By Chris Mahr
As we enter Week 10 of the 2012 College Football Season, the top four of the BCS standings is made up of four undefeated teams. If the entire quartet runs the table between now and the end of the regular season, all will be worthy of playing for the crystal football in Miami on January 7. Of course, only two will be chosen.
This scenario is both a potential recipe for disaster and a joyful reminder that, in two years, we won’t have to deal with the BCS Mess any longer. It’s almost as if the college football ecosystem has opened itself up and said, “I am ready for the era of the four-team playoff.”
As a means of both whetting your appetite for the playoff’s debut during the 2014–2015 season and exercising my creative juices, I present a preview of this season’s three hypothetical playoff matchups, consisting of two national semifinals and a championship game.
Alabama (No. 1) vs. Oregon (No. 4) – Semifinal #1
One week before the Crimson Tide tries to put the clamps on the Ducks’ high-octane offense, Nick Saban calls a press conference to reaffirm his “player safety” concerns in light of the increased pace at which the game is played.
“In my opinion, every team in college football should only be allowed to run an offense out of a pro-style set,” Saban begins. “Not only are we slowing the game down and avoiding debilitating injuries, we are equipping our players for the NFL where football is a business, not fun. Why not start educating our players on un-fun football right now?”
His Oregon counterpart, Chip Kelly, is of course much more in favor of a faster game. “We tailor our offense to football players who also love running up the score in NCAA ’13,” he responds. “In fact, a lot of our plays are designed by our players who honed their skills with years of video games.”
Reporters initially assigned to cover Saban’s pressers eventually defect to Kelly’s, craving his anecdotes like a desert wanderer craves water. By game day, the number of reporters at Kelly’s interviews outnumber the ones at Saban’s 10-to-1.
Oh, and the game itself…
Saban infuriates his critics even more when his team dominates time of possession with their un-fun, ground-and-pound attack (with the occasional play-action pass thrown in). Alabama holds onto the ball for 40 minutes yet is still outgained by Oregon, 400–350.
This despite Ducks starting QB Marcus Mariota being knocked out in the third quarter with a bum shoulder a la Colt McCoy in the 2010 Rose Bowl. No matter, as Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas find holes against a ‘Bama defense taken aback by their speed.
Nonetheless, Alabama triumphs in the final seconds on a 22-yard field goal by Jeremy Shelley. It’s a painful feeling of déjà vu for the Ducks as another kicker from an Alabama school, Auburn’s Wes Byrum, victimized Oregon two years prior from the same distance in the 2011 BCS title game. ALABAMA 31, OREGON 28
Kansas State (No. 2) vs. Notre Dame (No. 3) – Semifinal #2
The not-so secret to Kansas State’s regular season success in 2012 was by playing a bruising style of football more suited to the Big Ten or SEC in the Big 12, a conference not particularly known for its toughness.
By pounding opponents with a running game led by Heisman Trophy winner Collin Klein and displaying a stout defense, the Wildcats woke up the ghosts of the 1998 team that was one win away from playing for the inaugural BCS title.
One problem with that bruising style of play: It plays right into the hands of Kansas State’s opponent in the national semifinal, a Notre Dame team that finished in the top five in yards allowed and scoring defense and never allowed more than 17 points in any game on the season.
In addition, the Irish have the luxury of unleashing Heisman runner-up Manti Te’o on Klein all night. Te’o harasses Klein so constantly throughout the game that it appears the Kansas State quarterback, normally No. 7, is wearing the same jersey number as Te’o (No. 5).
When the tightly-fought game comes to an end, the two classy stars and leaders of their respective teams come together at midfield for a hug. Klein has a Wildcats ball boy bring the stiff-armed statue with him. He hands it to Te’o saying, “No question you earned this today.” Te’o smiles and gives Klein another hug. NOTRE DAME 17, KANSAS STATE 14
Alabama (No. 1) vs. Notre Dame (No. 3) – National Title Game
ESPN “College GameDay” sets up shop outside the stadium for the entire week before the game. The show’s producers trot out an endless line of former Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish standouts to debate which program has the most heritage.
By the day before the game, Lee Corso — who normally possesses an insatiable appetite for this kind of a debate — interrupts himself previewing the matchup with, “Aww, f*** it, can we just play this thing already?” (He later issues an on-air apology where you can clearly tell he’s not the least bit sorry.)
With both Everett Golson and Tommy Rees struggling to move the ball against the Crimson Tide defense, coach Brian Kelly does the drastic and installs Te’o as a single-wing style running back midway through the third quarter.
In an inspirational sequence that gets the crowd buzzing, Te’o runs for 37 yards on his first four carries to move Notre Dame to Alabama’s 25-yard line. Alabama holds the Irish to a field goal, but the Irish are back in the game, trailing 10–3.
It remains at that score until the final seconds, when Notre Dame is driving and has the ball at the Alabama 40-yard line. Golson, back in the game, throws up a Hail Mary that seems to hang in the air interminably. When it finally descends, it winds up in the hands of … Golden Tate?
The former Irish standout had been watching the game from the Notre Dame sidelines. Growing increasingly frustrated, he knocked out cornerback Lo Wood, stole his pads and No. 23 jersey (his number in South Bend) and snuck onto the field for the final play of the game.
Alas, the officials on the field rule that Tide defensive back Russell Lester had the ball first and that Tate tried tearing it away from him when they hit the ground. Lamenting both Notre Dame’s 10–3 loss and the fact that the game wasn’t called by replacement referees, unlike his last-second touchdown against Green Bay earlier in the 2012 NFL season, Tate storms off the field.
Standing at the postgame podium erected at midfield, Saban gives a moving speech about how, after a third BCS title in four years, he finally feels like he’s earned the right to be “a true son of Alabama” and feels compelled to spend the rest of his career in Tuscaloosa.
Five days later, he’s introduced at a press conference in Northeast Ohio as the new coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.