Appraising the College Football Playoff Semifinals

New Year’s Day marks the long-awaited debut of playoff games in college football. I’ve been anticipating this day since 2004, when the undefeated Auburn Tigers were denied an opportunity to play for the championship. I’ll have to wait at least another year before this new system benefits my team, but for now, I’m content knowing that college football has a much fairer and more logical system for determining its champion. Of course, if your primary concern is fairness and logic, then you’re watching the wrong sport, but I digress.

No. 2 Oregon vs No. 3 Florida State

It should be safe to say that the most hated team in college football this year has been Florida State, whose star player, Jameis Winston, has relished his role as the sport’s main villain. All year, we have been bombarded with a constant stream of drama surrounding the various off-the-field indiscretions by Winston, which might have been less discussed if this team had just done us all a favor and lost. However, despite teasing us week after week with close calls, all Jimbo Fisher’s squad did was win, usually thanks to the brilliant play of the team’s much-maligned star. I’m going to spend some time defending this team. It’s bad form to hate on a team simply because it beat yours fair and square, as Florida State did last January. Florida State is criticized for struggling through a schedule of weak ACC opponents. As an SEC fan, I’m not going to argue against that criticism, but I will say that the Seminoles demonstrated in last year’s title game that they can take a punch like few other teams. Every week, they took the best shot from every opponent, yet still managed to take care of business.

Then there’s Winston. First, I’d like to point out that, over the course of the past year, he’s been cleared in his sexual assault case multiple times. Does this mean he’s actually innocent? I don’t know, but since several legal inquires have given him the benefit of the doubt, I suppose I can do the same. Is he a model citizen? Anyone who has ever legally purchased crab legs would say no.

Yet none of this bad behavior was particularly ground breaking and in fact, I doubt he’s much different from many other young, dumb, possibly troubled college kids But shouldn’t prominent athletes be held to a higher standard? Sure. Maybe they should get paid, too, while we’re at it.

The point is, when you have a sport that celebrates the amateur athlete, you shouldn’t be surprised when one of those athletes acts like an amateur.

It would be nice if the media could have recognized that concept when covering FSU, particularly in the case that got Winston suspended for a game this season: the lewd, sexually explicit phrase he shouted (NSFW, obviously) on campus back in September. The mix of disgust, discomfort, and incomprehension in the media was pretty comical. In the context of his ongoing criminal allegations, Winston’s behavior was ill-advised, but once the Internet actually told me what happened, it occurred to me that I probably would have thought it was funny had I been an unsuspecting FSU student, assuming I was hip enough to understand where the meme-inspired stunt came from. You would have laughed, too, had you been a young man in your early 20s watching your school’s star athlete perform such an outrageously silly stunt.

Does this all mean I’m rooting Jameis and his Seminoles? God, no!

While I can’t say War Eagle in this inaugural playoff round, I can at least keep the avian theme going by declaring War Damn Ducks! Please, please do us a solid by utterly crushing Florida State, so that we can all just stop talking about them for a while. Thank you.

Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer, AKA No. 1 Alabama vs No. 4 Ohio State

Like it or not, the Crimson Tide will begin another year aiming for a national title as the season’s capstone. As an Auburn fan, I can’t say I’m terribly enthusiastic about this prospect, though as an Alabamian I will take a certain amount of quiet pride.

I’m not going to wade too far into the controversy over whether Ohio State should have been included instead of either TCU or Baylor. Suffice it to say that the playoff committee was aware of what a juicy coaching matchup this game would feature.

Urban Meyer used to hold the title of best coach in the SEC, until he rudely unseated when the Tebow-charged Florida Gators were trounced by Saban’s Alabama in the 2009 SEC Championship Game.

A little more than a year after that game, Meyer was out at Florida, due in large part to health problems related to stress and overwork. Many SEC fans may like to imagine that Meyer’s resignation resulted from the end of his reign over the conference, but it probably had more to do with the extreme intensity of his work ethic. He makes Nick Saban look like The Dude from The Big Lebowski.

After signing a contract written by his daughter that reportedly required him to “freaking chill out” every once in a while, Urban Meyer was then allowed to sign with Ohio State, where he once again could be called the best coach in his conference. But the Big Ten is no SEC, where Meyer’s former rival Saban has continued to reign supreme in Meyer’s absence.

Alabama is clearly the better team in this game, but Meyer will come in with something to prove. This could be fun to watch, even if the Buckeyes do indeed get clobbered by the Tide.