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Who Really Deserves to be in the College Football Playoffs?

Death Valley During Auburn vs Clemson, September 9th (Photo Courtesy of Maya Roberts).

Death Valley During Auburn vs Clemson, September 9th (Photo Courtesy of Maya Roberts).

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A series of astonishing affairs in the NCAA occupied the thirteenth week of college football. Upsets within the playoff front-runners convulsed sporting networks as No. 2 Miami suffered a 10-point loss to unranked Pittsburgh. Losses distributed to No. 1 Alabama and No. 8 Notre Dame also took place during this final weekend of regular season games. The defeat of these teams raised many eyebrows, as No. 1 Alabama was demoted to No. 5, leaving them out of the playoff bracket, despite only losing their first game of the season. While Clemson moved to this vacant spot, the then 10-2 Auburn Tigers were placed behind at No. 2. The controversy over Auburn being in this position in the AP Polls derives from the fact that teams that have failed to keep a record above two losses are traditionally disqualified from playoff considerations. However, the 2017 NCAA Football season isn’t your traditional season. We have seen renowned football programs, such as those of Florida State and Michigan, plummet from their initial top 10 ranking, even out of the top 25, to finish the season with a losing record. We also have seen programs such as TCU and Auburn emerge, seemingly out of nowhere. In addition to this, many have begun to examine the potential of other two-loss teams, such as the University of Southern California, Penn State, University of Washington, and Ohio State, because Auburn’s two-loss season is still contentious compared to teams that have lost only one game or have gone undefeated. The lopsidedness of this year has raised many questions of who genuinely is deserving to compete in the playoffs to contend for the national title.

“I think there has been an unprecedented amount of parity, and [this] makes a strong case for playoffs to expand from the top 4 teams to the top 8 teams because we have seen worthy teams drop games against week-in teams who are no longer in the running,” says social studies teacher Ms. Griner.

  1. Clemson University

Ah, Clemson. The fairy tale of Hartwell’s resilient and humble hero, Deshaun Watson, came to a heartwarming end last season with a National Championship. Entering the 2017 season, many questions arose for junior Kelly Bryant, the next-in-line Clemson Quarterback following Watson’s NFL debut. A swift answer abruptly shut down all those who questioned Bryant’s ability within the first five games of the season, winning impressive games, easing past Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Virginia Tech’s upset intentions, and even against Auburn. However, on Friday, October 13th, Clemson received their only loss this season against unranked Syracuse. Many fans flooded with reassurance as Clemson lost to unranked Pitt and still won the national title in the same year. What many fans do not realize, however, is that this game exposed how vital Clemson’s dual-threat quarterback is to their success, as Bryant was knocked out during the game after a hard hit. Personally watching this game, countless opportunities to rally against Syracuse to avoid this upset in the late fourth quarter were poorly executed without Bryant’s exceptional play-making ability. Bryant’s impactful absence was also apparent during the annual Cotton Bowl affair between Clemson and NC State. NC State led Clemson into the fourth quarter because Bryant suffered a minor injury, requiring him to be pulled out of the game for evaluation temporarily. To be blunt, Clemson looked dull offensively and exhausted defensively. Bryant’s clutch ability to keep the offense on the field does cause wonder regarding Clemson’s ability to stay vibrant. While NFL teams can have great success with subpar quarterbacks, the skills of this position in college football can either make or break a team, as we have seen Florida State digress into a pitiful 5-6 record due to quarterback Deondre Francois’s season-ending injury.  The key to success for Clemson’s playoff campaign is to keep healthy, play it safe, and stay alive because the ACC championship displayed an unstoppable team against No.7 Miami.

“One can make valid arguments for who should be No.1, and nobody has really proved themselves dominant enough to for sure be called the best team in the nation. Every team has had flaws this year, but what you need to look at is the way teams have gotten over these tough spots and carried themselves on for the remainder of the season. For that reason, I think Clemson is a safe pick for No. 1,” says sophomore Emma Magnan.

  1. Oklahoma

The Heisman hopeful quarterback, Baker Mayfield, has opened many eyes in the NCAA through his undeniable talent and antics. Whether you love him or you hate him, which many people do, it is because you hate how good he is. His outlandish passing skills and field vision can pick apart some of the most aggressive defensive units. Oklahoma’s receiving core beautifully complements Mayfield. Inconsistencies on defense are almost irrelevant because Oklahoma’s ability to put points on the board can make up for any defensive mistake. Oklahoma shatters a defense-minded perspective on football. For this reason, Oklahoma is a no-brainer pick for No. 2. Much like Kelly Bryant’s health is a concern to Clemson’s playoff ambitions, Oklahoma must be vigilant towards influencing Mayfield to stay composed and retain some dignity on the field. Reacting with unacceptable sexual gestures towards the crowd on the sidelines of Oklahoma’s blowout win against Kansas displays Mayfield’s emotional and competitive spirit. These actions being televised to thousands of households around the nation led Oklahoma to take action against Mayfield by retracting his starting position and team captain status in his final game as an Oklahoma Sooner on Senior Night. Mayfield shed tears during a press conference in response to this punishment, but was this the slap on the wrist that Mayfield needed entering the playoff race?  If he can channel his emotionally charged personality into his playing style, and stay mature on the field, avoiding personal fouls, Mayfield can bring an unstoppable wave of energy to empower this Oklahoma team to potentially win it all.

