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Previewing the 2015 College Football Playoffs

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Austin Mayerhofer

December 22, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO–It’s bowl season once again in college football—the fields have been prepared, with trophies waiting to be engraved, and teams ready to duke it out to determine the better football program and conference. This season, though, things are a little bit different, and by “things”, I’m not talking about the new Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl, I’m talking about this year’s college football playoff. Instead of having two teams compete for college football’s highest honor like the previous 15 or so years, four teams will get to stake their claim for a title—a refreshing and less-controversial approach than the system of previous years. The BCS ranking system has also been replaced with a selection committee of 14 members, who select the top 25 teams in college football, and more importantly, the four playoff teams.

But, of course, like every season in the past, there was some controversy. With no computers implemented in the selection process this season, there was more room for bias and unfairness than the last decade. In the old system, despite cries from fans of teams barely left out of the title game (I’m looking at you, Oklahoma State and USC) , it was wholly agreed upon that the BCS system got the two teams right most of the time. Also, with such a small number of selectors (14) in the playoff system, one voter’s views could sway the rankings more than ever. That’s all a topic for a different time, let’s just take a look at upcoming matchups.


#2 Oregon (12-1) vs #3 Florida State (13-0)

Picture Credit: Getty Images

This matchup features a battle of two Heisman winning quarterbacks—Marcus Mariota of the Oregon Ducks and Jameis Winston for Florida State. Good vs evil. Hero vs villain, whatever you want to call them. This will mark just the third time in college football history that this has occurred, the previous two occasions being Matt Leinart (USC) vs Jason White (Oklahoma) in 2005, and Tim Tebow (Florida) vs Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) in 2009, both games with national title implications on the line.

Whenever there’s a battle between two great quarterbacks, you’ve also got to look at the pass defense. According to philsteele.com, Florida State only ranks 71 in pass efficiency defense, not a good sign for them. Oregon ranks 30th, which is pretty good, and does not bode well for Florida State. When facing Louisville and Florida (5th and 17th in pass efficiency defense ranking, respectively), Winston is a combined 37/72 passing, with 5 TDs to 7 INTs. Mariota is hot right now, vs his two toughest opponents, Stanford (#1 in pass defense!) and Michigan State (#11), he’s had Heisman moments in both games and elevated his game as it went on. Down 27-18 to Michigan State, he went 6-8 passing with 2 TDs, including a 40-yard run with around 5:00 to go, to ice the clock. Mariota has been doing this all season, evident by his 241.4 Quarterback Rating in the 4th quarter of games (to put that into perspective, the NCAA leader in total game QBR has a 186.3, who to no surprise, is Marcus Mariota).

In the other positions, both teams are just about even. Both have uber-talented freshman running backs, good wide receiver corps, and solid defenses. If it comes down to a kick, however, give me Florida State any day—Aguayo is money. I really like this Florida State team and their ability to win games, but Mariota is too good for this game to give Florida State a chance to come back.

FINAL PREDICTION: Oregon 33 Florida State 17


#1 Alabama (12-1) vs #4 Ohio State (12-1)

Alabama saunters into this game with four AP All-Americans (2nd most in the country), including Biletnikoff Award winning WR Amari Cooper. The Crimson Tide have won eight straight games, five of which came against top 25 teams. Their most recent victory is a 42-13 drubbing of #16 Missouri in the SEC title game, securing a spot in the playoff. Ohio State, on the other hand, has won 11 straight, but is heavily scrutinized for their strength of schedule, or rather, lack thereof. Still, there’s no denying the Buckeye’s prowess as they rank 4th in the nation in points per game and have a super running back in Ezekiel Elliot (1,610 yards from scrimmage this season).

Abs of steel is what drives Ohio State’s Elliott. Picture Credit: Jim Davidson | the-Ozone.net

The key matchup to watch in this game is Ohio State’s 3rd string quarterback, Cardale Jones, against the Tide’s defense, who rank 4th in the nation in points allowed per game. The Buckeyes have been going down the quarterback list since last offseason, starting with Heisman-contending Braxton Miller’s season ending shoulder injury during a preseason practice. Backup J.T. Barrett picked up where Miller left off, finishing 5th in the Heisman vote, but was lost late in the game against Michigan. Now it’s up to Jones to try and keep the win streak going. He performed admirably in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, but Alabama’s defense is a much different animal—opponents are completing just 54.5% of passes against them. Still, quarterbacks like Nick Marshall (Auburn) and Clint Trickett (West Virginia) have shown that when the opposing QB gets into a rhythm and is completing passes, whether it be for short or long gains, Alabama can’t stop them. If Jones can find his own rhythm, completing passes and handing the ball off to Elliott 50% of the time, Ohio State can make life for Alabama miserable.

