Welcome to the holiday hangover.
You know the deal. You've been off for Christmas for a few days. You flopped onto the couch and ate turkey. You endured those 10 conversations with your weird uncle, the ones where he did a terrible job of acting like he actually understood football and the ones where he did a good of explaining how Finn from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" might actually be Lando Calrissian's long-lost son. And because of those chats, you might have consumed a little too much egg nog ... the adult kind.
Then you have to go back to work. That never works, at least not initially. And then by the time you hit your groove, you're back off the clock for the New Year's break. Momentum: gone.
I get it. I was passed out in a pile of used wrapping paper when the bosses called and said they needed a mid-holiday Flipping The Field column. I stared at the computer for two hours waiting for the sugarplums dancing in my head to morph back into footballs.
You know who feels our collective pain? Or, at least, they are about to? Alabama, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Clemson. Yup, the four teams in the College Football Playoff.
It's the biggest fear of every big-time college football coach, an inability to shake off the elf dust, er, rust, and get back into gear for the two games that will win them a national championship. The concern is real, and the reason for that concern is historically proven. This is trying to maintain momentum in a stop-and-start environment. A football game run by a musical chairs DJ is a bigger issue than even the hype and pressure of playing for a title.
"There are benefits to a long layoff, sure," Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops admits. His Sooners will face Clemson in the Capital One Orange Bowl semifinal. "But we've not played any live football in more than a month. It always takes a minute to get back up to speed. Our job is to make that moment as short as possible."
Stoops and his team have experienced such slowdowns before. Not in the playoff, but during its predecessor, the BCS. In 2008 the Sooners had averaged 54 points per game in the regular season. Their opponent in the '09 BCS title game, Florida, had averaged 45.1. Yet, at the end of the first quarter there was no score, and at the half it was tied at 7-7. Most BCS title games featured letdown first halves, more of a punting and place-kicking contest than a shootout.
"The rhythm of these games is totally different than any other game we'll play," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, Stoops' opponent in '09, explained one year ago leading into the inaugural College Football Playoff. "Unusual venues, a longer than normal number of days in the hotel, games played at different times of day and in-game pauses we might not be used to."
Clemson and Oklahoma will play at 4 p.m. ET on a Thursday. That's not typical. The championship game is on a Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET. That's not typical, either. For all three playoff games, as it is for any other marque event on any network, ESPN will add at least one extra commercial break per quarter. Talking with replay officials who have worked the biggest games, they admit that there is a more deliberate effort from their booth to make sure every penalty called is as accurate as possible, particularly in the first and fourth quarters. That means more slowdowns.
In the '09 BCS title game, a miscommunication between the on-field refs and a scoreboard clock operator who normally worked NFL games, not college, led to more unexpected delays. All of that adds up to a tough time for offenses that depend on being on the field, controlling the clock via a turbo pace.
"I think you saw that with us in BCS games, but even when it was the Rose Bowl and a non-BCS championship game," said former Oregon head coach and College Football Hall of Fame member Mike Bellotti. "I think you saw that with Oregon one year ago [in the inaugural College Football Playoff title game]. They did find their groove, but by then it was too late. Their defense had been out there more than usual, and they were worn down physically."
So is the winner of Oklahoma-Clemson, they of the lightning-quick offenses, already at a disadvantage to the winner of Alabama-Michigan State, who should have more of a tractor-pull game in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)?
"No," said Alabama's Nick Saban, the only coach making a return visit to the playoff and the veteran of four BCS title games. "This is something that affects all of us. So we're all in it together. The field on this issue is level."
That's a great speech. But Saban, notorious for his ironclad control over practice sessions, has spent the last few postseason visits discussing and recreating playoff/BCS stingy in-game stutters during the Crimson Tide's bowl rehearsals. If all else fails, he can use Heisman winner Derrick Henry to employ Meyer's answer during that '09 title game and one year ago.
Give it to the workhorse a bazillion times until everyone else, including the clock, catches up.
Now let's get on with Flipping The Field.
"We're going streaking!"
