SCARBROUGH'S TAKE

Tripleheader – CFP, Iron Bowl, Looking Ahead

Lyn Scarbrough

November 30, 2023 at 7:11 pm.

 As the college football campaign winds down, there are so many things to talk about before rightfully jumping into what promises to be another exciting, competitive basketball season.

Here’s three of them:

College Football Playoff (CFP)

Writing this just two days before most of the conference championship games will be played. (Washington and Oregon play for the Pac-12 championship and New Mexico State plays Liberty for the Conference USA title on Friday night.)

You don’t get to say this often, but the College Football Playoff Committee has it right … and has for the past several weeks.

There are four Power 5 undefeated teams (Georgia, Michigan, Washington, Florida State) and those are the top four ranked teams. What could be easier than that!

But, what if those four don’t win their championship game? That’s when things become not quite so easy.

Michigan should win over Iowa in the Big Ten title contest. The Wolverines are a 23-point favorite and if they didn’t stop the game until January, I doubt that the Hawkeyes could score 23. A Michigan defeat would be one of the greatest upsets since teams have been playing for championships.

That leaves three undefeated.

Of those, Washington is the hardest to figure. The Huskies, winners over Oregon in mid-October, 36-33, is underdog to the Ducks by nine points for the Pac-12 championship. Maybe that’s because Oregon has played better, more dominantly, than Washington since then. Maybe it’s because Bo Nix has looked more superhuman than Michael Penix in the northwest quarterback comparison. Maybe it’s because Oregon lost that game due to a bad coaching decision (going for it on fourth down in your own territory with little time remaining … and failing to convert, allowing Penix a short field for the win.)

Anyway, if the favored team wins, Washington and Oregon would have identical one-loss records. Both won head-to-head. But, the nod should go to the Ducks over the Huskies since they would have the league title and won most recently.

Florida State would be favored, possibly comfortably, in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game if its starting quarterback Jordan Travis was playing, but he’s not. Louisville, coming off the disappointing loss to Kentucky, has a legit chance to pull the upset.

That leaves Georgia, winner of 29 consecutive games and two consecutive national championships, facing Alabama, winner of the SEC Western Division. Georgia is the better team, but the best team doesn’t always win.

Comparative scores don’t indicate a winner, but they do lean toward the Dawgs. Bama defeated Ole Miss, 24-10, in Tuscaloosa; Georgia massacred the Rebels, 52-17, in Athens. Alabama defeated Tennessee by 14 points in Tuscaloosa; Georgia defeated the Volunteers by 28 in Knoxville. Alabama miraculously squeaked by Auburn, 27-24, trailed in the fourth quarter and probably loses if not for a muffed punt. Georgia defeated Auburn 27-20, trailed much of the game and probably loses if not for Brock Bowers.

But, the Crimson Tide has a legit chance to win. Georgia isn’t going to win every game forever. They’re going to lose again and it could very well be now.

Texas, not undefeated (three point loss to Oklahoma), plays Oklahoma State for the Big 12 title. This is the same Cowboys team that lost to South Alabama (33-7) and UCF (45-3). The Longhorns most recently annihilated bowl-bound Texas Tech, 57-7. Oklahoma State could win, but that’s not likely.

So what if we end up with undefeated Michigan and one-loss Georgia, Alabama, Florida State, Texas, Oregon, Washington, Ohio State and undefeated Liberty, if it wins the C-USA title game? Not a likely scenario, but possible.

Texas should be included, a conference champion, head-to-head winner against Alabama (won by double digits on Bama’s home field, no less). A head-to-head loser with the same record as the head-to-head winner should not be given the advantage against the winning team. That would destroy credibility, make a joke of the process.

So that would leave only two spots … further proof that the four-team playoff format has never been fair.

Should Georgia be given the chance to defend its two consecutive national titles? Should Alabama be given the nod because it defeated the Bulldogs? Should Florida State be punished due to its starting quarterback being injured? Should Oregon be there because it got the revenge win over the Huskies, has probably been playing the best football overall, plus may be bringing the Heisman Trophy winner?

