8 takeaways from a playoff-altering day of college football

In the three-year history of the College Football Playoff, there has been relatively little controversy. In the inaugural season, both TCU and Baylor got hopped by Ohio State on the final day of the season. Few complained, however, as Ohio State marched on to win the national title as a No. 4 seed. Last season, there were some grumblings about Big Ten champion Penn State not making it to the playoff, but that felt more like ESPN-created controversy than actual sentiment within the sport.

But when the final CFP rankings are released on Dec. 3 this year, it appears we’re barreling toward the most controversial iteration in the brief history of the College Football Playoff.

A stunning weekend that saw No. 1 Alabama get waxed by No. 6 Auburn and No. 2 Miami get thumped by unranked Pittsburgh has charted the course for chaos. When the playoff started, it was thought that there’d be no bigger gap in sports than between Nos. 4 and 5 in the College Football Playoff. We’re about to find out how big that chasm really is.

There are so many scenarios that could portend controversy. Could the SEC end up with two teams in the playoff when it has been the weakest in recent history? Could the Big Ten champion be left out of the playoff when the league is as strong as it has been in recent history? Could an upset in the Big 12 title game leave Oklahoma out of the playoff, cursing the league for adding a title game?

And here’s one final delicious question to gnaw on: Who would get in between a 1-loss Alabama team with no great victories and a two-loss Ohio State team with two marquee victories and two blowout losses?

The only safe prediction here is that we’ll see more vitriol, lobbying and rhetoric in the next week as we’ve seen in the first three years combined.

The math of the College Football Playoff never really added up: Four spots for five major conferences. And this year, the math is going to get ugly.

Auburn fans were delighted enough to rush their home field after the Tigers defeated rival Alabama 26-14 in the Iron Bowl. (AP)

2. The wildest development of Saturday came from Ohio State’s 31-20 victory at Michigan, particularly at Urban Meyer’s postgame news conference. Meyer simmered with anger over an incident prior to the game where, Meyer says, a “man with a camera” clipped the leg of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. The injury slowed Barrett early on in the game Saturday. The Buckeyes made a late charge after Barrett left the contest in the second half with an injury that appeared to come from a hit on the field.

But postgame, the mysterious cameraman captivated everyone’s attention. Barrett even simulated the incident at the podium of the postgame news conference. Meyer called for an “all-out investigation” into the incident. Barrett told reporters he didn’t consider the incident malicious and that he’d play in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin on Saturday.

Meyer sounded determined to find out who hit Barrett: “Too many damn people on the sideline and a guy with a camera hit him in the knee. I’m going to find out who. I’m so angry right now.”

3. Is Oklahoma the best team in the country? There’s certainly a strong argument for that after the No. 4 Sooners blew out West Virginia, 59-31, on Saturday. There’s no doubt that Baker Mayfield has been the country’s best player, as Mayfield further cemented his runaway Heisman Trophy candidacy with a 14-for-17 passing performance, which included 281 yards and three touchdowns.

Mayfield was stripped of his captaincy for the game and held out of Oklahoma’s first drive as punishment for his crotch-grabbing incident against Kansas the previous week. This week, Mayfield returned to his routine domination. (The Oklahoma captains brought Mayfield’s jersey out to midfield as a gesture, a sign of what he means to his teammates).

4. One game that received little national attention because both teams have been eliminated from the College Football Playoff race was Notre Dame’s trip out to Stanford.

Bryce Love ran for 125 yards on 20 carries in Stanford’s 38-20 blowout. It was impressive considering that he was listed as “day-to-day” by coach David Shaw heading into the game. Love is neck-and-neck for second place in the Heisman balloting behind Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. Love could end up as the fourth Stanford player to finish second in the Heisman Trophy voting in the past decade – Toby Gerhart (2009), Andrew Luck (2010 and 2011), and Christian McCaffrey (2015) all finished second those seasons. With Mayfield considered the runaway winner, Love may well keep the tradition of Stanford bridesmaids alive.

5. Wisconsin finished off its regular season 12-0 with a 31-0 blowout of Minnesota on Saturday. The Badgers are the only Power Five conference team to finish the regular season undefeated, as Miami and Alabama’s losses gave that mantle to the Badgers. They are also the least heralded undefeated team from a Power Five league in the College Football Playoff era, as they’re expected to open as underdogs to two-loss Ohio State in the Big Ten title game on Saturday night.

Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor has shredded defensive lines this season. (AP)

The Badgers, however, should not be overlooked. They entered Saturday No. 1 in the country in rush defense and No. 2 in total defense and scoring defense. Considering that Barrett is banged up and Ohio State looked one-dimensional at times against Michigan on Saturday, it wouldn’t be stunning if the Badgers continued their undefeated and unnoticed season all the way to the College Football Playoff.

One notion that should be dismissed is the idea that an undefeated Wisconsin team could get left out of the playoff. While Wisconsin lacks a marquee victory – much like Alabama – the Ohio State win would give it plenty of momentum for a top-four spot. This is likely just how understated Badgers coach Paul Chryst wants things to unfold.

6. The most gut-wrenching loss of the game goes to Tulane, which appeared to beat SMU on the final play to become bowl eligible. Trailing 41-38 in the final seconds, Tulane coach Willie Fritz opted to go for the win. On first-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, officials ruled quarterback Jonathan Banks short of the goal line as time expired. Replays didn’t conclusively rule that Banks got in, as the ball wasn’t visible from the limited angles.

That gave SMU a 41-38 victory and left Tulane at 5-7 and short of a bowl bid. Tulane has made just one bowl since 2002, leaving the seniors gutted.

“It’s the most heartbreaking way not to go to a bowl game,” Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen told Yahoo on Saturday night. “With no time on the clock, with both teams thinking they’d won the game. The replay in the stadium showed touchdown. Our guys were waiting for the confirmation to run off the field with their sixth win.”

Instead, officials upheld the call and Tulane came up painfully short. Dannen said he spoke with replay officials and AAC officials, both of whom said there wasn’t conclusive evidence to overturn it. The limited camera angles at an AAC game, as opposed to a Big 12 game, didn’t help matters. Dannen said he appreciated the efforts of the dozen Tulane seniors and promised when they’d be on the plane with the team when Tulane reached a bowl game next year.

7. We wrote earlier today about UCLA’s home run hire of Chip Kelly. There’s a lot of reason to think Kelly will succeed, starting with his 46-7 record at Oregon. The longer that Kelly coached in the NFL, a stigma arose around him that he was an apathetic recruiter. In making a few calls about Kelly on Saturday, multiple coaches dismissed that notion to Yahoo Sports. Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said in a phone interview, “If he can recruit at Oregon, he’ll be able to recruit at UCLA.”

St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro, one of the top coaches in California, said his relationship with Kelly stretched back to when Kelly served as the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire and Negro coached at Trabuco Hills High School in Orange County. He recalled being impressed by Kelly’s offensive acumen back then and also enjoyed his openness in discussing different types of offense. Negro predicted that Kelly’s presence will resonate in Los Angeles. “It’s going to be right up the alley of athletes in the Los Angeles area. It’s something they want to do and enjoy.”

8. One of the more intriguing subplots of Tuesday’s College Football Playoff release will be where UCF is ranked after its dramatic victory over USF on Friday afternoon. The Knights were ranked No. 15, making some wonder if the College Football Playoff Committee has gone the way of the flawed NCAA tournament selection committee.

The recent trend lines of teams outside power conferences getting squeezed from the NCAA tournament have come in part because of a lack of representation on the NCAA tournament selection committee. So with undefeated UCF not even sniffing the top 10, should it surprise anyone to learn that there are no athletic directors on the committee from outside the Power Five conferences?

“We’re working on that,” American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco told Yahoo Sports on Saturday night. “We’re working on trying to get the ads from the so-called G5 on the committee.”

Memphis was ranked No. 20 in that poll. In a year with so much chaos and few dominant teams, shouldn’t strong AAC teams be given more consideration? “We’re frustrated and we don’t understand it,” Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen said. “There’s been no explanation given. why our teams can’t get ranked higher. The question is who’s the advocate for the Group of Five conferences?”

More college football coverage from Yahoo Sports:
Arkansas fires Bret Bielema minutes after loss to Missouri
Western Kentucky punter might have had the worst play of the season
Nebraska fires Mike Riley after three seasons
Barry Switzer blames Madonna, Michael Jackson for Mayfield’s gesture
Oklahoma captains take Baker Mayfield’s jersey to coin toss