The text came midafternoon on Saturday, somewhere around the halfway point of Jim Harbaugh's arugula-bitter post-The Game news conference. It was from a longtime friend who is a proud Michigan grad: THIS IS B.S.! PLAYOFF'S GOTTA GO TO 8 NOW!
I'm not great with emojis, so my response took a while. I finally settled on the crying girl, followed by grapes, a lemon, a thumbs-down, a big number 4, a finger pointing at that big number 4, and a football. Translation: Stop crying over sour grapes. Four is the perfect number for the playoff.
As it turns out, my little line of digital hieroglyphics came in pretty handy. A few hours later, as Colorado celebrated its Pac-12 South title, I received another "gotta go to eight!" text from a USC friend, and I pasted in my response, as I did for a Florida Gator pal that night. I could have used it earlier in the week as well, for friends and Tweeps from Nebraska, Louisville and Oklahoma State.
To any and all, I'm sorry your team is no longer in the running for the College Football Playoff. But -- and I've written this here before -- expansion beyond the current, tidy, four-team bracket is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.
Yes, under the current model, a Power 5 conference champion will always be left out. Good! Yes, under the current model there is the chance that we end up with a résumé comparison contest that generates weeks of debate leading into the reveal of the final rankings and at least several days of debate after that reveal. Great! Teams, coaches and fans are going to have their feelings hurt. The vast majority of those teams, coaches and fans will be reduced to spectators as the final four teams do battle to kick off the New Year. Fantastic!
This is supposed to be hard, isn't it? After all, it is the postseason of America's second-biggest sport. And what makes this sport so unique, what separates it from the NFL, is a level of passion and a degree of difficulty that exist nowhere else.
As such, is expanding the College Football Playoff field, a move that would inarguably pave an easier road to a postseason berth, going to stoke those fires? Not a chance. It would sprinkle water on them.
Look no further than The Game. Whenever Michigan and Ohio State share a field, there will be excitement and anger and people who have dressed their babies up like Woody and Bo. But think about the situation Saturday morning, with all that was on the line. Anyone who says there wasn't an extra level of electricity to that game didn't watch it. The stakes were so high in Columbus that the pressure spilled over from the Horseshoe into Happy Valley, where Penn State needed to close the deal with Michigan State to win the division, had been told the score from The Game and found itself in a two-point game at halftime. That intensity also crossed Lake Michigan to Camp Randall Stadium, where Ohio State barely survived OT against Wisconsin, which had to rally past Minnesota to save its two-loss season and preserve its playoff hopes.
"This felt like a playoff game," Badgers head coach Paul Chryst said after his team's 31-17 win.
Ohio State's Urban Meyer uttered the exact same words ... as did Michigan's Jim Harbaugh ... as did Clemson's Dabo Swinney ... as did Alabama's Nick Saban ... as did Colorado's Mike MacIntyre ... as did Oklahoma's Bob Stoops one week ago. Why did they all feel that way about the past two weekends of regular-season games? Because -- and this is where I sometimes feel like I'm shouting in an empty room -- THEY WERE PLAYOFF GAMES! They were!
Although my text friends were complaining about wanting more postseason games, a postseason bracket has been going on for weeks already. It has been eliminating teams and doing so primarily through big head-to-head matchups. As is the case with any bracket funnel, more is on the line the further you advance. There was more on the line during Week 12, and there will be even more on the line next weekend in the conference title games. There has even been a New Year's play-in bracket going on between the Gang of 5 conferences. (The only argument I have for expansion is to allow for a non-Power 5 school to make the field, but that chance isn't enough to let too many others in.)
"Every game we've played for the last two months has felt like a postseason game," Swinney said after his players crushed rival South Carolina 56-7. "Every week, that sheet of ice beneath you gets thinner. If you're carrying a loss around -- and we all are except for [Alabama] -- then your margin for error is zero."
