Championship Week has come and gone and now we have our College Football Playoff slate. Some love it, some hate it but nonetheless, it’s what we have at this point so it’s what we have to deal with. Every week this season, we’ve had Winners & Losers and today we will have the Championship Week Winners & Losers as well as the Winners & Losers from the entire season so here we go!
Championship Week Winners
1. Big Ten Conference – Heading into championship weekend, the Big Ten appeared to have a long shot chance of getting into the inaugural College Football Playoff as there were two quality Big XII teams in play and the likely candidate to reach the playoff was on their third string quarterback and their opponent wasn’t ranked high enough in the polls to jump into the Top 4. Saturday night rolled around where the 3rd ranked Horned Frogs were hopping all over the 2-9 Iowa State Cyclones while the Baylor Bears were locked up in a close game with Kansas State. Then the Ohio State Buckeyes, led by third string quarterback Cardale Jones, proceeded to absolutely destroy the 16th ranked Wisconsin Badgers 59-0 while holding the Badgers’ star runningback Melvin Gordon III to only 76 total yards. Now the Big Ten has their marquee program representing the league in the first ever College Football Playoff and playing in the place where their most recent demise saw its genesis.
2. SMU Mustangs – Saturday morning we joked about how many people we figured would be in attendance to watch the 0-11 SMU Mustangs play the 2-9 Connecticut Huskies play for literally nothing in East Hartford, Connecticut, in less than favorable weather. Our over/under was 500 and we all should have taken the under because there seemed to be more people wearing football helmets than sitting in the stands in rain jackets. But even in all of that negativity, the Mustangs were able to muster out an ugly win to finish the season on a high note. SMU hired a new head coach last week and I think they hit a home run with the hire and then they followed it up with their first victory of the year on the road in conference. Good for them. Now all new coach Chad Morris will need to do is clean up the execution on the Mustang offense’s victory formation and it will all be downhill from there.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide – Going into the SEC Championship Game there were a lot of questions over how Missouri’s defensive line was going to fare against Alabama’s offensive line and whether or not the Tiger pass rush was going to have an effect on the game. The difference in the game quickly became the Crimson Tide defense that held Missouri to 41 total rushing yards which forced the Tigers into almost impossible passing situations. It seemed like Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk was running for his life the entire game and slinging prayers down the field and at the sidelines in hopes that his wide receivers could maybe snag a few of them, which they did. If you take away half of those passes, I doubt the Tigers score any points the entire game. Just as always Alabama is primed and ready at just the right time of the season.
Championship Week Losers
1. Big XII – Before the season got started and we began this journey towards the first College Football Playoff, the Big XII was the conference that was screaming the loudest that they were the only conference with a ‘one true champion’. Once the season got going, a couple of the coaches in the conference bristled when questioned about not having a conference championship game like the other power 5 conferences. Then in perfect timing, when it appeared that TCU & Baylor were each going to finish the season with identical records, conference commissioner Bruce Bowlsby announced that the Big XII would have co-champions in 2014 which completely destroyed the hopes of the Frogs & Bears getting into the College Football Playoff.
2. Arizona Wildcats – There was no shortage of people who were all in on the Wildcats at this time last week as they were headed to their first Pac-12 Championship Game against the Oregon Ducks, who they defeated in Eugene back in October. Defensive end Scooby Wright leads all of college football in tackles for loss and was a complete non factor in the championship game as the Ducks rolled all over Arizona 51-13 on the national stage on Friday night. A lot of kudos goes out to Coach Rich Rodriguez and everything he has done so far to build Arizona up to a contender in the Pac-12 South but they just weren’t enough to stop the machine that was Oregon offense who gained almost 700 yards of offense.
3. Wisconsin Badgers – We just finished talking about how little the Wildcats did to slow down the ducks but the poor effort award this week definitely goes to the folks from Madison, Wisconsin, who failed to score a single point in Indianapolis Saturday night against the Buckeyes. The team who was averaging well over two hundred yards per game on the ground was held to just 71 yards rushing and under 300 total yards of offense while also giving up over 550 yards of offense to the Buckeyes, who by the way were being led by their 3rd string quarterback if you haven’t heard already. The Badgers were able to also give up almost 60 points in conference championship game in which they were the odds-on favorite according to Las Vegas because of injuries and how well they were playing. No one needs a nice break from football this week more than the Badgers.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes – What a roller coaster ride of a season for the Buckeyes and it appears to continue as Ohio State ‘earned’ a spot in the first ever College Football Playoff. Ten days prior to the start of the season starting quarterback and Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller injured his throwing shoulder, thus ending his season and a lot of the hopes around Columbus of another national championship. When redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett took over as quarterback, there were still a lot of questions but he was able to win his first start against the Naval Academy. The next week, the Virginia Tech Hokies visited Columbus and were able to earn a victory which, to a lot of people, ended Ohio State’s chances of getting into the playoff. Eleven victories later, Ohio State was selected as the 4th team in the College Football Playoff on Sunday after finishing the year with a 30-point margin of victory in those eleven wins since that loss to Virginia Tech.
