For all of the day's fireworks -- from Jalen Hurts' redemption story to Grant Calcaterra's one-handed touchdown grab to Dwayne Haskins and Travis Etienne shredding their underwhelming opposition -- the result of Championship Saturday might be this: We're right back where we started.
Hurts returned to the field to bring Alabama back from the brink, but the heroics are undercut a bit because most people believed the Crimson Tide were headed for the playoff either way.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart's mystifying fake punt could be one of the great "What was he thinking?" moments in college football history, but instead, we're talking about the Bulldogs still being one of the four best teams.
Kyler Murray was a magician again. Haskins continued to own opposing defenses. But it might not matter at all.
UCF proved it didn't need McKenzie Milton for the offense to explode. The Knights have now won 26 straight. The doubters sneer at the scheduling, but lots of teams play weak schedules. In the last half-century, only eight have won 26 in a row. And yet, it won't matter.
Clemson romped. Ohio State survived. We yawned.
The Pac-12 played in obscurity. Notre Dame watched from the couch. Ho hum.
This weekend is supposed to be the culmination of the season, and it was filled with fun. But couldn't it have been better?
Let's start with the brilliance of the Big 12. Oklahoma and Texas played a terrific game, two hated rivals going head-to-head with a conference title on the line. Jerry World was packed. People cared. Why? Because the Big 12 puts its two best teams in the championship game rather than using outdated, arbitrary divisions to decide the matchup.
Look at the ACC. The dream was to see Florida State and Miami routinely. Only Miami has made the title game just once. Instead, we've seen FSU vs. Duke or Clemson vs. Pitt. It's no surprise the Atlantic has won eight straight. The same is true in the Big Ten and SEC, where one division has dominated for years.
So, Step 1: Scrap the divisions. Pick the two best teams in each league and let them play a championship game. This brings the added bonus of making it easier to diversify the schedule in those pesky 14-team leagues, ensuring every team makes a trip to every stadium every four years.
Now think about the case for Georgia in the playoff. Is the goal to put the four best teams in? If so, Nick Saban is the first aboard the bandwagon that the Bulldogs are clearly deserving. But do we need to see Bama-UGA again in four weeks? What would that prove? We know how this story ends (though we assume Mac Jones would have to come in to lead Bama's comeback in a Part III).
So, here's Step 2: All conference champions get into the playoff. We talk a lot about how important it is to make the regular season matter, but the fact is, much of it does not. Indeed, very little about Saturday's fireworks actually mattered when it comes to the playoff. But if every championship game results in a playoff team, that means they all matter, and we don't need to worry about UGA-Bama Part III because Part II was, in essence, a de facto playoff game.
Of course, that leaves us with one too many playoff teams, even if we disregard the Group of 5 (which the playoff committee would be all too happy to do). So we'll also need to implement Step 3: Expand the playoff.
We know. We don't love this idea either. No one wants to water down the postseason by seeing three-loss teams (hello, Washington) playing for a championship. But maybe this isn't such a bad thing after all.
Let's assume there was an eight-team playoff this year. The five conference champs would be in: Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson and Washington. Four of those five at least have a strong case as is.
Then we'll take the top Group of 5 team. Welcome aboard, UCF. No more complaining. You get your shot. It's deserved. Then we add two wild cards. This is where the committee comes in -- not using arbitrary criteria to decide who's No. 1, but winnowing down a list to give us Nos. 7 and 8. Sure, that would put Georgia right back in this year -- but it also would mean the Bulldogs would've been sweating out Northwestern and Pitt's upset bids, wins that might've bumped the Dawgs off the bubble. The whole day matters. (Oh, and it would push Notre Dame a big step closer to joining a conference.)
So there's our playoff: Alabama vs. Washington, Clemson vs. UCF, Notre Dame vs. Ohio State, Oklahoma vs. Georgia. Watered down? That looks pretty darned good to us.
Play the games on the higher seed's campus, offering fans a home game in the playoff so they don't need to shell out so much for travel right after they've blown the budget on holiday presents.
What's not to like? (Don't answer that. We're sure you have opinions.)
The point is, Saturday was fun. But we want there to be real meaning underscoring that fun, too. We're not ready to say goodbye to Murray's playoff push, and we're all too ready to end the UCF griping.
So let's do it. Because, as playoff plans go, Smart's fake punt at least ensured this won't be the worst idea of Championship Saturday.
UCF comes back from 17 down to beat Memphis
UCF was down by 17 points at halftime then Darriel Mack Jr. ran for four touchdowns in the second half and the Knights come back and beat Memphis 56-41.
Last call for Heisman Trophy votes
After Kyler Murray destroyed West Virginia last week, he seemed to have finally made his move for the Heisman. Then Tua Tagovailoa responded with six touchdowns against Auburn, and it was his trophy to lose again. But after Championship Saturday, the pendulum might have swung back in favor of the Oklahoma quarterback.
Here's perhaps the best case for Murray:
Each QB has faced five defenses ranked in the top 40 by ESPN's efficiency metrics. So, how did they perform against those units?