Doubling or -- as some want -- tripling or even quadrupling the size of the playoff field would puff that margin from zero to double digits. Take Saturday's edition of The Game. If both teams knew that, win or lose, they were probably getting into the postseason field, would they have tried any less hard? Of course not. But would there have been less energy in the Horseshoe once that game got rolling, less intensity during the overtime period? Of course. Ask any NFL player or coach who has been involved in a late December game with a division title on the line ... and two teams with records good enough that one is going to get a wild-card invite anyway. That's how the conference championship games used to feel, even during the latter half of the BCS era. Perhaps two would matter. This weekend, they will all be in play, just as they have been during the previous two editions of the playoff.
"We've got guys on our staff that have experienced the NFL playoffs and now have experienced the College Football Playoff," Saban said one year ago as Alabama prepared to play Michigan State in the semifinals. "There's room to maneuver in the NFL. Not here. I think that's a good thing."
Don't ever give them that room. Keep it difficult. Keep the entry door small. Keep the participation trophies on your kids' display shelf. Keep wild cards and first-round byes and such corporatized nonsense in the pros. Keep the College Football Playoff at four teams.
Now that I've gotten that out of my system -- at least until I have to rant about it again next year -- let's get on with Flipping The Field.
Donnel Pumphrey Watch. My 2016 man crush has been slowed to a relative crawl in recent weeks, grinding out only 52 yards during San Diego State's 63-31 loss to Colorado State. He'll need to average 109 yards per game his final two contests -- the Mountain West Championship and a bowl game -- to pass Ron Dayne atop the NCAA all-time rushing list. That MW title game will be against Wyoming (7:45 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN), which surrendered 568 yards rushing to New Mexico during the Cowboys' 56-35 loss, the most rushing yards recorded by any team this season.
Game Face for The Game. Cardale Jones was ready for Saturday morning's kickoff ... and unlike his alma mater, he wore the right helmet.
Almost time pic.twitter.com/OV5d8MbnVr
— Cardale Jones (@Cardale7_) November 26, 2016
Card Stunt Game for The Game. Block M? Yes, literally.
Blocking out the M. pic.twitter.com/dhCW8A7nNr
— angelique (@chengelis) November 26, 2016
From the Ridonculous Stats Department: Navy scored 75, Pitt scored 76, and Middle Tennessee scored 77. According to our number-obsessed friends at ESPN Stats & Info, it was the first time three schools topped 75 on the same day since the NCAA started classifying schools in 1937. Pitt and Syracuse combined for 137 points, which broke the record of 136 set by Navy and North Texas in 2007 (my father was a ref in that Navy-North Texas game and swears he's still tired from it). During their rout of SMU, Navy also used 73 of its 74 players, with only the punter never entering the game. Texas Tech is now ranked tops in the nation in total offense ... and bottom in the nation in total defense. Dalvin Cook scored his 45th career touchdown on Saturday and supplanted Warrick Dunn as Florida State's all-time rushing touchdown leader. Louisville's Lamar Jackson became just the sixth player in FCS history to throw and rush for 20 TDs in a single season. The only other three from a Power 5 conference to do so -- Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel -- all won the Heisman Trophy. Alabama did not allow a touchdown in November.
Speaking of ridonculous stats ... Bill Snyder earned his 200th win via the Wildcats' destruction of Kansas on Rivalry Weekend. The Professor is one of only three current head coaches with 200 victories, trailing Brian Kelly (209) and Nick Saban (202), and he was carried off the field of Bill Snyder Family Stadium by his players. If you've ever been to a game there, then you know that few marching bands are as revered as the Pride of Wildcat Land. They hung around long after the game to salute Snyder and their departing seniors, who helped the band land the Sudler Trophy -- the College Football Playoff championship of bands -- in 2015.
— KState Marching Band (@KStatePride) November 26, 2016
You say you live your rivalry, but do you wear it on your helmets? For UCF's "War on I-4" with USF, the Knights' lids had the map from Orlando to Tampa and a highway with the name of the game leading right into each player's home area code so they "don't forget where they came from." They lost, but hitting 6-6 after their abysmal 2015 is no small accomplishment.
