The hottest, the best and the brightest on this Selection Sunday for college football’s postseason
Appalachian State, Georgia State and Georgia Southern
True, the system has become insanely bloated. Your pain is felt. But for those schools that bowl once every never, this can be a very special moment to land some rare national recognition, while enjoying bowl festivities. The Sun Belt’s App State, Georgia State and Georgia Southern, for instance. The three relative newcomers to the FBS will be playing in their first-ever bowl game at this level, so there’s zero chance they’ll be taking their bonus games for granted.
Northwestern and Tennessee
The Wildcats are ending a two-year bowl drought. The Volunteers haven’t played on New Year’s Day in eight years. The programs will meet in the Outback Bowl in a game of great meaning to both. For Northwestern, Jan. 1 in Tampa is a reward for an improbable 10-win season. For Butch Jones and Tennessee, which has won five in a row, a first-tier game provides an opportunity to add more bricks to the foundation.
The Cowboys were the beneficiaries of Baylor’s implosion against Texas in Waco Saturday. Seemingly out of the Big Six bowl mix when the final weekend began, Okie State took the back door into the Sugar Bowl for a marquee matchup with Ole Miss. Mike Gundy’s team lost its final two games, including getting crushed in Bedlam by Oklahoma, yet it still has the good fortune of appearing in one of the postseason’s top-shelf events.
Rose Bowl Game
The folks in Pasadena absolutely covet, but don’t always get, a traditional pairing of Big Ten vs. Pac-12. This year, however, they do, since the Rose Bowl is not a part of the playoff rotation of semifinal games. And the game has a great matchup, to boot, with Iowa facing Stanford. Christian McCaffrey will be in the building, and the Hawkeyes-Cardinal will be like catnip for those who enjoy watching games won at the line of scrimmage.
Holy War in Sin City
The Las Vegas Bowl committee could not have nailed its selections any better. Pitting BYU and Utah together is a stroke of postseason brilliance, particularly since this rivalry is inexcusably on its first hiatus since World War II. The fan bases hate one another, and are going to fill Sam Boyd Stadium to create a rare electrifying atmosphere for a December bowl game.
The SEC champs caught a little break when Michigan State jumped ahead of Oklahoma into the No. 3 hole. The Tide, which has had problems with diverse, fast-paced offenses in recent years, didn’t want anything to do with the surging Sooners in the semifinal round. The Spartans and their pro-style offense figures to be a whole lot more manageable. Michigan State wants to run to set up the pass, but only Georgia had success running the ball on Bama this year.
The 12-person College Football Playoff committee is a lot like a referee or a left tackle. If you don’t hear anything about them, it probably means they’re doing their job. Sure, by avoiding upsets, Clemson and Alabama sort of took the drama out of the equation for the committee on the final weekend. However, this eclectic mix of football people has been solid in the first two years, evaluating the data in such a way that it’s tough to find a lot of fault without splitting hairs.
The postseason is great for many things. Chief among them are the pairings of teams we just don’t get to see often enough. Notre Dame vs. Ohio State on New Year’s Day will be a prime example. Name brand programs. Elite talent. And a great coaching matchup between Brian Kelly and Urban Meyer. The Irish and the Buckeyes haven’t met in a decade, ironically in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, so the ratings and the energy will be through the roof for this game.
The Cougars are modern-day BCS busters, the Group of Five king that gets an opportunity to test its limits in a Big Six bowl game. It was an amazing first year for head coach Tom Herman, who’s led Houston to a 12-1 mark and an American Athletic Conference championship. And now, Herman, QB Greg Ward Jr. and the rest of the Cougs get a chance to really send the program into overdrive with a Chick-fil-A Bowl date against national power Florida State.
Remember when the Big Ten was the butt of countless jokes this time of year? Yeah, feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it? The once-beleaguered conference has three members, Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State, ranked within the top seven teams. And it’s the only league that can boast sending as many as three members to Big Six bowl games. The Big Ten will be getting maximum big-stage exposure on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
The disappointments from this Selection Sunday in the college football world.