Tagovailoa was fine, but not great. He totaled 14 touchdowns, had six turnovers, completed 60 percent of his throws and averaged a little less than five yards per play. Granted, those five defenses were all ranked in the top 20, including Georgia's unit that utterly stifled him Saturday.
Murray's opposition wasn't quite as tough -- he faced just one top-20 defense -- but his numbers were far more impressive. In the five games he played versus top-40 defenses, he accounted for 19 touchdowns, four turnovers, completed 74 percent of his throws and averaged 7.6 yards per touch. That's elite.
So, was Saturday enough to swing the momentum to Murray? And didn't Jalen Hurts' performance showcase that Tagovailoa wasn't integral to Alabama's success the way Murray is to Oklahoma? It's probably not clear-cut, but for those looking to vote for Murray, there's a pretty convincing argument to be made now.
The big debate will be about Nos. 1 and 2, but let's talk about No. 5 for just a moment. Memphis blew a lead, and Darrell Henderson didn't do much in the second half against UCF, but let's not ignore his eighth game this season with more than 150 yards (and third topping 200). For the season, Henderson is 91 yards shy of 2,000 on the ground. Of the 29 players who have finished a campaign with 2,000 yards, 21 of them finished in the top five in Heisman balloting. Should Henderson win? No. But the guy deserves a ticket to New York for the award.
1. Murray, Oklahoma: He has not had a bad game. Not one. That's enough to win it.
2. Tagovailoa, Alabama: He has had one bad game. One. That's enough to lose it.
3. Haskins, Ohio State: It speaks volumes as to the quality of the top two guys that someone having a season like Haskins -- numbers that rival plenty of past Heisman winners -- isn't all that close to winning it.
4. Will Grier, West Virginia: The only guy on our list who didn't play on Championship Saturday, but he belongs.
5. Henderson, Memphis: He has had four games this season -- four! -- in which he averaged better than 12 yards per carry. That's pretty darned good.
'Tis the season
Because our commercial culture translates into Christmas music at the mall starting as soon as the last Halloween candy is handed out, we've instituted a strict rule that we don't watch our favorite holiday movie before Dec. 1. It's important to save something for the right moment.
Of course, this year we had a problem. We wanted to pop "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" into the old Blu-ray player, but there was too much football to be watched. That left only one reasonable thing to do: Run through a bunch of our favorite quotes to wrap up Championship Saturday.
"Dad, you taught me everything I know about exterior illumination."
-- Nick Saban clearly taught Kirby Smart a lot. For two seasons in a row, the student had the master on the ropes. And yet, for all that education on exterior illumination and football, it's never quite enough to get the little lights twinkling. Saban is 4-0 against former assistants this season -- Smart, Jimbo Fisher, Billy Napier and Jeremy Pruitt -- and is now 16-0 against former assistants from Alabama all time.
"Don't you go falling in love with it now, because we're taking it with us when we leave here next month."
-- It's true. Kyler Murray is taking his talent to baseball when he leaves here next month, but it's too late. We're already in love. The Oklahoma QB put on a show again Saturday, throwing for 379 yards, rushing for 39 more and tossing three touchdowns. There are reasonable questions about Oklahoma's defense being good enough to win it all, but there's little doubt Murray is the real deal on offense and a guy no one should want to see parked in their driveway in a bowl game.
Ehlinger's TD pass ties it with Oklahoma
Sam Ehlinger finds Lil' Jordan Humphrey for a 5-yard touchdown to tie it with Oklahoma at 27 in the third quarter.
"It's a non-nutritive cereal varnish. It's semi-permeable. It's not osmotic. What it does is, it coats and seals the flake and prevents the milk from penetrating it."
-- Explaining strength of schedule to UCF fans probably sounds a lot like explaining non-osmotic cereal varnishes. They're not interested, because they've got plenty of other numbers on their side. For one, UCF is 13-0 for the second straight year. Secondly, its six wins over teams with seven or more victories this year is actually more than the two other teams battling for the final playoff spot (Oklahoma has five, Ohio State has four). And of course, if Ohio State's conference title game dominance with its backup QB got the Buckeyes into the playoff in 2014, shouldn't UCF's 56-41 win Saturday count for something? If it doesn't, UCF fans might want the committee delivered to their houses with a big ribbon.
"If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now."
-- Congrats to UAB. Two years ago, the Blazers were little more than a collection of players, practicing and waiting. Now, they're Conference USA champs. After the team was disbanded and the program was driven out to the middle of nowhere and left for dead, Bill Clark brought UAB back to life and took just two years to hoist a conference championship trophy. Ain't that something?
"The man was wearing a blue leisure suit. Plates were from Kansas. He was a huge, beastly, bulging man."
-- Kansas transfer Ryan Willis hasn't necessarily been huge or beastly this season, but after taking over Virginia Tech's offense for injured QB Josh Jackson, Willis has been pretty darned good. He threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns Saturday, and his season totals -- 25 total touchdowns, 2,818 total yards, nine turnovers in nine starts -- were actually quite good, mirroring stat lines from the likes of Ian Book (2,718 yards, 23 TD, 7 TO), Shea Patterson (2,632 yards, 23 TD, 7 TO) and Trace McSorley (3,007 yards, 27 TD and 8 TO).