The other key matchup in this game is Alabama’s run game vs Joey Bosa and the Ohio State D-line. No backfield this season has been able to escape Bosa’s wrath, the 2014 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Both are about even, Alabama 30th in the nation in rush yards/attempt, Ohio State ranking defensively at 38th. The Tide’s two main RBs, TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry, aren’t burners but are a lock to give you at least 3 yards on every play. It’ll be interesting to see how they do after the Buckeyes held Melvin Gordon to just 76 yards on 26 carries. Their most dangerous asset, however, is the running ability of QB Blake Sims, something the Tide hasn’t had in a while. If he can avoid Bosa, Alabama will most likely run the ball as efficiently as they have been all year long. Alabama’s pass game is one thing with Amari Cooper, but if the Buckeyes can’t stop the run, they have no chance.

FINAL PREDICTION: Alabama 28 Ohio State 17

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Non-AQ Teams and the College Football Playoff

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Austin Mayerhofer

December 28, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO–January 4, 2010. The Boise State Broncos hoisted the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl trophy high above their heads, having just taken down the TCU Horned Frogs. The Broncos might have come out on top at the end of the game, but on that day, everyone was a winner. It marked the first time in history that two “non-AQ” (non-automatic qualifying) conferences earned BCS bowl berths in the same season. Boise State’s final ranking was #4 in the entire nation, TCU finishing #6. Other non-AQ teams that finished in the top 25 were BYU (12), Utah (18), and Central Michigan (23). Not including this most recent matchup pitting the Broncos against the Horned Frogs, non-AQ teams boasted an impressive 3-1 record in BCS bowls, with Utah taking down Pitt in 2004, Boise State shocking Oklahoma in 2006, and Utah taking down Alabama in 2008. The only loss was Georgia’s 41-10 drubbing of Hawaii in the 2007 season’s Sugar Bowl. Keeping the good times going, TCU finished #2 in the 2010 final AP rankings and won the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin.

It was a great time for the “little” teams, as going unbeaten was basically a guaranteed spot in a top-flight bowl game at that time. However, despite all the accolades and BCS bowl appearances, there was still one question that lingered: When will a non-AQ team play for a national title? The problem kept arising time after time again—11-2 LSU got in over 12-0 Hawaii in 2007, 12-1 Florida got in over Utah in 12-0 in 2008. To compensate for a weak conference schedule, Boise State scheduled Oregon in 2008 and 2009, along with two top 25 teams in 2010, playing #10 Virginia Tech on the road and #24 Oregon State at home. TCU went to Virginia and Clemson in 2009, going unbeaten, but still was not given the chance to play in a national title game. For a long time, the questions and observations on non-AQ were hypothetical—Yes, they have beaten some good BCS teams this season, but are they really better than a Texas, a Florida, a USC? This was mainly Boise State’s problem, as from 2006-09 they finished the regular season unbeaten three times, only to come up short of playing for a national championship every time.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - TCU v Boise State

Image Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Enter the college football playoff. The 2014 season marked the first time that four teams would get to play for a national title, pitting #1 against #4, and #2 against #3. A little late, as TCU had moved up to the Big 12 by then, and Boise State wasn’t the same team they used to be, but finally a system was in place that could give the smaller teams a shot. In 2009 and 2010, TCU would’ve gotten their chance to prove they’re the #1 team in the country. Who knows how it would’ve turned out, but at least they would’ve had a shot, and that had been the problem for many, many years.

But, would they really? With the introduction of the college football playoff, a selection committee comprised of 14 members who vote on the top 25 teams in football, the BCS system was replaced and finally gone—huzzah! Not so fast, as ESPN analyst Lee Corso once famously said. The BCS buster of 2014 was Marshall, who, two weeks before they lost in a nail biter against Western Kentucky, was 10-0 and beating teams by an average of 30.8 points per game. While it was unanimously agreed upon by the public that this team was not a national title contender, they were definitely top 25 material. So, looking at the college football playoff rankings, going down the list…down…down…wait, no Marshall? Sure, they’re not top 10 material but to keep them out of the top 25? That seems a bit odd.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Gail Burton

If we implement the BCS system for this season, Marshall stands at #19, a much more reasonable and understandable ranking. Not too high, but not too low either. The AP poll has Marshall at #18 as well, coaches poll have them at 18, USA today poll at 18…Seeing a pattern here? Why are the playoff committee’s views so different? This question cannot be directly answered, but there are some possible problems and flaws with this newly implemented system. The obvious one is that with just 14 voters, one voters’ ideas could greatly sway the rankings, contrary to a poll like the largely trusted AP poll, in which 65 different sportswriters across the nation give their vote. This gives more regulation on radical viewpoints and more accurately portrays the ideas of the entire nation.