On Saturday night, Virginia Tech not only played in its FBS-best 23rd consecutive bowl game; it also extended its scoring streak to 269 games. Anyone who remembers last year's infamous 6-3 double-OT loss to Wake Forest knows just how thin the ice has gotten during that scoring streak. Also on Saturday, despite a 5-7 record, Nebraska made its 52nd all-time bowl appearance, trailing only Alabama (62) and Texas (53). On Monday, Pitt will make its eighth straight bowl appearance, the most since nine in a row during the Johnny Majors/Jackie Sherrill/Dan Marino days of 1975-83. Utah's throttling of archrival BYU in the Dec. 19 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl marks its fifth straight win over the Cougars, its longest since a six-game win streak in 1959-64.
"Get in the car, Frank ..."
Duke's New Era Pinstripe Bowl victory snapped a postseason losing streak that stretched back to 1961, the first year of the JFK White House. UCLA was attempting to win three consecutive bowls for just the second time in school history, which is surprising considering its history. That did not happen. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who has left Provo for Virginia, returned to coach in the Las Vegas Bowl in part to earn his 100th win, joining LaVell Edwards (257 wins) as the only Cougars head coaches to reach triple-digit victories. That also did not happen.
We're gonna need a bigger bowl
The Pac-12 has to do something about its bowl tie-ins. Conference champion Stanford will play in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual on New Year's Day. The next biggest bowl via its current contracts is the Valero Alamo Bowl. Don't get me wrong, it's always been a great game, and Oregon versus TCU is a great matchup, but that's where their conference runner-up goes? Because of the funky scheduling around the New Year's Eve playoff doubleheader, the Alamo Bowl and the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl (West Virginia versus Arizona State) are both on Jan. 2, but they are typically played earlier than that. The league has 10 teams in bowl games, which is a ton, but five have already played, and only the Cardinal will play during over the huge two-day showcase of New Year's.
Not having a team in the College Football Playoff contributes to the issue, but it's a longtime pre-playoff issue. Just compare their lineup to the other Power 5 conferences. The first two of the Big Ten's 10 bowl teams kicked off on Saturday, and it will have four teams playing over New Year's and one team in the biggest-name Jan. 2 game, the Tax Slayer (formerly Gator) Bowl. The SEC also has 10 bowl teams, but none play until Dec. 29, and three play on New Year's Day. Even the ACC, which has eight bowl teams, has a pair of consistent New Year's holiday tie-ins via the Chick-Fil-A Peach and Capital One Orange bowls. The Pac-12 being pushed off that crowded big stage only feeds the conference's complex of disrespect.
The official reason given for that absence is that it's hard for west coast teams to land contracts with east coast bowls, and there is -- as there always seems to be -- concern about taking luster away from the almighty Rose Bowl. But there has to be more aggression from the Pac-12 in doing future bowl deals, in the name of finding equal Power 5 spotlight-grabbing ability and also for building a, "See, we can bring in people?" resume to present to future bowl selection committees. I find it hard to believe that there isn't a Florida-based game that wouldn't love the idea of an annual top tier USC/UCLA/Stanford/Oregon-type brand rolling in for the holidays.
Paging Jim Cantore
It snowed at the Sun Bowl, it has been in the mid-70s at games where fans usually have to wear parkas, there have been big thunderstorms in north Florida, and just as the Cotton Bowl semifinal teams and media arrived in North Texas on Saturday the area was ravaged by tornadoes. If you're attending any of these games in any of these areas where inclement weather rolls in, don't be a hero. Be safe.
Danny Ford Scientific Rocket Quote of the Week: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Beamer's first and last bowl wins with Virginia Tech came in the Independence Bowl: a 45-20 win over Indiana in 1993 and Saturday night's shootout over Tulsa. A lot of Hokies fans were mad their team didn't receive a bigger berth for Beamer's finale. Not Beamer, who said after an emotional postgame: "I may come back to Shreveport just for the hell of it." That whirring you hear is the printer at the Shreveport Tourism Bureau. They just got their headliner quote for their 2016 brochures.
Bowl teams receive everything from shopping sprees and swaggy apparel to tours of aircraft carriers and trips to Disney World. But the most underrated of all the bowl gifts is the annual 180 mph trip for participants of the Belk Bowl, a ride-along in two-seater NASCAR Sprint Cup cars, driven by instructors at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Over the years, a handful of star players have elected to sit out the hot laps around the Charlotte Motor Speedway, just in case. But on Sunday morning, Mississippi State's Dak Prescott had no such heebie-jeebies, going full Ricky Bobby and declaring, "I wanna go fast!"
