It’s a cold, nasty New Year’s Eve and the party you were going to gets canceled.
Not to worry, the semifinals of the College Football Playoff are on television. And they include a battle of unbeatens, a game so mighty in nature that the greatest sportswriters in the country develop writer’s block attempting to come up with an apt description of its mightiness.
America, are you ready? I said: ARE YOU READY!!!
For Clemson vs. Iowa?
Take a moment to soak that in.
As the CFP standings sit currently, this would be one of the semifinal matchups — potentially 13-0 Clemson taking on potentially 13-0 Iowa for the right to take on either once-beaten Alabama or once-beaten Oklahoma in the championship game.
Who would argue with that?
Well, um, maybe me?
It’s not like I’ve seen every second of the college football season played out this season. But I’ve seen enough to believe that neither Clemson nor Iowa is among the best four football teams in the country this season. Especially Iowa, whose best win so far is over — Northwestern? Seriously?
There is a good chance the Hawkeyes quest to get into the playoffs will be upset Saturday when they play Michigan State in the Big 10 championship game. That would likely propel the Spartans into the playoff mix ahead of Ohio State, the team I regard as the best in the conference despite its 17-14 loss to Michigan State in Columbus a couple of weeks back.
Michigan State has lost a game, to Nebraska. The Huskers are 5-7. That loss is worse than Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State, even though that win over the Buckeyes makes a strong case for the Spartans.
Are you following?
It’s easy to get lost in the playoff spin because this is a particularly confusing season. There do not appear to be any great teams with the possible exception of Oklahoma and Alabama. But can any team that lost to Texas be deemed great? As outstanding as the Sooners have looked in recent weeks, calling them great is a stretch.
The same is true for Alabama, which is 11-1 and takes on Florida in the SEC championship game Saturday. The Tide has won nine straight since losing to Ole Miss, 43-37. But wins over Georgia, Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn don’t carry quite as much oomph as you would expect because none of those teams have lived up to the SEC hype or the ranking they were receiving earlier.
Notre Dame has lost two games by a combined four points. Two-loss Stanford has not been quite able to recover from a season-opening loss to Northwestern. Florida State has also lost just twice, but one of those was to 3-9 Georgia Tech.
This would be an ideal year for an eight-team playoff. Actually, every year would be an ideal year for an eight-team playoff. But particularly this one because there are so many worthy teams, just not any iconic ones.
Clemson, which takes on North Carolina on Saturday in the ACC title game, won a national championship under Danny Ford in 1981. The Tigers’ defensive coordinator is Salina native and former Kansas State standout linebacker Brent Venables. Dabo Swinney is my favorite Dabo ever and the Tigers have had a heck of a year.
They beat Florida State and Notre Dame. There is a resume here. But Clemson struggled with South Carolina last week, finally winning 37-32. Yes, it’s a rivalry game, but the Gamecocks are 3-9.
Clemson has retired only three numbers in its history: quarterback Steve Fuller (4), halfback Banks McFadden (66) and running back CJ Spiller (28). They brought Fuller’s number out of retirement, though, to give to current quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Deshaun Watson.
The Tigers went from 1982 until 2011 without playing in a major bowl, but have been in the Orange Bowl two of the past five years. They went from 1991 until 2013 without being ranked in the Top 10 in the final AP college football poll.
Iowa, meanwhile, is the program that cultivated Bill Snyder so Kansas State fans will forever be grateful. The Hawkeyes have had just two coaches — Hayden Fry (Snyder was an assistant) and Kirk Farentz — since 1979. That speaks to consistency and Iowa has had only seven losing seasons since 1971.
But how far down the list of college football royalty do you get before you reach Clemson and Iowa?
Give both teams credit because it’s nearly impossible to get to this stage of the college football season with no losses. There are too many wild swings and out-of-nowhere upsets that make this such a great and unpredictable sport.
But it’s a great sport in which greatness is difficult to attain. And in this balanced season, impossible to find.
What I’m hoping for is the best four teams in the playoffs, recognizing none fit my description of greatness. The best four, in my opinion, are Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan State.
Thanks for reading.