— UCF_Equipment (@UCF_Equipment) November 26, 2016
"We're going streaking!" Ohio State is now 5-0 in overtime games under Urban Meyer. As my colleague Chris Low pointed out, Meyer is now 23-2 in rivalry games, from Utah to Florida to Ohio State, having rolled over BYU, FSU, UGA, Tennessee and Michigan. Alabama's three-year win streak against Auburn is its longest in the Iron Bowl since 1990-92, and Saturday was the Tide's 24th straight victory. Colorado clinched its first Pac-12 South title after finishing last in the division every season since it joined the conference in 2011.
— Matt Schick (@ESPN_Schick) November 27, 2016
"Get in the car, Frank." Michigan has lost eight straight at Ohio State, the longest road losing streak in the history of The Game, and Jim Harbaugh joins Rich Rodriguez as the only Michigan head coaches to start 0-2 against OSU. Wisconsin rallied to win its 13th straight Paul Bunyan's Axe from Minnesota. The all-time series is now tied at 59-59-8. Kentucky's win over Louisville was the Wildcats' first win over a ranked opponent in 28 tries, a span that reaches back to a game in 2002 ... against Louisville. Kansas extended its all-time road futility streak to 41 straight. Until Saturday night, Vanderbilt hadn't beaten a ranked Tennessee team in 38 tries.
— Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) November 27, 2016
Tommy West Coach's News Conference of the Week: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan. If you're a Wolverines fan, it came off as a guy defending his team and his program against outside tyranny. If you're a hater of Captain Khaki, it came off as a whiny coach who still hasn't won a crucial Big Ten contest. Either way, it was pretty glorious to watch.
Here is Jim Harbaugh ripping the officials... pic.twitter.com/dLo4xFO7RE
— Jordan Strack (@JordanStrack) November 27, 2016
Danny Ford Scientific Rocket Quote of the Week: Charlie Strong, Texas. After Friday's beatdown loss to TCU, the about-to-be fired Strong described his efforts to rebuild the Longhorns' program: "The foundation has been laid here. The thing is, we've been building it for three years. Even when I looked at it, I said the third year, we'll make progress. The fourth year will be our year. It's just like baking a cake. The cake has been baked. The only thing you need to do now is put the icing on it and slice it. That's what this team is. The cake has been baked. Now it's just ready to be sliced." Someone get Tom Herman a knife.
Beano Cook Old Timey Coaches News Conference Quote of the Week: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State. When asked about the lack of competition when recruiting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who set an MSU single-game rushing record with 258 yards in the Egg Bowl win over Ole Miss, Mullen should have been shot in black and white.
— Robby Donoho (@RobbyDonoho) November 27, 2016
Speaking of Chattanooga ... Props to Weber State, who visited Chattanooga for the first round of the FCS playoffs and on the trip collected financial donations for the families of the victims of Monday's horrific Woodmore Elementary school bus accident. The team framed it as a "pay it forward" opportunity. Earlier this year, Weber State head coach Jay Hill was blown away by the fundraising efforts of opponent South Dakota State, which collected donations for his wife, Sara, who was suffering from Hodgkin's lymphoma. Both teams wore helmet stickers to promote the fundraising efforts for the Woodmore accident victims.
— UTC Football (@GoMocsFB) November 26, 2016
Weston Steelhammer Name of the Week: Brodarious Hamm OL, Auburn. I mean, it was Thanksgiving. With all due respect to turkey, ham -- or Hamm -- is better. At 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, I'm betting Hamm can put away some ham. He might not be thankful for Auburn's Iron Bowl loss, but he's plenty thankful that this season he won a much bigger contest, also against Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Speaking of Thanksgiving ... I know you think your backyard football contest with your family is the best one there is. But unless you were with Matt Kirkle, you are wrong.
