One undeniable pandemic positive of this college football season is that fans will move directly from conference championships into bowl season. The typical month of prognosticating bowl performances has been voided, and we can go speedily into enjoying games sponsored by companies that have nothing to do with football.
In the Big 12, Oklahoma rolled to what seemed to be early domination over conference leader Iowa State before their schooner lost a wheel in the second half. Luckily for the five-time defending conference champions, their lead was substantial enough to outlast the Cyclones and raise the crown for the sixth consecutive season. In the ACC, Clemson and Notre Dame encored their game from earlier in the season, but future NFL top draft pick — Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence — actually played for the Tigers this time. Lawrence’s presence proved significant. The Fighting Irish outlasted the Tigers in South Bend in early November — a game Notre Dame won by a touchdown during overtime before fans rushed the field to force a quarantine order from their university president — but that wasn’t the story on Saturday. Clemson beat the brakes off Notre Dame. The Irish struck first with a field goal on their opening possession. Clemson responded with 34 unanswered points before ND scored their first and only touchdown with eight minutes remaining.
Meanwhile in the SEC, top-ranked Alabama looked similar to their crimson counterpart Oklahoma in dominating their first half over Florida but allowing the Gators to chomp their way back into contention during the third before outlasting them in the final frame for a 52-46 victory en route to an undefeated regular season. The Big 10 — whose championship game represented each team’s whopping fifth conference contest of the season — was a real dumpster fire as Northwestern and Ohio State combined for five turnovers and an eventual 22-10 Buckeye victory. Oregon won the PAC 12 championship over USC. The Ducks weren’t even the leader of their division, but the Washington Huskies couldn’t appear because of rampant COVID spread, so the details of the final game don’t even garner the relevance of being discussed.
This leads us to Sunday’s always controversial announcement of the four teams selected for the college football “playoff.” Top-ranked Alabama will face fourth-ranked Notre Dame, and second-ranked Clemson will play third-ranked Ohio State. Yes, we’re considering a six-win Ohio State team and a squad that finished second in a conference that should be renamed “Clemson and some other teams,” the four most deserving teams in the nation. The most notable — and surely the most vocal — omission: Texas A&M. Confession time, your favorite columnist wanted to be an Aggie. It was a different time, the iPod was hot technology, MySpace was dominating the interwebs, and The Lord of the Rings was the top grossing movie in the country. Then 17-year-old high-school senior Buck had pipe dreams of walking onto the Aggie football team and fulfilling the 12th-man dream. The problem: I wasn’t in the Top 10 percentile of my competitive graduating class. Don’t misunderstand. I was a solid student with an acceptable 3.6 GPA and a list of extracurriculars long enough to build an impressive resume. But under Texas law at that time, any student at a public high school in our state in the Top 10 of their class is guaranteed admission to their choice of state university. Those universities are most popularly UT and Texas A&M. What did that mean for everyone else? They were either denied, or in my case, offered a deferred admission with options to attend a litany of satellite campuses and transfer later. As Will Ferrell’s immortal portrayal of NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby reminds us, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” So, when the arrival of my immediate acceptance to TCU — along with a reasonably generous financial aid package — I hopped on it, pun intended. This said, my relationship with anything Aggie could best be described as strained. The aforementioned considered, it should be all the more meaningful when I assert that the Aggies got screwed. Second place in the SEC East and one loss against No. 1 Alabama in early October should not disqualify the fifth-ranked Ags from playoff contention.
It’s difficult to decide which team — the Buckeyes or Notre Dame — are less deserving of topping A&M for a playoff spot. Yes, the Buckeyes are undefeated, but unlike when OSU leapfrogged Baylor and TCU in the final week of 2014, their conference championship over Northwestern was painful to watch and didn’t indicate a premier squad. Notre Dame’s only loss was to second-ranked Clemson. The South Benders beat the Tigers earlier this year, albeit in overtime absent arguably the best player in the country (at least according to the NFL). But honest college football disciples know arguments that the ACC should have two qualifying teams is as sound as massive election fraud.
For the Frogs, a surprisingly positive finish to the season has netted a Mercari Texas Bowl invitation on New Year’s Eve which will feature a familiar Houston locale against an equally familiar opponent, a matchup with the three-win Arkansas Razorbacks from the SEC. We’ll dissect this border battle in detail next week. Because no Big 12 squads made the playoffs this year, I expect the conference to do exceptionally well during bowl season because no one will be playing up because of a vacated spot. Oklahoma draws the toughest matchup, facing SEC runner-up Florida in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl on November 30. Iowa State plays pretend PAC-12-champion Oregon in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl on January 2. The Longhorns won’t travel far when they reunite with Big 12 defector Colorado in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on December 29. Oklahoma State kicks off earlier that day in Orlando against the Miami Hurricanes in the Cheez-It bowl. West Virginia will play Army on New Year’s Eve afternoon in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
To circle back, Texas A&M is forced to accept their consolation prize in a January 2 date with North Carolina in the Orange Bowl. UNC’s coach, former head Longhorn Mack Brown, should feel right at home coaching against the Aggies, who’ll be out to prove they were shafted. I feel for you Aggie faithful, I really do, but the top spots are reserved for the Top 10 percentile of college football brands. Until College Station can alter the unwritten rules of the bowl selection committee, you can always prove yourself at a satellite bowl, and maybe you’ll be able to transfer in next year.
Update: This story has been amended to change the name of West Virginia’s opponent in the Liberty Bowl. It is Army and no longer Tennessee.