"She falls down a well, her eyes go cross. She gets kicked by a mule. They go back to normal. I don't know."
-- UCF's first halves versus Memphis this season were the "falls down a well" scenario, with the Tigers outscoring the Knights 68-38 in two games. The second halves though? UCF must have gotten kicked by a mule in the locker room, because they've outscored Memphis 49-3 in the latter frames to win both games.
"And if it wouldn't be too much, I'd like to get something for you. Something really nice."
-- Ah, if only Appalachian State had the money to keep Scott Satterfield in Boone, North Carolina. It has been just five years since the Mountaineers made the jump from FCS, and now Satterfield is hoisting the Sun Belt trophy. Sure, the Sun Belt might just be an actual yellow belt for all we know, but it's still impressive. Impressive enough, in fact, that Satterfield has his share of suitors at bigger schools. Will Saturday's win over Louisiana be his last at App State?
"It's a one-year membership in the jelly of the month club."
Iowa State assumed it was getting a nice, easy win Saturday when it scheduled Drake to make up for the cancelation of its opener against South Dakota State. Instead, what it got was a Drake team that nearly pulled off one of the season's biggest upsets. The Cyclones were favored by 40 but won 27-24 and were actually outgained by the Bulldogs. That's more embarrassing than having Cousin Eddie emptying a chemical toilet into the sewer in his bathrobe.
"Look at the time! I gotta get to bed. I still gotta brush my teeth, feed the hog, got some homework to do, still got those bills to pay, wash the car ..."
-- What could be better than overtime in Boise when it's snowing on the blue turf? No, the Mountain West title game didn't offer offensive fireworks. And sure, the fans were probably freezing their baguettes off by the time it ended, but a good fan sticks around 'til the bitter end.
"Worse? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We're at the threshold of hell."
-- Here's to Pitt's passing game against Clemson. One week after the Tigers surrendered 510 passing yards to South Carolina, Pitt managed ... eight. Kenny Pickett completed just four passes in the game to his teammates -- and a fifth to Clemson's A.J. Terrell. That's pretty bad. On the upside for Clemson, the Tigers can fairly say they allowed, on average, just 259 passing yards per game over the past two contests.
"I had a lot of help from Jack Daniels."
-- This is really the only advice we have for Ohio State fans, who will see their team finish 12-1 and not even sniff the playoff.
Horns up, horns down
We know not everyone is focused on the Big 12, and this season, in particular, has been tough to follow all the twists and turns of the "Is Texas back?" narrative. So, as we head into bowl season, here's a quick recap for everyone.
Week 1: Not back.
Weeks 2-5: Not back, but climbing out of the dust bowl.
Week 6: Texas is back!
Week 7: Still hungover from celebrating how back Texas is.
Week 8: Dang it. Texas is not back after all.
Week 9: You want to go win this f---ing game? Let's go make sure Texas isn't back.
Week 10: OK, cool. Hook 'em.
Week 11: John Wick style, "I'm thinkin' Texas is back."
Week 12: Oh, Texas is so back, y'all.
First quarter of Week 13: Chris Berman style: "Back, back, back, back, back ..."
Rest of Week 13: "There ain't no back and there ain't no not back. There is just stuff Longhorns do." -- Jim Casy from "The Grapes of Wrath," if Steinbeck had been a Texas fan.
Underappreciated play of the day
NC State was up 58-0 with two seconds left to play when two coaches decided to engage in the most ridiculous battle of wills of the season.
First, ECU interim coach David Blackwell apparently decided he didn't want a shutout in his lone game helming the program, so he lined his 3-9 team up for a meaningless field goal from 46 yards out.
Then Dave Doeren did the only reasonable thing a coach can do. He called a timeout to ice the kicker.
So, let's recap. NC State, playing a meaningless makeup game against a dismal ECU that just fired its coach, was winning a blowout. ECU wanted to kick a more meaningless field goal to make the score 58-3. And Doeren called an even more meaningless timeout to ice the kicker.
This is the beauty of college football, of course. Every play matters.
Underappreciated game of the day
One of the low-key great arguments in college football in recent years has been the battle between Florida State fans and Virginia Tech fans over who owns the longest current bowl streak. The Seminoles had the obvious claim, having gone to a bowl every year since 1982, but NCAA sanctions mean the games in 2006 and 2007 aren't recognized, thus handing the official title over to the Hokies, who had gone bowling every year since 1993.
When FSU rescheduled a makeup game last season against Louisiana-Monroe to keep its bowl streak alive, Virginia Tech fans pointed and laughed. Well, they're not laughing so hard now -- but there's also no more argument about who owns the streak.
Florida State finished the season 5-7 and will not play in a bowl this year, but the Hokies were in jeopardy of suffering the same fate. They needed an overtime win over Virginia last week to even have a shot at a bowl, then thumped Marshall in a makeup game Saturday to get to 6-6. A trip to Shreveport, Louisiana, never tasted so sweet.
So, your official longest bowl streaks:
Virginia Tech, 26 straight
Georgia, 22 straight
Oklahoma, 20 straight
LSU, 19 straight
Boise State, 17 straight