A second problem is of the 14 members, only Ty Willingham has ever been involved with a non-AQ school, and he was just a defensive back coach at Central Michigan for two years. Maybe this doesn’t impact anything, but it’s worth noting that the non-AQ teams don’t really have a “voice” among this panel.

So, while non-AQ teams will probably move higher if they have a more challenging non-conference schedule, it remains to be seen if anyone will be taken seriously by the voters as a legitimate national title contender. All we can do is sit back, wait, and enjoy the matchups we have now. Alabama vs Ohio State is looking pretty good right now. Maybe Alabama vs Boise State will be looking good in the near future. The next few years will be fun.

Top 5 Dynasties of the BCS Era

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Austin Mayerhofer

January 1, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO–Throughout sports history, there have been many fantastic dynasties in which a team dominated over a long period of time. Ones that come to mind for most people are the 1980’s San Francisco 49ers, the UCLA men’s basketball program, and many others. While we’re on the subject of everything BCS, I thought I’d go ahead and list my view of the best dynasties during the 16-year run of the BCS. This list is based on how much a team was winning, and the duration of that highly successful period.

1. USC Trojans (2002-2008) 82-9usc

Winning. Domination. Style. Just a few of the words that describe this amazing run from the USC Trojans, spanning a total of seven years, winning at least 11 games in each. The number of accomplishments and accolades are endless, the highlight being three Heisman trophies won (Carson Palmer 2002, Matt Leinart ’04, Reggie Bush (later vacated) ’05), two national titles won (’03 and ’04), and a Pac-10 record seven straight conference titles. The 2004 Trojans team is regarded as one of the best in college football history, going 13-0, capping the season off with a 55-19 domination of Oklahoma in the national title game. From 2003-2005 USC had a win streak of 34 games, tying a record for the longest winning streak in modern years. Lately USC’s success has been restricted by sanctions, but now with the penalties off, the Trojans should return to dominance under Steve Sarkisian.

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©Alabama Athletics

2. Alabama Crimson Tide (2008-2013) 72-9

This one is the most recent dynasty and is continuing today. Nick Saban has these guys ready to play every game, in the toughest conference in the nation. The Tide haven’t won 11 games plus every year like USC has, but they have won 10+, and have a whopping three national titles. What’s crazy to think is that if Alabama beat Florida in 2008 SEC championship and Auburn not beaten them in the most amazing fashion in 2013 this team could very have won FIVE national titles in a span of six years. During this time they have also sent countless players to the NFL, and even had their first Heisman winner in school history in 2009 (Mark Ingram). A look into how dominant this team has been? In their three national title games (2009, ’12, ’13) they have outscored their opponent by an average of 22 points a game. They are currently gunning for their 4th national title in six years in 2014.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes (2002-2013) 129-26

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©Ohio State Athletics

Consistency is what describes the Buckeyes. To the envy of Michigan, Ohio State has owned the Big Ten and won six conference titles during this span (it really should be seven if you count Ohio State’s 12-0 season that was barred from going to the conference championship game because of sanctions), appearing in a whopping NINE BCS bowls. However, despite Ohio State winning the 2002 National Title and Troy Smith bringing home the Heisman Trophy in ’06, this marvelous run was marked with futility in BCS bowls starting in 2006, going just 2-4 in the big games afterwards. If Ohio State had won some of those games, no doubt this would’ve been looked upon as one of the greatest dynasties in recent memory.

©Oklahoma Sooners

4. Oklahoma Sooners (2000-2008) 102-19

The Oklahoma Sooners. Where to start? Known as the biggest, baddest, team in football for most of their time, they made it to the biggest stage in football countless times, winning the national title in 2000, and then… From 2000-2002, the Sooners went 3-0 in bowl games, but 2003-2008 they were 0-5 in BCS bowl games. Still, not to take away from the Sooners, as no team looked forward to playing them. Jason White won a Heisman in ’03 and Sam Bradford followed that up, taking home the trophy in 2008. They took home a Big-12-high five conference titles, and sent many great players to the NFL. One worth noting is Adrian Peterson, a household name who took home the 2012 NFL MVP.

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©Boise State Athletics

5. Boise State Broncos (2006-2011) 73-6

The Miami Hurricanes…Florida Gators…Texas Longhorns…Boise State Broncos!? Yup, the Broncos definitely deserve some love as a top 5 dynasty during the BCS era. Looking at their resume you’d think they were in a BCS conference: 6-3 vs Top 25 opponents, 2-0 in BCS bowls, 3 perfect regular seasons. When Boise State beat Oklahoma in 2006, it signaled a change in college football, the era of the “BCS Buster”, a team from a non-AQ conference going to a BCS bowl and knocking off a high-powered AQ team. Home to the blue turf and trick plays, the Broncos went 37-1 at home during this span, their only loss coming by one point to TCU in 2011. Quarterback Kellen Moore also set an NCAA record for wins in a career, going 50-3 as a starter from 2008-11, finishing 4th in the 2010 Heisman trophy balloting and making the All-American team twice. Boise State didn’t churn out NFL players like the four schools above, but a dynasty is about winning, and boy, did the Broncos win.

