Five things we learned during a wild New Year’s Day:
1) It capped a bad week for the SEC West: With six of its teams spending time in the Top 10 and with Alabama at No. 1, the SEC West had been hyped as one of the best divisions “ever” during the 2014 season. All seven members had qualified for bowl games. At the close of business at the Sugar Bowl on Thursday night, the SEC West had gone 2-5 in postseason games. Auburn had lost to Wisconsin (34-31) and then Alabama, the SEC standard bearer for the national championship, was totally taken apart by Ohio State (42-35).. The day before No. 9 Ole Miss was embarrassed by TCU (42-3) and Mississippi State, which was ranked in the top four for most of the season, was easily handled by Georgia Tech (49-34). LSU was again inept on offense in a 31-28 loss to Notre Dame. Only Arkansas (7-6) and Texas A&M (8-5) upheld the division’s honor.
I was as guilty as anybody of singing the praises of the SEC West, but here is the cold reality: The SEC West had a bunch of decent teams but no great ones.
2) It was a great day for the Big Ten: On the field after the Sugar Bowl no one was smiling more than Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. Earlier in the day his conference, which was given up for dead after after Virginia Tech beat Ohio State and Oregon beat Michigan State on Sept. 6, picked up wins against Auburn (by Wisconsin) and No. 5 Baylor (42-41 by Michigan State). Now Ohio State, the very last team to get into the College Football Playoff, has a shot at the national championship. “Maybe this will hit the reset button on the Big Ten,” said Delany. And the league has also added Jim Harbaugh as the new coach at Michigan.
3) Alabama’s defense got taken to the woodshed: The Sugar Bowl was not as close as a 42-35 score might suggest. Alabama got up 21-6 because of a couple of Ohio State turnovers and when Alabama got two defensive stops in the red zone. “We never really stopped them,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said after the game. Ohio State dominated Alabama at the line of scrimmage for 281 rushing yards against a team that led the nation in that category (88.7 ypg). The Buckeyes took a third-team quarterback (Cardale Jones) making his second career start and controlled the game. That’s coaching and Urban Meyer and his staff out-coached Alabama.
4) Ohio State saved the CFP Selection Committee a lot of grief: If Alabama had soundly beaten Ohio State, and the Crimson Tide was a nine-point favorite, then the critics would have railed on the selection committee for leaving out TCU, which was No. 3 on the last Saturday of the season but dropped to No. 6 after a 55-3 win over Iowa State. While TCU was so impressive against Ole Miss, anybody who watched Ohio State dominate Alabama knows the Buckeyes have a real shot when they play Oregon on Jan. 12 for the national championship. Will all of this increase calls for an eight-team playoff? Sure. It would have been interesting to see what TCU could do against this field. But as I’ve written before, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
5) I was not completely surprised by what happened to Florida State: I picked Oregon to win the national semifinal in the Rose Bowl and I certainly didn’t pick the final score. But Florida State was walking a tightrope all season. To the Seminoles’ credit they found a way to win each and every week. But you just got the sense that when they fell they were going to fall hard. I wrote this in the summer and I will stand by it: The off-the-field issues with Jameis Winston, regardless of how they were resolved by the legal system, really took the joy out of this season for Florida State. An accomplishment that should been celebrated by the whole world was brought into question on a daily basis. Fair or not, that was the reality.