I’m not going to begin our last college football discussion of the year by reminding everyone that I correctly picked the winners of all four featured bowl games last week. Whoops. With that established, I’ll admit that the method and pace of some games was far from what I predicted, and I feel silly in retrospect. Initially, I believed that Georgia v. Michigan would be a hard-fought slobberknocker in which each team would score sparingly and the result would be determined by a single mistake. That didn’t happen. The Bulldogs were embarrassingly dominant over Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines, and I should have seen it coming. I predicted Nick Saban’s Tide would wash over the Bearcats, but they did so with even more ferocity than Antonio Brown’s retirement.
Honestly — I can’t really believe I’m saying this — we either need to expand the playoff immediately or scrap the whole damn thing and go back to Nos. 1 and 2 finishing it during a major bowl. Recounting the history is clear. We’ve witnessed 16 semifinal matchups during this phase of the college football playoffs, and only three finished as one-possession victories (one game by a touchdown and two games by 6). The 2017-18 season was by far the most contentious year, when Georgia outscored Oklahoma for a 6-point two-overtime victory before losing to Alabama by 3 during overtime in the national championship. Otherwise, the playoffs have been a snoozefest, and I’m including the title games.
Still, it’s as obvious as an oversized load barreling down I-35 that the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are the two best teams in the country, and it isn’t close. I’d waste all of our time trying to dissect what will be a second meeting of two extremely talented squads, but I’ll leave that to the SEC-obsessed mainstream writers and help us relive what was an actually exciting New Year’s Day of football as the Big 12 soared.
Notre Dame, oh, sweet patron saint of misplaced faith. The Irish are still the perennial darlings of voters and the media and begin almost every season ranked, deservedly or not. The South Benders piecemeal together a schedule to their liking, which almost anyone is thrilled to play them due to the revenue generated, yet ND was 0-7 in marquee or BCS bowls before their Fiesta Bowl matchup with Oklahoma State on Saturday. I picked the Cowboys to win a close one but questioned myself after tuning in around lunchtime to find the Pokes languishing in a 0-14 hole. The Irish — who couldn’t run the ball, at all — were casually tossing it around the field and making their All-American tight end look like the second coming of Rob Gronkowski. The matchup almost seemed to be getting out of hand with Disney’s Deacons up 28-7 with barely a minute remaining in the first half. Okie State quarterback Spencer Sanders responded with a four-play 75-yard drive to bring his boys to within two possessions before half. Mike Gundy’s paddle pounders received the ball after the break and drove nearly 90 yards for another touchdown. Two drives later, they followed with another touchdown drive of similar length. Three subsequent drives culminated with field goals before the Irish would score again but not before Notre Dame’s defense had surrendered 30-consecutive points. With a final box of 37-35 in favor of Oklahoma State, the 21-point comeback represents OSU’s largest-ever climb and ND’s most epic collapse.
Despite the two-point victory, State was the much better team. The orange and black defense prevented any rushing traction from the beginning, allowing only 42 total yards on the ground. They also tallied two turnovers thanks to an opportune interception and fumble, each preventing probable scores. Oklahoma State — as I warned — provided opportunities for the Irish to revive themselves. Twice, OSU could have iced the game but fumbled the ball in the end zone or even right at the goal line. Despite the offensive missteps, the Cowboys defense proved too good. Even though they were our conference runner-up, their victory over the Irish — the first team excluded from the playoff thanks to their loss to Cincinnati — represents the most significant bowl victory for the Big 12 this postseason.
Conference champion Baylor took the field from New Orleans on Saturday night against Ole Miss in a contest that was light on scoring, especially early. Rebel quarterback Matt Corral arrived with a big stat line but left on the back of a cart. The prolific passer was twisted up during a tackle, and what looked like a catastrophic injury is now said to be a more manageable ankle sprain. Even though Corral left early in the game, his start was not auspicious. The slinger completed only two passes, was sacked three times, and threw an interception on the second play of the game. His replacement, Luke Altmyer, constructed an impressive drive on his first series only to be intercepted and housed 93-yards for a score by Baylor’s defense. Neither offense scored in the first half, and going into the final quarter, the score was deadlocked at 7.
I was impressed by the Ole Miss defense who is, at least statistically, not very good. Bears head coach Dave Aranda was aggressive from the start, losing the ball on downs twice in the first quarter. I’m not sure if Aranda was more confident in his offense or defense, but the aggression didn’t bite Baylor on the scoreboard. Ole Miss was finally able to break through for a long pass touchdown, but it was the green and gold defense and running game that solidified their 21-7 victory in the Sugar bowl.
The Big 12 finished at 5-2. Baylor, Okie State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Tech all won their bowl matchups. The SEC was 5-7, but the record is also demonstrative of how many eligible teams they produced and the fact that two playoff qualifiers leave other teams playing up in their bowl matchups. If the Southeast conference hadn’t qualified any teams, it would have been Baylor playing Alabama, which is an important consideration for bragging rights. The Big 12 acquitted itself well in front of national audiences during bowl season, but we don’t have any teams playing in the games that matter. And it seems that the SEC is the only conference actually winning those games. It could be worse. The PAC-12 didn’t make the playoffs and is winless in bowl season, so that should make us all feel a little bit better. Just me? Oh, well.