Bowl perks, Episode II
One of the best trends of recent postseasons has been players using their bowl gift cards to purchase items for the less fortunate. Minnesota's Peter Mortell, who earlier this month famously gave himself the first-annual Mortell Holder of the Year at the College Football Awards Show, is also a serial philanthropist. He raised more than $25,000 to buy gifts for teenage patients at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. As a tribute to Mortell's efforts, Michigan kicker Kenny Allen used his gift card from the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and bought earbuds and iTunes gift cards to hand out to deserving kids.
Frank Reich Backup QB Of The Week Award: Jake Hubenak, Texas A&M
As would-be star QBs started leaving College Station faster than the First Order abandoning Starkiller Base, little-known Hubenak tweeted simply "Gig'em" with a thumbs-up emoji and photo of himself rolling out to throw a pass. He has also posted a photo of himself when he was much younger and dressed in A&M gear and another photo of a beach trip with his girlfriend, the reigning Miss Alabama World. Hubenak, a former Oklahoma State walk-on and Blinn Junior College starter, has already become a bit of an Aggie folk hero, and he has yet to make his first start. That happens Wednesday night, against Louisville in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The Guy You Should Know About, But Probably Don't: Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech
On Dec. 19, Dixon rushed for four touchdowns against Arkansas State in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. That ended his college career with 87 rushing and receiving touchdowns, the most in major college history. But it might end up being one of the shortest-lived major marks in NCAA record book history ...
The Guy You Used to Know About But Forgot About But You Should Know About Again: Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy
Actually, you do know about him. At least you should. After all, I've been singing his praises all year and shamelessly touted him as a Heisman candidate throughout autumn. He's already the all-time FBS/FCS career rushing TD leader with 85, a mark he set in the Army-Navy game, and he could set two more huge marks against Pitt in Monday afternoon's Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman (2:30 ET, ESPN). He trails Dixon by only two scores on the all-time major college TDs list and trails Michigan's Denard Robinson by only 85 yards for first all-time in career rushing yards by an FBS quarterback. Robinson racked up 4,495 from 2009 to '12. Reynolds sits at 4,415 (West Virginia's Pat White is currently second at 4,480.)
The Team(s) You Should Know About, But Probably Don't: Jacksonville State and North Dakota State
The top-ranked Gamecocks, who nearly knocked off Auburn earlier this year, will play the Bison, the four-time defending champs, in the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 9 (noon ET, ESPN2). They both rolled in their semifinal games. Outside of the playoff, there might not be a more equally matched "unmovable object vs. irresistible force" postseason throwdown than this one.
The Game You Should Be Psyched For But Probably Aren't: Russell Athletic Bowl, North Carolina vs. Baylor, Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Forget that the Bears are missing more than 70 percent of their offense because of injuries to their first two quarterbacks, leading receiver and leading rusher. You know they're going to score. As for the Heels, they also score. A lot. And they're totally healthy. A victory would mark the first 12-win season in the 127-year history of UNC football. If nothing else, it'll be fun to see Art Briles and Larry Fedora get all total Texas-y as they talk before the game and shake hands after the final horn. They might start singing a duet of "Yellow Rose of Texas."
It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday-eeeeee
I've written before about the emotional part of bowl season, seniors playing their final down of competitive football and coaches hanging up their whistlers. But on Tuesday night in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), LSU radio play-by-play man Jim Hawthorne will call his 389th and final Tigers football game. LSU might want to think about keeping him on the payroll, or at least the team plane. Across all sports, he has called nine national championship games, and LSU's record in those contests is 8-1.
Yes, we've already mentioned Frank Beamer. But he's certainly worth one more shout-out here in our final Flipping The Field of 2015. There were so many great moments during his Independence Bowl finale, but none more poignant than his final postgame speech. He stood on a chair and promised every man on his final roster that if they ever needed anything -- anything -- for the rest of their lives, to give him a call, and he would see what he could do. When it comes to a lot of coaches, more coaches than it should be, that would feel like lip service. But when it comes to Beamer, it was genuine. Just ask all the former Virginia Tech players who were also lining that locker room, having made the trip to Shreveport to pay tribute to the man who built a powerhouse where conventional wisdom said it could never be done.