CFP Media Mock Committee – The 2008 Season

    It’s going to be fun. On Thursday, I get the honor of joining some of the top writers and figures in the college football world in Arlington for the

    October 9, 2014

    It’s going to be fun. On Thursday, I get the honor of joining some of the top writers and figures in the college football world in Arlington for the College Football Playoff mock selection committee exercise. Even more amazing, I’m paired up with Tony Barnhart to play the role of Archie Manning as we go through the process.

    We’re staying in the same resort as the real CFP committee types will, working in the same room, and going through the same things they are in a run-through of what’s about to come in a few weeks. And here’s the really cool part – instead of ranking teams this year and trying to figure out at top 25, we’re going through the full simulation to figure out the final four and the playoff based on the 2008 regular season.

    Forgetting how everything turned out and trying to tune out the results of the bowl games, we have to go try to come up with four worthy teams from what turned out to be one of the wildest seasons of the BCS era.

    Along with the chaos of a global financial meltdown, and along with the drama of a historic presidential election, if you recall, 2008 was Tebow in his full Tebowness. It was the argument of trying to figure out where to put two fantastic, unbeaten teams from outside of the BCS in Boise State and Utah, and it was trying to properly evaluate Penn State and USC teams that each had one slight gaffe. And, of course, it was the mother of all debates in the Big 12 South between Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech with all three going 11-1 with the losses coming amongst themselves.

    In the end, it was Sam Bradford’s Oklahoma vs. the Fighting Tebow/Urbans of Florida for the BCS championship, but our job on the mock committee is to figure out what a four-team playoff would’ve looked like.

    Here are my beliefs and preconceived notions before going through the process and working with the other committee members. Of course, I’m right in every aspect. I just need to convince everyone else of that.

    10. Boise State was terrific

    This wasn’t quite Chris Petersen’s best team, but it was phenomenal on the way to a 12-0 regular season. The defense was among the best in America, finishing the regular season third in the nation in scoring defense with a front seven that suffocated the run. The offensive line didn’t allow a thing, giving up just 11 sacks, and the Kellen Moore/Ian Johnson-led offense as a whole was ultra-efficient, cranking out over 450 yards and close to 40 points a game in blowout win over blowout win. The only two close calls came against a young Colin Kaepernick’s Nevada team – winning 41-34 in Reno after Kaepernick went off – and against a loaded Oregon that ended up fourth in the nation in rushing. However, the one win over the Ducks wasn’t quite enough to offset a relatively soft WAC schedule. There were several good teams, like Louisiana Tech and Fresno State, but there weren’t any phenomenal wins outside of the upset in Autzen, and it showed with a No. 9 ranking in the final BCS standings.

    9. The Post-Urban Utah

    It wasn’t like Utah was flying totally under the radar under Kyle Whittingham, but it had been four years since Urban Meyer and Alex Smith took the Utes to an unbeaten season with a Fiesta Bowl win, and considering all the craziness going on with the rest of the college football world, the Mountain West champions didn’t make a whole bunch of national noise despite finishing sixth in the final BCS standings. Led by DE Paul Kruger, the Ute defense was dominant against the run and great at getting behind the line, while RB Matt Asiata and QB Brian Johnson led a solid offense that always seemed to have a knack of coming through when needed. Michigan was absolutely awful, but starting out the year with a win in Ann Arbor made a bit of a splash, and beating a strong Oregon State team helped the street cred. But it was a nasty 13-10 win over a loaded TCU team and a blowout over a good BYU team that would lead the way to a Mountain West title and would’ve put the 12-0 Utes in a position to be in a playoff. Remember, though, that for the purposes of this exercise, Utah hadn’t beaten Alabama in a stunner of a Sugar Bowl

    8. Penn State’s last second loss

    In just about any other year, Penn State would’ve been a mortal lock to have made a playoff, and this would’ve been one of the only instances during the BCS era that a team would’ve won a Power 5 conference with just one loss and not made it. And why? There were several other teams with better résumés, and because of a 24-23 loss in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes were excellent and on their way to a 9-4 season, but it was the timing for the Nittany Lions, losing late in the year blowing a 23-14 fourth quarter lead in the final ten minutes on a six-yard Shonn Greene touchdown run and a last-second Daniel Murray field goal from 31 yards out.

    Overall, the Nittany Lion defense was suffocating, finishing the regular season fifth in the nation and never giving up more than 24 points and allowing more than 18 just twice – remember, this is all before the 38-24 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl. As dominant as the Nittany Lions were at times throughout the season, they didn’t get much love from the BCS rankings that put them eighth in the final rankings. Why? The Big Ten was mediocre, and while a 13-6 win over a strong Ohio State team in Columbus was good, and a blowout win over Michigan State was great, there were only five wins over teams that ended up with winning records. However, Penn State actually won its conference title. Not everyone in the hunt for one of the four playoff spots can say that.

    7. USC’s Oregon State gaffe

    No. 1 in the nation in total defense, No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 1 in pass defense, No. 5 against the run, USC came up with a killer of a season allowing more than 10 points twice – a 45-23 win over Stanford and a 27-21 loss to Oregon State. And that was the problem. Oregon State was good, finishing the season 9-4 with wins in seven of its last eight games, and it’s not like it was an ugly loss for the Trojans in any way, but Jacquizz Rodgers and James Rodgers proved to be too much for Mark Sanchez and an offense that tried to rally, but couldn’t come through.

