Well, folks, that dreaded moment is upon us: another college football season has come and gone. Interestingly enough, I see a lot of parallels between the 2017 season and the recent bomb cyclone that we experienced last week here in NYC. It came with a fury. It was unpredictable. It had us worried and stressed and watching our TVs constantly. It kept us inside all day. But in the end, we realized that it was just another snowstorm with the same result as previous snowstorms. Yes, although it was a thrilling season with ups and downs, the same team we’ve been used to seeing at the end lifted the trophy after all.
Ok, so maybe it’s a little boring when you think about the same old Alabama winning it all again. However, when you consider the way we got there AND THE FACT THAT ALABAMA DIDN’T WIN ITS OWN DIVISION (woops…sorry it slipped), it was anything but ordinary. And so, friends, I take this week to put a nice bow on the thrilling season that was and look forward to some storylines for next year.
THE THRILLING SEASON THAT WAS AND SOME STORYLINES FOR NEXT YEAR
First of all, I should put my bias and hatred aside to congratulate the Alabama Crimson Tide on their “17th” national championship blah blah blah. Nick Saban has now rolled off 5 national titles with the Tide since 2009, and he has tied Bear Bryant for the most national titles of all-time at the FBS level (6). This year’s version of the Tide was arguably one of his weaker title squads, but in the end, Nick Saban’s worst team is better than almost anyone in college football. This Auburn fan personally cannot wait for his retirement.
Although they may not have blown out opponents the way we’re used to, this team really proved they could dig deep when they needed to. Gutsy performances against Texas A&M and Mississippi State got this team believing, but super physical games like those cost them dearly as they were banged up heading into the Iron Bowl. Though they dropped the almighty game 26-14 to a far superior, much more talented, deeper Auburn team with a dashingly handsome male fanbase known for their boyish charm and charisma, they still made the College Football Playoff.
Sorry, Buckeyes, but you can’t lose 55-24 and expect good things to happen. Anyways, this team steamrolled Clemson and needed heroics from a gang of freshman to salvage the title game, but they did it. After all the injuries, not even winning their division, getting embarrassed by their rivals…after ALL THAT…the Crimson Tide are the “Kings of Confetti.”
I think it’s a dumb shirt too, don’t worry.
Before we witnessed one of the best games of the season as the finale, however, we had some serious national title drama that had nothing to do with any of the teams in the playoff.
That’s right! Not only did the UCF Knights proclaim themselves the undefeated National Champions of college football, but they had a parade at Disney World to celebrate it. AND GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT GOT IN ON THE ACTION TOO!!
Here’s my take, which I know you’ve all been waiting for.
I get it. I really do. The college football system at the FBS level is flawed. It sucks. You are a team competing at the highest level of college football, you win all of your games, beat a powerhouse SEC program, and you’re not even in the conversation as the (officially recognized) national champion. If they won’t invite you to the party, you make your own party, DAMMIT. I applaud UCF for taking matters into their own hands.
Is it annoying? Yes. Is the rest of the country rolling their eyes and perhaps laughing? Sure. But guess what…the system that declares a college football national champion is already arbitrary. UCF had a bunch of people get together and say, “this is the national champion.” Isn’t that exactly what the playoff committee does? Sits in a room together and literally picks the “best” teams based on some decided upon set of criteria…but low key really it’s a subjective decision?
Why be mad at UCF? This is how so many teams used to be crowned champions before we had any kind of organization in college football. Just ask Alabama!
Teams would go undefeated…or not…and would have the local Plain Dealer bestow the National Champion crown on their figurative heads. How is UCF any different? Why are we telling them it doesn’t count this time?
Look, I was rolling my eyes at first too. But I have seen the light. UCF and other teams just like them have the entire deck stacked against them. The Power 5 will not recognize the Group of 5 as worthy of title discussions, which is completely archaic and backward. If you don’t like UCF doing this and making noise, then maybe let these teams into the party. They’re doing this because the system is not fair. It’s broken and needs fixing. You keep on being annoying, UCF. Maybe one day they’ll pay attention. Can’t wait to see that championship banner.
End of Jake’s Take.
And speaking of national champions, how about the North Dakota State Bison?! The champions of the FCS for the 6th (!!!) time in the last 7 years, which is like…SUCK ON THAT SABAN. We got your dynasty riiiiiigggght here.
