.
Let the Debate Begin
With Sunday’s announcement of the college football playoff teams, the debate can now begin in earnest. Alabama, Florida State and Oregon getting in didn’t come as much of a surprise. But Ohio State, on the strength of its 59-0 beatdown of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, jumping ahead of TCU and Baylor for the final spot raised some eyebrows.
While the Big 12 probably didn’t do its teams any favors, give the College Football Playoff Selection Committee credit for being consistent. All along, the committee said that strength of schedule, conference championships and “dominant” quality wins would be weighted heavily. And, by those measures, the Buckeyes have a slight advantage.
TCU and Baylor fans might have some legitimate gripes regarding Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech and their own quality wins. But the simple fact is that, by the metrics the committee said they were going to use, Ohio State jumping into the last playoff spot shouldn’t be a huge surprise.
Michigan State Gets Baylor
Michigan State, which finished No. 8 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, will play in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic against No. 5 Baylor on Jan. 1, 2015, at 12:30 p.m. EST in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. By the way, that's the same place where the national championship will be played Jan. 12.
This marks the first appearance for the Spartans in the Cotton Bowl Classic, which dates to 1937.
The Spartans, who have recorded double-digit win seasons four of the last five years, finished the regular season with a 10-2 record and went 7-1 in Big Ten play. Both of MSU's losses came against teams that made the four-team College Football Playoffs -- Ohio State and Oregon.
Baylor won a share of the Big 12 Conference with an 8-1 league record and is 11-1 overall after defeating Kansas State in the regular-season finale 38-27.
Eighth-year Spartans Coach Mark Dantonio will be making his eighth bowl appearance at MSU, setting a school record for most bowl appearances by a head coach. The previous record was George Perles with seven from 1983 to 94).
MACtion Pushes Central Michigan, Western Michigan
Western Michigan and Central Michigan are among five teams from the Mid-American Conference headed to bowl games.
Western Michigan marked a turnaround year for the program with an 8-4 overall record and went 6-2 in the MAC West. That earned the Broncos a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl berth, where WMU will play Air Force (9-3) at 5:45 p.m. EST Dec. 20 at Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho.
Central Michigan wrapped up the regular-season winning three of its last four games to finish 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the MAC. The Chippewas earned a berth in the inaugural Popeye's Bahamas Bowl, where CMU will play Western Kentucky at noon EST Dec. 24. In 2012, Central Michigan defeated Western Kentucky 24-21 in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. It is the sixth bowl appearance in nine years for CMU.
Northern Illinois won the 2014 Marathon MAC Football Championship for the third time in five years Friday with a 51-17 win over Bowling Green at Ford Field in Detroit. The Huskies (11-2) plays Conference USA's Marshall (12-1) at 6 p.m. EST Dec. 23 in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla.
Also making the postseason were Toledo (GoDaddy Bowl) and Bowling Green (Raycom Media Camellia Bowl).
Notre Dame Heads for Nashville Against SEC's LSU
Notre Dame football is headed to the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville through its Atlantic Coast Conference affiliation.
Notre Dame (7-5) will meet Southeastern Conference representative Louisiana State (8-4) at 3 p.m. EST Dec. 30 in LP Field (home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans).
Fighting Irish Coach Brian Kelly becomes the first coach in Notre Dame history to take teams to bowl games in each of his first five seasons. With a win in the Music City Bowl, Kelly, who formerly coached Grand Valley State and Central Michigan, would become the first coach in Notre Dame history to win at least eight games in each of his first five seasons in South Bend.
Notre Dame had hopes of landing in one of the New Year’s Six bowls (Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Peach, Fiesta and Orange), but lost its last four games and five of its last six to finish 7-5. Among its losses this season was a 31-27 defeat to then-No. 1 Florida State in Tallahassee with both teams entering unbeaten.
LSU finished the regular season ranked No. 22 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll; and Notre Dame was unranked.
The Tigers began the season 4-0 before falling in Baton Rouge, La., to Mississippi State. After a 41-7 loss to Auburn two weeks later, LSU rebounded to win three in a row, including a 10-7 win over then-No. 3 Mississippi. The Tigers led Alabama in the fourth quarter until the Tide scored a late touchdown and won in overtime.
Public Relations Not Big 12’s Strong Suit
Ever since Texas A&M and Missouri bolted for the SEC, the Big 12 has been trying to trumpet having just ten teams and no conference championship game as a positive. “One true champion” was the league slogan, claiming the round-robin schedule would allow everyone to play head-to-head and provide a tiebreaker that would crown one team as the undisputed conference champion. I’m not sure anyone outside of Big 12 country really believed it was such a great idea, but it sounded good on paper. Or at least it did until it became inconvenient.
This week, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby did some serious backtracking on the issue, basically saying that “one true champion” doesn’t really mean “one." Instead, in an effort to highlight two teams’ resumes for the college football playoff, he attended both TCU’s game against Iowa State and Baylor’s win over Kansas State to crown them as “co-champions,” an announcement about which Baylor Coach Art Briles had a heated conversation with the commish and later blasted him during the postgame press conference.
Did Bowlsby’s plan backfire and cost the conference a spot in the playoff? Perhaps—committee leader Jeff Long seemed to indicate that "definitive" conference championships were a factor in their discussions. But what’s certain is that Bowlsby found a new way to anger a large part of his conference fan base and make the Big 12 a laughing stock throughout the rest of the country.
Florida State Does it Again
By all rights the Seminoles should have three or four losses by now. But whether its luck or an unholy deal with the devil (there’s no in-between, I’m sure), Florida State finds itself with an ACC-record 29-game winning streak and a chance to repeat as national champions.
The Seminoles had no answer for Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense early, with the Yellow Jackets rushing for 214 yards in the first half.
But just like so many other times this season, FSU flipped the switch in the second half and made plays down the stretch to secure yet another close win 37-35. That makes the Seminoles the only unbeaten left in NCAA FBS.
Trouble is Brewing in Soonerland
A week ago, Mike Gundy looked to be the coach on the hot seat in Oklahoma. After all, Oklahoma State was on the verge of missing a bowl game for the first time in eight years and his relationship with OSU mega-booster Boone Pickens could be described as strained, at best. But after a stunning overtime Bedlam upset, it’s Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops who suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of some tough questions. Not only have the Sooners underachieved this year (four losses after being ranked No. 3 in the preseason), but some of Stoops’ coaching decisions in the loss to Oklahoma State have him under fire.
Most notably was his decision with less than a minute to go to accept a running into the kicker penalty and re-punt even though the first kick had pinned the Cowboys at their own 15-yard line. The second punt came down into the arms of OSU speedster Tyreek Hill, who took the ball 92 yards for a touchdown that tied the game with just 45 seconds left.
In the postgame press conference, Stoops admitted it had been a mistake and took the blame. But that was just the most obvious coaching error that Sooner fans can point to this season. Oklahoma fans are not exactly the most forgiving bunch when their team doesn’t play well, so expect this one to fester for some time.
If Your Name is Not Marcus Mariota, You’re Playing for Second
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has been the Heisman frontrunner for several weeks now, and Friday night’s Pac-12 championship game against Arizona should seal the deal. Not only did Mariota get to avenge the Ducks’ only loss of the season and get them into the playoff, but the junior quarterback racked up 346 total yards and five touchdowns in the 51-13 rout. Mariota has scored at least four touchdowns in all but two games this season and leads the nation in total yards from scrimmage (4,442).
Guys like Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper have had great seasons. But no one has been as outstanding, week in and week out, as Mariota. It’s not often that who I think should win and who I think will win is the same person. But this year it’s a no-brainer.