— Matt Kirkle (@Kirkle_Bangz51) November 24, 2016
Frank Reich Backup QB of the Week Award: Caleb Rowe, Maryland. Moments after the Terps closed out head coach D.J. Durkin's first regular season by clinching bowl eligibility, Rowe took a knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Maryland soccer player Sarah Molina. She said yes.
— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) November 26, 2016
Comeback of the Week Award, also named for Frank Reich: Missouri 28, Arkansas 24. The Tigers were down 17 at halftime in the so-called Battle Line Rivalry but rallied for the second-biggest comeback in Mizzou football history, thanks to -- of all things -- their much-maligned defense and a fake punt from their own 7-yard line. This comeback was about more than the scoreboard. The week started with the suspension of the team's leading rusher for a marijuana possession arrest, the announcement of an investigation into academic fraud and the dismissal of the team's defensive line coach after an altercation with a player. "We're kind of used to distractions, which is kind of sad to say," defensive end Marcell Frazier told Mizzou's excellent beat writer, Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But it was pretty much another week for us."
The Guy You Should Know About but Probably Don't: Matt Anderson, PK, Cal. Yeah, that's right, a kicker. The only steady aspect of the Bears' roller coaster season has been their kicker, who booted five field goals and three extra points in Saturday's 36-10 rout of UCLA. The junior, who holds the team's highest GPA (no small feat at Berkeley) and a membership in the Screen Actors Guild (he was in the film "Milk" as a kid), is now the highest single-season scorer in Cal football's modern era, with 117 points. Should the 5-7 Bears sneak into a bowl game, he'll have a shot at breaking the all-time record of 131, set in 1922. He's 51-of-51 on PAT attempts and has drawn enough NFL interest that he might skip his senior season for the pros.
The Guy You Used to Know About but Forgot About but Should Know About Again: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford. Yes, I'm fully aware that the Cardinal have spent the past month playing a handful of the nation's worst defenses, including Saturday night's rout of Bottom 10 stalwart Rice. But McCaffrey's 209 rushing yards marked his 19th career game with 200-plus all-purpose yards; that's a whopping 10 more than any other player the past three seasons.
— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) November 27, 2016
The Team You Should Know About but Probably Don't: Temple. The Owls were one of college football's longest-running hot messes, but Matt Rhule's squad has now backed up its 2015 Cinderella 10-4 season with a 9-3 record and a berth in Saturday's American Athletic Conference title game against Navy (noon ET, ABC). Temple and Navy will both be playing for their first conference championship. That's pretty remarkable for a pair of teams that have been playing football since 1894 and 1879, respectively.
— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) November 27, 2016
The Game You Should Be Psyched for but Probably Aren't: Louisiana Tech vs. Western Kentucky, Conference USA Championship Game (noon ET Saturday, ESPN). This game will have zero playoff or New Year's Six bowl implications, but it will have serious implications for the scoreboard industry. Both teams are averaging an even 44 points per game, and both teams average more than 500 yards per game, as Louisiana Tech ranks fifth and WKU ranks 10th in total offense. Both also rank in the top 10 in passing yards per game, top seven in total passing yards and are tied for fourth nationally in points scored. This is a rematch of the Oct. 6 game the Bulldogs won 55-52 but led 49-24 midway through the third quarter before a Western Kentucky charge.
Extra Point. As the playoffs in the NCAA's lower divisions are in full swing, it's impossible not to think of Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks. The Eagles aren't in the postseason this year, a rarity. But that has been a blessing because it has given everyone a chance to say goodbye to Sparks, 72, who retired at the end of the regular season. His final record after 37 years in Jefferson City, Tennessee, is 338-99-2, a win total that ranks fifth all-time in college football history. Sparks, known in his younger days for being fiery on the sideline, was relegated to a stool this season as he battled prostate cancer. How tough is Sparks? He was diagnosed with the condition in 2012 but coached four more seasons. A year ago, I pitched writing a profile because he was going to be retiring. When I called to set up an interview, I was informed, "Well, Coach is going to do one more year." If you're a fan of southern small college football -- and I am -- then you're glad he did.