2. Louisville Cardinals – Some fans of some programs look at a 9-3 season after a 12-1 season and see a disappointment. Some fans of some programs look at a 9-3 season a failure to begin with (See: Nebraska, Georgia) but for the Cardinals, going 9-3 is a significant achievement being that they had that kind of success with a new coach (even though this is his second tour through the Derby City) and in a new conference, which regardless of what you think is a vast improvement from the American Athletic Conference or the defunct Big East football conference. Quarterback Will Gardner finished the season on crutches after a knee injury but is only a sophomore and history has proven that young quarterbacks that can be groomed by Bobby Petrino typically turn out to be pretty good. When you also factor in that the Cardinals played extremely well against the league’s perennial division and conference powers Clemson & Florida State, after only one season it is safe to say that Louisville belongs.
3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets – In the late summer, many people believed that Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson needed a big season to preserve his job since Georgia Tech had failed to reach 9 wins since 2009 when the Jackets ‘won’ the conference. (Shh, don’t tell the NCAA that I said that) Once the season started, Georgia Tech took a few weeks to get going as they struggled with Wofford, Tulane & Georgia Southern to begin the season and then lost back-to-back games against Duke and North Carolina. Many still questioned if Johnson could get the job done in Atlanta after those two losses but Georgia Tech went on to win five straight game including big wins over Clemson and in-state rival Georgia on their way to the Coastal Division crown. Georgia Tech gave defending National Champion Florida State all they wanted in Charlotte but fell short after Johnson signed a four year contract extension with the school that morning. The Yellow Jackets didn’t win the ACC but receiving a bid to the Orange Bowl isn’t a bad consolation prize.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks – The college football season was almost here and ESPN in all of its glory proclaimed that the dawn a new age was upon us with the launching of the SEC Network and to kick off the new network was a documentary on the Ole Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier. I for one loved it and have always admired Spurrier even when he was the coach of my beloved Seminoles’ rival Florida Gators. We were all force-fed how good South Carolina was going to be this season and the first step to South Carolina’s first ever SEC Championship was on the first Thursday night of the season. Well that couldn’t have gone any worse as Spurrier’s bunch was run straight out of their own stadium 52-28 by a Texas A&M team that ended up not being any good either. Injuries, poor defensive strategy & flat out bad football doomed the Gamecocks all season long as they limped to a 6-6 season with an under .500 conference record after beginning the year ranked in the top ten.
2. Northwestern Wildcats – The biggest news story in college football during the offseason was how the Northwestern players had attempted and won their right to form a player’s union and it was a fascinating story (still is) that will not go away anytime soon. When the season finally rolled around, their starting quarterback had been injured in an offseason practice and one of the best all-around players in college football Venric Mark transferred away from Northwestern under some cloudy circumstances. You take away those key players from a team who was already massively distracted all offseason and you’ve got a recipe for disaster which is exactly what the 2014 Northwestern Wildcats were. They finished the season 5-7 for the second straight season after looking completely clueless most Saturdays. Hopefully, head coach Pat Fitzgerald will keep his job at Northwestern as he is the single most decorated player in Wildcats history while also being the all-time leader in wins as a coach in Wildcats history.
3. Auburn Tigers – Some teams would take an 8-4 season all day long as a success but not Auburn, especially with so many starters coming back after a 12-1 regular season in 2013. The Tigers began the season 5-0 with a big road win against a good Kansas State team and a big home win against a solid LSU team. Then the first loss of the season came on the road at Mississippi State who went on to become the number one team in the nation for much of the season. Down the stretch, Auburn just couldn’t manage to make stops on defense when they needed them and went 2-3 in the month of November and only 4-4 in the final two months of the regular season. But if history has taught us anything it is that Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn will retool the offense for next season and he has already begun looking for the next Auburn defensive coordinator.
Tune in to the Southern Football Report Bowl Special on Saturday December 20th from 10 am until Noon on Live 101.9, Rockin 106.3 & Q 92.3 FM for a regular season wrap up as well a commentary on all the big bowls coming up this bowl season!