najee harris of alabama outplayed a vertical defender from notre dame during a long run. Crimson Tide’s Devonta Smith put the exclamation point on what should be a heisman trophy season with a tremendous toe-tap touchdown.
ohio state trey sermon was so dominant as a running back and receiver that he could have beaten clemson single handedly. However, he didn’t have to because Buckeyes star quarterback Justin Fields turned superman and dusted himself off after taking a hard hit to the ribs while throwing six touchdown passes.
will be the states of alabama and ohio, two of the top five programs in college football history, in miami on jan. 11 to play in the college football playoff championship game. to get there on new years day, they put on captivating performances that were perfect for this made-for-tv pandemic season, and if one were to simply tune in without proper context, the spectacle and hype of the broadcast could have easily obscured just how much the sport is sick.
I love college football and will always watch it because it’s a part of who I am. in the fall, it’s my personal metronome, the rhythm always moves towards Saturday. but the college football playoff, seven years into its existence, is no longer interesting.
ohio state saved us from another national championship game between alabama and clemson, as louisiana did a year ago. Alabama and Clemson have been so awfully good over the past five years that they made LSU feel like a plucky underdog last season (the Tigers had already won two national championships and played for another this millennium).
despite ncaa claims to the contrary, college football has never been in “competitive balance,” but the number of legitimate championship contenders has dwindled to an unhealthy level.
only six programs, the four mentioned plus georgia and oregon, have won cfp games. Eleven have made the group, though Notre Dame (twice), Washington and Michigan State were easily handled by the two powerhouses of the sport, and Oklahoma has emerged as a closeout with an 0-4 record.
In perspective, the controversial bowling championship series, which selected only two teams to play for a title each year between 1998 and 2013, had 11 different champions in 16 years and placed 15 schools on the main stage of this sport.
The natural assumption was that doubling access by creating a four-team playoff would lead to more variability and excitement. instead, the opposite has happened.
In 2014, no one could have predicted Clemson’s dynastic rise under Dabo Swinney. Of course, Alabama was already established by then with Nick Saban’s first three national championships. In recent years, Ohio State has further entrenched himself as the only kingpin in the Big Ten, creating so much space between himself and his conference foes that he apparently saved all his good plays for the CFP semifinals because the Buckeyes knew that no one would step in his way.
this can be cyclical, but if it is, the cycle will not end soon. those six shows that have won cfp games? they are currently the top six teams in the 2021 247-sport Composite Team Recruiting Rankings, with Alabama and Ohio states bringing in historically elite classes.
some may say that this is not a problem, that we should appreciate the greatness of these programs and accept them as lords of the sport until dormant powers like usc, texas, florida and the state of florida can usurp the throne.
but for those who are tired of seeing the same colors and hearing the same fight songs in these title bouts, and surely some members of the cfp management committee and the ncaa football oversight committee fit this description, it’s time to start considering some big changes that could help level the playing field.
so far, too much emphasis is being placed on expanding the playoff to eight teams. more access alone will not lead to more variability in champion teams. going from two to four has shown this, albeit with a small sample size. while no 4 notre dame playing no. 5 Texas A&M, No. 3 ohio state playing no. 6 oklahoma and no. 2 clemsons playing no. 7 florida could have made for entertaining first-round games, it’s highly unlikely that a&m, oklahoma or florida would make it to the title game.
One change that would definitely shift power to peasants is lowering the scholarship cap from 85 to 75. Even lowering it to 80 could have an impact over the course of four or five recruiting classes.
cfp and espn will make the decision to extend the playoffs. The NCAA would have to decide that reducing full-time soccer scholarships would be good for the sport’s long-term popularity, and problems would certainly arise from that decision across the country. it’s been done before, most recently in 1992 when the limit went from 95 to 85.
reducing it again by 10 would equate to a dozen players each year not going to alabama, clemson, ohio state and lsu who could end up in florida, florida state, michigan or auburn. The trickle-down effect would mean that a dozen or so players who would have gone to one of those second-tier blue bloods would end up in Tennessee, Miami, Nebraska, or Texas A&M, and so on.
the ncaa’s one-time transfer waiver will generate more player movement, but the powers that be in the sport will surely benefit from the transfer portal’s ability to select the best players from other teams.
The ability for players to benefit from their name, image and likeness could be a leveling factor for programs that have played by the rules, while others are attracting recruits through hidden financial incentives. it will probably just lead to new methods of breaking the rules.
none of those changes will change things like adjusting the scholarship cap.
this pandemic season was supposed to be more random and unpredictable but ultimately the system battled 6-0 ohio state to get their title shot and wouldn’t even consider giving undefeated cincinnati any consideration for Alabama’s position in the group.
College football is at its best when 15 or 20 programs have a shot at the crown. It hasn’t felt this way in recent years, and it can make some bold decisions to bring real drama back to the sport.