This will be an nteresting weekend, then most likely an argument-causing CFP Selection show.

 

2023 Iron Bowl 

This was a game that Alabama had to win. A loss in this one would eliminate the Tide from any shot at a CFP final four position.

It was supposed to be a game that Auburn couldn’t win. The Tigers already had five losses, including a 30-point blowout to LSU and a three touchdown loss the previous week on the same field to New Mexico State.

Bama was a 13-point favorite and that margin didn’t seem like it would be enough.

But as the game played out, it appeared to be a contest between two teams that played pretty much equally. The score was back-and-forth, the Tide with the superior passing game, the Tigers with the superior running game.

With fourth-quarter minutes ticking down, Auburn was in control. The Tigers lead had been increased  to 24-20, making irrelevant the possibility of field goal from Alabama’s greatest placekicker ever, Will Reichard. Alabama had to have a touchdown and time was running out.

The Crimson Tide was being forced to punt again, something like four minutes remained in the game, and they needed the ball back quickly. They needed a miracle.

That’s when the outcome of the game turned on two decisions by the Auburn coaching staff which had put together such an effective game plan and whose players had executed it so well up until those last few critical minutes.

Alabama got the miracle … in the form of an unforced error, a muffed punt by the Auburn kick returner which Alabama recovered on the Tigers 31-yard line.

Why did Auburn even have a player in the game to field a punt? Let the ball hit the ground and roll, ticking off more seconds. The only realistic way that Alabama could win was to have possession of the ball. If Auburn could make even one first down, the Tide may have never gotten possession again.

But, Auburn muffs the punt, giving Bama the ball in Tiger territory, still with several minutes to play, putting the Auburn defense back on the field immediately with no time for even a breather.

The game finally was determined by one more play, a desperation last-gasp throw to the end zone. Win or lose, that was it. Time for the next critical sideline decision.

Auburn rushed only three men against Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe, an accurate passer with the unique ability to make a big play, especially when not facing a rush. With the game on the line, Milroe could have called Mama Goldberg’s up the street to order a sandwich and still have had plenty of time to find a receiver.

Finally, Bama receiver Isaiah Bond was able to pull in the scoring pass from MIlroe to salvage the victory for the Crimson Tide. To Bama’s credit, it was able take advantage of the gifts it was given, avoiding the upset, staying in the CFP picture.

Alabama won a game it had to win, but almost didn’t.

Auburn had virtually won a game it couldn’t win, but gave it away.

In a series that has produced many last minute wins by both teams, this one became another instant classic.

 

Looking Ahead 

So, what will the 2024 season hold for the Southeastern Conference, as well as for college football nationwide? The magnitude of conference realignment, plus the increase of players in the transfer portal (already happening), makes that almost impossible to forecast, but fascinating to think about.

Again next season, SEC coaching changes will be impactful. Jimbo Fisher gone from Texas A&M with a preposterous amount of money and his offensive coordinator, Bobby Petrino, back to Fayetteville to have that same position. (Seriously! You can’t make this stuff up.) Mike Elko, leaves Duke, going back to College Station.

Jeff Lebby, offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, leaves that position to take the helm at Mississippi State. The Sooners, along with arch-rival Texas, will follow him into the conference.

Georgia and Alabama aren’t going anywhere. Looks like LSU will be strong again and we’ll see if this surprising Missouri season is an illusion or the first step for the Tigers moving toward the top echelon of the league.

How about recruiting?

With the early signing period approaching for the 2024 class, 10 of the 16 SEC teams are ranked among the Top 20 by On3 College Sports and Recruiting site, with Georgia at No. 1, Florida No. 4 and Alabama No. 5. The others are Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn and South Carolina. Several highly rated players are still uncommitted and the transfer portal will have an impact, positively and negatively.

Looking further ahead, according to On3, among the early 2025 class commitments Alabama ranks No. 1, Georgia is No. 2, LSU is No. 5, Auburn is No. 7 and Oklahoma is No. 8.

Of course it’s much too soon to know, but it looks like the traditional power programs will be staying good and getting better. There’s a lot to look forward to in college football, especially among the traditional SEC programs.