“Oklahoma has solid depth and is probably the next best team there is after Clemson. Baker Mayfield needs to step it up as a leader and not let Heisman contentions get to his head. If he can break the Johnny Manziel conduct and mature more as a leader, bring this to the playoffs, and possibly a national championship, he could just pull it off for this Oklahoma team,” says senior Andrew Greskamp

  1. Georgia

Georgia’s undefeated No.1 spot seemed to only comprise of a minuscule portion of this season. Georgia was considered an underdog and ranked in the teens during preseason with additions to the offensive and defensive line. Since the preseason, Georgia has done nothing but impress. Auburn trumped what seemed to be an unstoppable Georgia team with a 40 point victory over a No.1 Georgia. This did nothing but rattle the polls. Many questioned Georgia’s eligibility to compete in the playoffs after this blowout loss. Would Georgia get another shot to redeem this dream season? The perfect alignment of Auburn beating Alabama not only set up an opportunity for Georgia to redeem themselves, but to redeem themselves against the team that had blown them out in previous weeks. Georgia came into this championship match fired up and beat Auburn by three scores. With Wisconsin and Auburn both dropping out of playoff consideration, Georgia was the clear answer for the No.3 playoff spot. With both an unstoppable run and pass game with an SEC style of defense, here is a team that can really defy odds.

“Alabama loses, America wins…You have [Alabama], a team that’s extremely overrated, [who] had a weak schedule, and is in a soft SEC conference. If your most impressive win is against No. 18 LSU or No. 24 Mississippi State, you aren’t that good. You don’t deserve the hype just because you have had a dominant program for eight years. Georgia had an embarrassing loss to Auburn, but Georgia redeemed themselves in the SEC championship where they smoked Auburn, and they looked really good doing it. Many people forget that Georgia was No.1 for a few weeks this season, too. I think, if they use this momentum, they could do something big in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma,” says senior Tyler Bruce.

  1. University of Southern California

I know what you’re thinking. This is the most biased pick in the history of sporting journalism. While I consider myself a significant USC fan, I’m not just throwing my favorite team out there because I love them. Auburn was a 10-2 team, much like USC, but what differentiated these two promising teams were the strength of schedules. Auburn being in the SEC had what many thought was a tougher schedule. What many fail to realize is that USC, also a 10-2 team, took on a schedule that did not have a single bye-week. This means USC played every single weekend since the beginning of the season, essentially without a break. If you take this into consideration, a 10-2 record becomes significantly more impressive. One loss of Southern California was credited to a slim field goal victory by week-in team No. 14 Washington State. This loss is more justifiable than Clemson losing to Syracuse, or Oklahoma losing to Iowa State this season. What turned away many in the college playoff polls was the 49-14 loss to No. 13 Notre Dame. The USC team that played that night in South Bend was anything but composed. Having zero starting players on the defensive line allowed Notre Dame to trample this incomplete USC team. Quarterback Sam Darnold also found himself in a rut towards the beginning of the season, turning the ball over at least one time a game on average. This offensive inconsistency was fixed in the later part of the season. After USC’s loss to Notre Dame, USC rallied to finish the rest of the season without a loss. This streak continued onto the Pac-12 Championship with a win over No.13 Stanford. USC will be playing Ohio State on December 29th in the Cotton Bowl Classic. Many feel this team was robbed due to the near impossible feats in a packed schedule that left no time for the team to recover.

“Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin just goes to show how weak the Big 10 Conference really is. I think Ohio State being left out of the playoffs makes sense because of the blowout loss against Iowa. Ohio State’s success is exaggerated, and aren’t as strong as many make it out to be. I think it makes sense to leave this brittle Big 10 Conference. If USC had an opportunity to play Clemson, I don’t think they’d win, but I definitely think they’d give them a good scare,” says Griner.

The most significant critique of the college playoff selection process is that not every team gets a chance. The slandering of promising teams such as Alabama, Georgia, and Miami in the Associated Press and coaching polls exemplifies how the NCAA is wasting the talents of those who are the future of football. One may argue that the regular season is the time to prove yourself, but if we have learned anything from this season, it is that every team has flaws, and perfection is nearly impossible to attain. An easy solution to this would be a redefined playoff bracket, including the top four teams, and the next four “at large” teams. This second bracket gives a second chance to schools that encountered short-lived situations, causing a slight loss in the season. If we can give a 10-2 Auburn a second chance to prove themselves in the SEC conference finals, which other schools could deem themselves as irrepressible?

“In the NFL, you already know who’s good, and who isn’t. In college football, there’s a different team every year that proves themselves. That’s what is great about college football; you don’t know,” says senior Brian Gutierrez.

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Who Really Deserves to be in the College Football Playoffs?