Honorable Mentions:

Miami Hurricanes (2000-2003) 46-4

An amazing run, they would’ve ranked on this list if the dynasty went a bit longer. Still, the numbers are staggering. 17 first round NFL picks on the 2001 team, 34 straight wins from 2000-02, four straight Big East titles, one unbeaten title in 2000, and a whole lot of swagger.

Florida Gators (2006-2009) 48-7

The Gators went 13-1 three times, winning two national titles. The only season they didn’t go 13-1, 2007, Tim Tebow won a Heisman trophy. Go figure.

Jim Harbaugh Hire Changes College Football Landscape

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Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski – USA Today Sports

Austin Mayerhofer

January 1, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO–You can all relax now. After a maddening couple of months, the Jim Harbaugh coaching rumors have finally come to a close as of Tuesday, December 30th, 2014, when he was hired as Michigan’s 20th head football coach. A Michigan Man. Throughout the season there was much speculation on whether he could co-exist with the 49ers’ front office, as it’s hard for two smarts minds to do so. Rumors throughout the season had him going to the Raiders, the Jets, to Michigan, you name it–everyone wanted Harbaugh. And for good reason, the man can build programs (or in Michigan’s case, rebuild). At FCS school San Diego he went 27-6 in three years. Upon his arrival to Stanford, the Cardinal were just 14-31 in the previous four years, but under Harbaugh’s watch Stanford improved to 29-21, improving their record every year, their best season under Harbaugh was going 12-1 and smashing Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. This might sound familiar: In the 49ers’ previous four seasons before Harbaugh arrived, they went 26-38. 44-19-1 after, including three straight NFC championship game appearances, a feat unmatched by any NFL head coach in their first three seasons ever.

Now that he has returned to the college game, he figures to return Michigan to their past glory–the team with the most wins in NCAA football history (915). While the Michigan athletic department will give Harbaugh time to shape Michigan in his image, the bar is set high. Brady Hoke’s tenure was regarded as a failure after he obtained a winning percentage of .608 in four seasons. To put that in perspective, only 22 programs in NCAA football have an all-time winning percentage above .608. Lloyd Carr, Michigan’s coach from 1995-2007, compiled a record of 122-40 but was forced out because many thought Michigan was becoming mediocre. However, Harbaugh is possibly Michigan’s most celebrated hire ever, evident by his $48M contract, and one slip up won’t mean his job.

Harbaugh’s hire has a huge impact on recruiting. Last season under Hoke, Michigan’s class ranked 18th in the nation. Not bad, but not Michigan. Harbaugh’s last recruiting class at Stanford also ranked 18th in the nation. which, ironically, was a rousing success. It most definitely was, considering how tough it is to recruit to Stanford. Despite the amazing location, campus, and education, the high academic standards are what restrict the Cardinal and significantly restricts their recruiting.

According to ESPN’s Mitch Sherman, ESPN top 100 recruits CB Iman Marshall and WR Cordell Broadus are considering Michigan solely on the Michigan hire. TE Chris Clark could follow in their footsteps as well. With Harbaugh, recruits will get some of the best coaching offered, as he mixes NFL experience with college. With Stanford, he got his 2 and 3-star recruits to play above their potential, and the 4’s and rare 5-star player to maximize theirs. With the 49ers, there was talent when Harbaugh arrived, but it wasn’t the general manager or magic that took the 49ers from 2 Pro Bowlers to 9 in Harbaugh’s first season.

Harbaugh has had some issues in the past, problems with the 49ers’ head management, and he reportedly lost the locker room, but those problems should not follow him to Ann Arbor. In college, a coach has much more freedom to do what he wants compared to the NFL. In San Francisco, Harbaugh, the Yorks, and Trent Baalke all had to work together to keep the team successful, while in Michigan he will have almost full power to do whatever he wants. As for any locker room problems, Harbaugh’s shtick will work at the college game as he’ll have 3-4 years to work with his players and then they’ll be gone.

The 49ers management will deeply miss Harbaugh. Image Credit: @49ers on twitter

The next couple of years should be very interesting. It’s an exciting time in Ann Arbor, and for good reason. This hire changes the entire college football landscape, and Michigan could very well become a playoff contender in the next couple of years. The battles between Urban Meyer (Ohio State) and Harbaugh (Michigan) have the potential to be a storied rivalry between some of the game’s best minds. There hasn’t been such an anticipated hire since Nick Saban at Alabama in 2007. If this hire is anything close to that one, college football beware—Michigan is back.