Commentary on 2017 Season

Alabama has won its fifth national championship title under Coach Nick Saban. Alabama during the first half of the season looked totally unstoppable. Then something happened in a few of the latter games where they had to work harder to get the win (notably Miss. St.) and then came the loss at Auburn. Some will say it was because the opponents got tougher but the previously mighty offense was slowing a bit. Was it the play calling? Was QB Jalen Hurts taking longer to make decisions after the snap, was he being too cautious or unable to find the gaps as quickly as before when forced to scramble? In the second half of the championship game against Georgia, Saban took the gamble of taking Hurts out and putting in Freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa who proved remarkably clear-headed and precise in his passing when thrown into such a high-stakes situation. Does this mean he automatically gets to be the starting quarterback at Alabama in 2018? Not so fast. There is actually a very strong argument for Alabama to have two starting quarterbacks given what very different strengths Hurts and Tagovailoa each bring to the table. They should be used interchangeably depending upon the defensive strengths of each opposing team they will face, the given situation as the game progresses, and to some extent, to keep the opponent guessing who they will face and what kind of play calling changes may come with each QB substitution. I am usually not in favor of a two-quarterback starting situation but these two particular QB's could make a very powerful argument for such an arrangement next season.

The SEC was no longer the all-dominant conference we have seen in recent years past. The Big 10 was probably the strongest overall in 2017 with Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State, Northwestern and Michigan State all posting very impressive records. There is also increasing parity between the 'Power 5' conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac 12 and SEC) and select schools from the next conferences, most notably the American Athletic Conference and Mountain West. Undefeated Central Florida is naturally disappointed not to have been given a chance to be in the College Football Playoff but, not to take away from its remarkable year, there is a difference between playing almost every weekend against 'Power 5' caliber opponents versus once or twice in a season. With regard to schedule strengths, schools like Maryland, Notre Dame, and Iowa faced some of the toughest schedules this past year.

I am still not in favor of a College Football Playoff as the method of selecting the college National Champion each year. I am not a big fan of ranking a team based only on 'who beat who' on any single day. The winner was certainly the better team during those sixty minutes of play but if the match-up were repeated 100 times, which team would win the majority of the time? That would be a much more representative result. The NFL team which wins the Super Bowl is not always the best NFL team that year - it is the one which avoided injuries to significant players and which has hit its stride as a cohesive unit toward the end of the season. A wild-card team that finally gets 'hot' at the end of the year can win the Super Bowl by beating a team with a 14-2 regular season record but which is now plagued with injuries and/or not playing as well as they did in early-mid season. In all the systems out there, from pre-season AP polls which create a flawed ranking based on no scientific evidence (but which can skew the standings for the rest of the season) to playoffs (or the NASCAR 'chase' if you like), the end of the year for no good reason becomes much more important than the beginning . Playoffs like the Super Bowl and the 4-team college playoff exist to get the public excited but mostly to make more money for TV networks, sponsors, etc. We are kidding ourselves if we think they are seriously designed to identify which was the best football team for that entire year. The only playoff system (or 'who beat who' method) which has any semblance of validity would be a Swiss round-robin system (such as is used in some chess tournaments) where from the outset, winners keep playing winners while losers are increasingly relegated to playing other losers and that is how over several rounds, a pyramid of top players develops. That would be too unwieldy in football given conference alignments, schedules determined years in advance, not to mention distances covered. The BCS era was probably the closest we came to identifying the best year-long teams. The average of the different computer systems that were used as a part of the BCS also eliminated human bias although no system had a perfect math algorithm for measuring football strength - that is why an average of several systems was wisely put into place.

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Clyde Berryman / hardbraking at hotmail dot com