Five conference champions were crowned this weekend in major college football. The Horned Frogs weren’t involved. Unless you count freshman comparative race and ethnic studies major Jazlyn Rodriguez Hernandez, who decimated her opponent 17-8 during the ever-enjoyable football toss into giant Dr Pepper cans. Hernandez won $100K in tuition. Good for her. Money doesn’t spread as far at TCU as it once did. Her performance at halftime of the Big 12 championship coincided with the playoff selection committee scrambling to troubleshoot their plan if Baylor maintained its halftime lead of 13-10 over Oklahoma.
Staged for Mayhem
Rewind to a rainy and lightly attended meeting between the one-loss Utah Utes and two-loss Oregon Ducks. Utah, who had been Top 10 statistically in almost all phases was ranked fifth and looked sure to bust into the playoffs if they could snag the PAC-12 championship. They couldn’t and looked completely inept on offense, becoming one-dimensional by the third quarter. Coach Kyle Whittingham’s Utes couldn’t score before the third quarter and were drowned 15-37 by the Ducks, cementing the Pacific Conference’s exclusion from playoff selection for the third consecutive year. As a conference, West Coasters have fewer appearances in the CFP semifinals than any of the power five. Their Friday night cannibalism parted the way for a likely Oklahoma vs. Baylor play-in game, as both Big 12 squads loomed closely behind in the rankings.
The rematch between the Bears and Sooners was sloppy through the first half. The Bears, known for their defense, kept Heisman-hopeful Jaylen Hurts and his Okies in check. The Sooners, not known for defense, suffocated Charlie Brewer, who left the game late in the second quarter thanks to a vicious sack and didn’t return. Waco’s warriors used two backup QBs for the remainder. Both proved they could punish the average-at-best Okie secondary through the air. This back-and-forth final finished deadlocked at 23, and fans were awarded with overtime. The Bears, who already won overtime tilts against TCU and Tech this season, won the toss and elected to start on defense. Hurts and company required only three plays to score a touchdown. His defensive co-stars caged the Bears on the subsequent series, driving them back 10 yards in four plays to secure what would become their third playoff appearance in as many years and fourth overall. Some Baylor boosters will go to their graves swearing that if Brewer hadn’t been injured, the Bears would have won the game. Maybe. But their leader had been ineffective, and his understudies seemed to do better until overtime.
It’s not that Baylor wasn’t qualified to be in the playoffs, but the committee would have faced some hard decisions to justify it. The Bears didn’t play a power-five team in pre-conference. The best group they squared off against was the two-win Rice Owls. Coach Matt Rhule orchestrated an incredible turnaround for his Central Texans, but style points are real. Overtime against two teams who didn’t qualify for bowls doesn’t look good. Blowing a 21-point lead at home against Oklahoma in their first match-up looked worse. A two-point win against Iowa State in Waco is still a win, but you get the idea.
Ultimately, Rhule and Whittingham failing to secure conference titles and playoff selection taints the Horned Frogs. The national championship glass ceiling is still firmly intact. Middle-aged Froggers are more than familiar with the Utes from TCU’s Mountain West tours, back when both teams jockeyed to run the table to hopefully bust the BCS. Both have graduated to big boy conferences and have had their chances to make it happen, but final game foibles have excluded them. The blue-collar teams are no closer to being taken seriously by the blue bloods after fumbling opportunities this weekend.
If you watched them, you probably did so while flipping back and forth between more compelling programming. There was no theatre. LSU trounced Georgia 37-10 in an even more overwhelming manner than expected. The Tigers elevated themselves to a No. 1 ranking and face Oklahoma in a semifinal. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow should be a lock for the Heisman Trophy, and his teammates will be heavily favored against the Sooners. Rightly so. Clemson continued a pillaging of the ACC by powering past the Virginia Cavaliers. Ohio State stumbled early against the Wisconsin Badgers, who helped the Buckeyes by imploding after halftime, scoring zero points, to eventually lose 21-34. The Tigers and Buckeyes will meet in the other semifinal match-up. No one can really gauge this iteration of the defending national champions. The ACC is a notoriously weak conference save for Clemson, but it promises to be the most talked about of the semifinal games as Hurts and his Sooners will likely be two-touchdown underdogs against Burrow and the most prolific offense in college football. It’s time to speculate for weeks until we’re blessed with one last round of pigskin.