Great season, Owls. One that Matt Rhule can build on in 2016 and beyond. But playing for an American title on Saturday was a high stakes game. Had Temple upset Houston on the road, it would have played in a major bowl game, an epic, program-defining achievement for this school. By losing, though, the Owls slipped all the way down to the Boca Raton Bowl, where MAC West division runner-up Toledo will be the opponent.
If you’re the Panthers right now, aren’t you a little ticked off that you’ll end the season at the Military Bowl? No disrespect to the Military Bowl and their fine volunteers, but it falls a rung below the Music City Bowl, the Belk Bowl and the Pinstripe Bowl on the ACC postseason ladder. And Louisville, NC State and Duke, who are playing in the aforementioned games, each had worse overall and conference records than Pitt. Plus, the Panthers’ four losses were to Iowa, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Miami by an average of just a touchdown.
The Tar Heels arrived in Charlotte this weekend with a chance to win their first ACC title in 35 years, and even enter the College Football Playoff debate. They lost, 45-37. But instead of earning a Big Six bowl bid as a consolation prize, the 11-win Tar Heels will face Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Florida State filled the ACC’s other Big Six opening, while bowl tie-ins boxed Carolina out of Sugar Bowl consideration.
The Horned Frogs began the season ranked No. 2, so they fully expected to be a part of the playoff festivities. Incessant injuries, though, crushed this team in 2015. So, not only did TCU finish outside the top four, but late losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma knocked it clear out of the Big Six picture. Plus, the Frogs Alamo Bowl dance partner is Oregon, who finished the regular season as one of the five or so hottest teams in the country.
For the first time in three years, the Seminoles’ postseason to-do list will not include winning a national championship. True, Florida State worked its way into a major event by closing the year with a win over Florida. And the Chick-fil-A folks know how to throw a party. But Jimbo Fisher could have a really tough time motivating his kids, especially since facing Group of Five champ Houston is kind of a no-win situation for a football power.
On the one hand, Sooner fans are pumped. Who was thinking playoff spot following the Red River loss to Texas? On the other, though, they can’t be happy that their team slipped a spot to No. 4 without playing a game Saturday. You see, at No. 3, Oklahoma would have played in Arlington, Tex., which is about a three-hour car drive south. At No. 4, OU will face top-ranked Clemson in Florida, which is going to require a plane ticket and a much bigger post-holiday investment.
5-7 Bowl Teams
Is this where we’re at in the postseason? Evidently, reaching .500 is no longer required in a world where 80, yes 80, of the 128 FBS programs receive bowl bids. Yeah, yeah, more football is a good thing on some level. But when Nebraska, San Jose State and Minnesota ‘earn’ a berth despite finishing 5-7, it might be time to seriously evaluate whether college football’s postseason needs to go on a diet in 2016.
Georgia Tech and Mizzou
The Yellow Jackets and the Tigers own the ignominy of being the only two programs ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 that will not be participating in this year’s postseason. And that was tough to do in a season in which the bar for bowl entry has never been so low. Even worse, Georgia Tech and Missouri began 2015 as defending divisional champs from the ACC Coastal and the SEC East, respectively.
You had one job this weekend, Bears, handle at home a Texas team that began the weekend 4-7. But Baylor was unable to overcome its mounting quarterback injuries, which forced WR Lynx Hawthorne to get behind center on Saturday after third-string Chris Johnson was hurt. The Bears finished the regular season 1-3, so instead of returning to a Big Six bowl game, they’ll face North Carolina in the far less visible—and lucrative—Russell Athletic Bowl.
The Pac-12, considered by most to be the next best thing to the SEC in the conference pecking order, is this year’s Big 12—the one Power Five league without a representative in the College Football Playoff. Plus, it’s the only major conference with fewer than two teams appearing in Big Six bowl games. Stanford will carry the Pac-12 banner in the Rose Bowl, where Iowa awaits, but the Cardinal’s faint playoff hopes ended when Alabama and Clemson held serve on championship weekend.