But for real, the Bison are known for reloading ala Alabama recruiting, and they are the early favorites again for 2018. They have 13 starters returning including all-name team contender QB Easton Stick who is 34-3 as a starter. Also, Stick has an excellent chance of becoming the all-time wins leader at the FCS/1-AA level for a quarterback. Somewhere in a Philadelphia luxury apartment, Carson Wentz is smiling but also wincing in pain and icing his knee probably.
Congrats to all the champions out there. Large and small. Let’s talk games.
TOP 6* GAMES OF THE YEAR
*=it was supposed to be 5, but that title game happened…
There was a lot of great football played this year at the FBS level. Here were my 6 favorite games of the year:
6. Troy 24 vs. #25 LSU 21-September 30, 2017
Speaking of Group of 5 teams who get no respect! Troy straight up dominated LSU for most of the game. In fact, Troy was pitching a shutout, and the Tigers didn’t even get on the board until there were 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. AT THEIR HOME STADIUM NO LESS. Anyways, the Trojans started slipping in the 4th once they went ahead 24-7, and all of a sudden LSU had the ball down 24-21 with a chance to at least tie the game late. Luckily for the future Sun Belt champs, they got a clutch interception with 11 seconds left to seal the deal. It was LSU’s first non-conference loss at home since UAB in 2000. That’s so long ago that UAB has had time to cancel football and bring it back again since.
5. #6 Ohio State 39 vs. #2 Penn State 38-October 28, 2017
Again, we saw a team go ahead early only to watch their lead vanish as the game went on. Football is a 4-quarter sport, people. The defending Big Ten champs went ahead 28-10 in the 2nd quarter, gave that lead up, took another 2-score lead in the 3rd quarter, and then gave it up again. James Franklin just can’t have nice things. Ohio State kept falling behind, but JT Barrett just wouldn’t say die in his 10th and final year of eligibility. He led the Buckeyes all the way back and capped it off with a 16-yard TD pass to Marcus Baugh with just 1:48 to go in the game. After this game, Barrett got himself back into the Heisman discussion before cementing his place off the ballot a few weeks later in Iowa City.
4. #14 UCF 62 vs. #25 Memphis 55 2OT-December 2nd, 2017; American Athletic Conference Championship game
Yes, this was a huge game for UCF, but people don’t realize that had the Tigers won, they more than likely would have headed to the Peach Bowl with the Group of 5 New Years 6 bid. They were the best team you didn’t hear about this year, but the Knights got all the press and rightly so. UCF had a remarkable season that was capped off by this phenomenal, double overtime game at home over a scrappy Memphis squad. It was back and forth the entire game, and Memphis was even ahead 31-24 at halftime. One of the few times UCF was playing from behind all year mind you. UCF pulled ahead in the 4th, but Memphis fought back from being down 14 with 9:51 to go to tie the game late. After UCF’s touchdown in the second overtime, they got a game-winning pick to seal the deal on their way to the New Years’ Six Peach Bowl where they knocked off Auburn. And won the national title apparently.
3. UCLA 45 vs. Texas A&M 44-September 3, 2017
The earliest played game on this list! For what that’s worth. Anyways, I remember sitting at a Buffalo Wild Wings’ bar with my brother on that Sunday night watching the Virginia Tech-West Virginia game. We were casually checking on the Bruins-Aggies game as well, but it was 44-10 with 4:08 in the third.
“Guess Texas A&M is for real this year,” I remember commenting to my brother.
We kept talking and catching up because we don’t see each other often, but I remember that every time I looked up after that comment was for a UCLA score.
“Hey man…UCLA is coming back,” I remember saying.
“Dude. No. Way. This is happening.”
And finally, the game-winning pass. Chosen Rosen led his Bruins all the way back in the 2nd largest comeback in FBS history, and my brother and I were yelling in a nearly empty B Dubs in a Tampa suburb. Good times, and one of the better games of the college football season right out of the chute.
2. #3 Georgia 54 vs. #2 Oklahoma 48 2OT-January 1, 2018; Rose Bowl/CFP Semifinal
This will go down as Baker Mayfield’s last collegiate game, and boy was it a doozy. Georgia was down 31-14 in the 2nd quarter, which led the outspoken Mayfield to shout “it’s over” to the Georgia sideline. Yes, Baker, your college career is indeed over. Anyways, Georgia would roll off 21 unanswered points from that point on before Oklahoma could stop the bleeding. In the second overtime, Sony Michel walked us off with a 27 yard TD run, and ran the Bulldogs into the title game.
1. #4 Alabama 26 #3 Georgia 23 OT-1/9/2018 National Championship Game
Yes, this is admittedly recency bias, but it was for the whole kit and caboodle! National championship on the line. Georgia up 20-6 and dominating Alabama all through the first half. Saban rolls the dice and brings out his freshman QB Tua Tagliavangjrbfee, and all hell breaks loose. The freshman leads the Crimson Tide to a title by outscoring Georgia 20-10 after coming into the ballgame. And what’s more, Tua hit ANOTHER freshman for the game-winner. It’s just a never-ending cycle in the Saban process. Anyways, this was an incredible game that ended in a walkoff touchdown bomb for the natty. Can’t get any better than that, folks.
Honorable Mentions aka Games I Had Fun Watching:
Ole Miss 31 Mississippi State 28-The Egg Bowl
UCF 49 USF 42
Bama 31 Mississippi State 24
Michigan State 27 Penn State 24
Iowa State 14 TCU 7
Arkansas 38 Ole Miss 37
Oklahoma State 13 Texas 10 (OT)
Syracuse 27 Clemson 24
LSU 27 Auburn 23
Bama 27 Texas A&M 19
Iowa State 38 Oklahoma 31
Florida 28 Kentucky 27
USC 27 Texas 24 (2OT)
Georgia 20 Notre Dame 19
Tennessee 42 Georgia Tech 41 (2OT)
And now for some awards!
Jake’s Defensive Player of the Year: Roquan Smith, LB Georgia
What DIDN’T Smith do this season for the Bulldogs? The Butkus Award winner recorded 137 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and forced two fumbles. He was 3rd in the SEC in tackles for loss and 1st in solo and total tackles in the conference as well. He was the obvious choice for SEC Defensive Player of the Year and served as the heart and soul of the SEC champion Bulldog defense. A unit, mind you, that was one of the elites in the nation. Now, the junior must decide on whether to return to the Dawgs for his senior year or be a possible top 10 pick in the draft.
Jake’s Offensive Player of the Year: Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma
Ok, so this is chalk, but I wasn’t going to sit here and try to justify choosing Lamar Jackson over him. Mayfield had a stupendous senior year in Norman taking home the Davey O’Brien, Maxwell, and Walter Camp Awards as well as the lesser-known Heisman Trophy. He led Oklahoma to its 3rd straight Big XII title and nearly got them into the national championship game against Bama. His 4,627 yards were second best in the NCAA this season, but nerds will be pleased to know that he had the #1 mark in both completion percentage and passing efficiency rating.
He leaves as one of the top 10 passers in NCAA history and will surely be remembered as one of the all-time great college QBs ever to suit up. I personally loved watching Mayfield play, and I think he was one of the most exciting college players to watch. Not bad for a walk-on.
Now, let’s talk about some teams that impressed me or just flat out disgusted me this season.
Surprise Team of the Year: The U.
The Miami Hurricanes finished with a dramatic, Richtian thud losing 3 straight at the end but not before they won an impressive 10 in a row to open the season. This was year 2 under Richt, and although they were not able to finish, Miami is back on the map. They competed in their first ever ACC title game, grabbed a huge 41-8 blowout against rival Notre Dame, and has the Canes in a great spot to start in the top 10 in 2018. Sure, they ran out of gas, but I had a lot of fun watching this team especially when they would get riled up about that Turnover Chain.
While Miami takes the crown in this category, I do want to mention the impressive season by Northwestern who finished #17. They finished 2nd in the Big Ten West, won 10 games, and defeated Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. Pat Fitzgerald had them surprisingly competitive this season, and they will head into next year with an 8-game winning streak. Too bad Wisconsin returns most of their playmakers. Also, hats off to Dave Doeren and the NC State Wolfpack. Their 9-4 finish helped Doeren get some collateral as he flirted with Tennessee en route to an extension and raise. Well done, Dave.
Disappointment of the Year: FSU/Florida
It was a rough year to be a fan of either of these teams. Florida State was a disaster as soon as Francois went down in the opener against Alabama, and the Seminoles never recovered. After they were forced to reschedule their game with Louisiana Monroe in order to maintain their 36-year bowl streak, Jimbo Fisher bolted for the SEC and a fat wad of cash at Texas A&M. Their rivals weren’t laughing, however, as Jim McElwain was shown the door after a disappointing 4-7 season. Neither of these teams have any excuse not to be at the top of the college football ladder. They are loaded with recruiting talent, facilities, and their pick of coaches year in and year out.
Team to watch in 2018: West Virginia Mountaineers
ESPN’s Way-Too-Early 2018 rankings have the Mountaineers in the top 10, and I agree. QB Will Grier and All-American WR David Sills V will be back in the saddle for an offense that moved the ball with ease all season long. They are loaded at wide receiver in general, and with a fully healthy Grier, I expect WVU to be burning some couches next season as they challenge Oklahoma for Big XII supremacy.
They went 7-6 this season and ended on a three-game losing skid, but keep in mind that Grier was never healthy after an early injury against Texas. They lost all 3 games after that injury. Next season, they get Tennessee in Charlotte, NC State on the road, and home dates with Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State. I love their chances at reaching 10 wins with that lineup.
As for some other teams to watch, I love the Willie Taggart hire at FSU. I think he has the tools and ability to turn that team around in a hurry. Same with Dan Mullen at Florida who may have been one of the best and most obvious hires of the year. I also expect Texas to take another leap forward in Tom Herman’s second season. And finally, and this is a long-term pick, watch out for Chad Morris at Arkansas. He did wonders at Clemson under Dabo Swinney, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Morris returning the Hogs to Petrino-era Arkansas.
Biggest Drop-off in 2018: TCU Horned Frogs
This is a tough call because I like Gary Patterson a lot and think he’s one of the better college football coaches out there. However, his 2018 squad is going to suffer massive losses starting with QB Kenny Hill and stud RB Kyle Hicks. They also lose 4 out of their 5 starting offensive lineman as well as multiple key contributors on defense. Although they have some promising recruits coming up including 2 4-star QBs, they will face Texas and WVU on the road as well as a date in Arlington with the Ohio State Buckeyes. I don’t expect a repeat of 2016’s 6-7 squad, but this team won’t be returning to the Big XII title game.
And just to prove my unbiased writing, I will also lump my Auburn Tigers into this category. Auburn loses tons of talent including Kamryn Pettway, SEC leading rusher Kerryon Johnson, 4 out of their 5 starting offensive lineman, star defensive back Carlton Davis, and linebacker Jeff Holland. They do, however, return DL Dontavius Russell who decided to return to school along with QB Jarrett Stidham. Regardless, losses are heavy on both sides of the ball. The Tigers will open with Washington in Atlanta before their grueling SEC schedule that will take them on the road against Georgia and Alabama. I don’t expect another SEC title game appearance in 2018.
Jake’s Coach of the Year: UAB’s Bill Clark
I wrote an entire article about him. You can read it here. Honorable mention to Scott Frost.
The Coaching Carousel
What an active offseason! I’ve already mentioned that I liked FSU grabbing Taggart and Florida grabbing Dan Mullen. I think those are both excellent hires that get those teams both on track. I’m also a big fan of Scott Frost’s, and I think his return to Nebraska is just what the doctor ordered. Don’t expect a Big 10 crown next year or even the year after next, but there will be a culture change in Lincoln. They are dying for a competitive team, and Frost is just the man for the job. He’s as Nebraska as they come, and I expect their recruiting to take off in the coming seasons.
As for his replacement in Orlando at UCF, meh. Josh Heupel…I get it. You want to bring in a guy who will continue what Frost started. You don’t want to rip apart the high-octane offense you just built, and that’s what Heupel does. He has all the resources to maintain greatness down there. However, I’m not sure how much of the success will be because of him. We shall see.
How could we talk about new coaches without mentioning the Tennessee saga? It’s been well played out by now, and you should know most of the details if you read college football articles on blogs. Anyways, Jeremy Pruitt was basically Tennessee’s 76th choice, but they finally got a guy. And a good one too if you ask me. Some writers have said this is coming a year or two too early for the talented Alabama coordinator, but they had to hire somebody!
I honestly think Pruitt will silence a lot of critics. He has the benefit of being relatively anonymous so far, and the Tennessee faithful didn’t burn stuff when his name was announced. So…progress, right? Pruitt has a tough task ahead as he must rebuild a program that was run into the ground by the previous regime. Not to mention this school just suffered the biggest PR nightmare of the offseason. All this while he contends with the likes of Alabama and a rising juggernaut in Georgia every single year. Good luck, buddy.
And so, my friends, that wraps up the 2017-2018 season. We have reached the end of our college football journey together. It was a heck of a wild ride, but we did it. Together! I sure had a blast this season writing about the sport that I love so dearly. Isn’t college football one of the wackiest things out there? You literally never know what’s going to happen from one moment to the next. Congrats to our champion(s), and I am already counting down to kickoff 2018.