    The Trojans destroyed an Ohio State team good enough to get to the Fiesta Bowl, and they rocked an Oregon team that went on to beat Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl – but that was about it. There as a nice win over a decent Cal squad, and Notre Dame wasn’t miserable, but overall there were just five wins over teams that finished with winning records in a mediocre year overall for the Pac-12. Even so, this one is worth fighting for in the playoff argument. Ranked fifth in the final BCS rankings, USC beefed since it was one of the hottest teams over the second half of the season, and like Penn State, it won its conference title, unlike BCS No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Alabama. I might make an argument here – the Oregon State loss really wasn’t that bad.

    6. The Big 12 fiasco

    Okay, time to start to get into the real fight – how do you possibly figure out the Big 12 nightmare scenario? Oklahoma lost to Texas, Texas lost to Texas Tech, Texas Tech lost to Oklahoma. All three can’t get into the four team playoff – the Big 12 really wasn’t worthy of three spots, even though a case could be made for each of the teams tied in the Big 12 South. The Big 12 had to figure out a tie-breaker, and it went with the higher-ranked Sooners to go on to throttle Missouri for the title, but Texas probably would’ve beaten the Tigers, too. It was a bad situation overall, but in terms of a playoff, to break them down …

    5. Texas Tech

    This was when the whole Mike Leach thing actually worked. There wasn’t a quirky hiccup along the way, and there wasn’t a total out-of-the-blue meltdown from an offense known for its pyrotechnics. The passing game finished the regular season No. 1 in the nation with Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree putting on a weekly show, highlighted by the epic late touchdown pass to shock Texas 39-33 in, arguably, the best game of the year. Before the stunner in Lubbock, the Red Raiders rolled up 35 points or more in every game in blowout after blowout, while pushing by a strong Nebraska team 37-31 and handling a solid Kansas and Oklahoma State squads. However, in the argument, a 65-21 creaming from Oklahoma in Norman excused Texas Tech from the debate. Red Raider fans complained, and Leach raised a fuss – shocking – but Oklahoma’s offense was historic while Texas Tech’s was pretty good. Leaving Texas Tech out of the Big 12 title game was eventually justified by a 47-34 loss to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl.

    4. Texas

    This might be the stickiest point of contention throughout the playoff scenarios. Texas not only destroyed everyone in its path but Texas Tech, it came up with a 45-35 win over Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown back when it was okay to call it the Red River Shootout. The run defense finished second in the nation, Colt McCoy led the second-most efficient passing game in the country behind OU’s, and everything else from the special teams to the pass rush to the ground game were among the elite of the elite. The overall schedule wasn’t that amazing, but the Longhorns played their share of killers with a blowout win over a Rice team that went on to win ten games, a 56-31 destruction of a Missouri team that went on to play for the Big 12 title, and again, they actually beat Oklahoma.

    So here’s the real argument – which I made at the time, too. In the three team round-robin debate, Texas Tech and Oklahoma each got one home game, while Texas had to go on the road to face the Red Raiders and won the neutral site game with the Sooners. Texas Tech got blown out, OU lost by double digits, and Texas lost on the 28-yard Crabtree touchdown catch with one second to play. It was easy then to make the case that Texas deserved the spot in the Big 12 title game over Oklahoma, but …

    3. You have to remember how the regular season finished up

    Oklahoma might have lost to Texas in Dallas on October 11th, but what happened before and after was unlike anything the FBS level of college football had ever seen. The Sooner offense turned out to be the greatest of all-time – at the time – averaging 54 points per game getting better and better as the season went on. After losing to the Longhorns, OU beat Kansas 45-31, Kansas State 58-35, and then didn’t score fewer than 61 the rest of the way including a 61-41 win over a good Oklahoma State and obliterating Missouri 62-21 in the Big 12 championship. Sam Bradford won the Heisman, OU ended up scoring 50 points or more in 10 of its 13 pre-national title game, and it had become a weekly big thing to keep watching. The late November 65-21 win over Texas Tech cemented the idea that this was the one team that had to be a part of the post-season fun – it was improving more and more in its finishing kick. No matter how it got there, Oklahoma won the Big 12 title and was scorching hot – it would’ve been an unquestioned lock to get into the playoff, helped by the No. 1 ranking in the final BCS standings.

    2. The SEC/National Championship

    Remember, in terms of this debate, the Alabama Sugar Bowl loss to Utah hadn’t happened yet. Florida was coming into the SEC championship loaded, and the Crimson Tide was No. 1 going 12-0 with the nation’s No. 3 defense and a grinding ground game that fed perfectly into the overall scheme and system. Along the way, the Crimson Tide was pushed by the Ole Miss team that beat Florida, and they needed overtime to get by an okay LSU team in Death Valley, but there weren’t any problems with anyone else – for the most part – beating a great Georgia team in Athens and an okay Clemson. However, there were plenty of dog wins, too, with seven of the 12 victories coming against teams that didn’t finish with a winning record.

    Meanwhile, Florida was an interesting case. It started out the season roaring, beating Hawaii – when Hawaii was strong – Miami and Tennessee by a combined score of 112-19 – and then came the epic 31-30 loss to Ole Miss in The Swamp. The Gators were rolling, but Shay Hodge came up with an 86-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth for the Rebels, Tebow missed a wide open Percy Harvin – who finished with 13 caches for 186 yards and a score and ran ten times for 82 yards and a touchdown – on two late easy touchdown chances, and the dream appeared to be over. And then came the historic “Promise” speech from Tebow, and there weren’t any blips the rest of the way for an offense that finished third in the nation in scoring and ninth in scoring defense. There weren’t the fireworks of Oklahoma, but Florida was breathtaking as it finished the pre-SEC championship regular season with all 11 of its wins coming by 23 points or more beating nine teams that finished with winning records including Florida State and Georgia.

    It was Alabama’s SEC championship game for three quarters, and then Tebow started throwing darts. He might have been an accuracy disaster in the pros, but when needed, he led the Gators to a 14-point fourth quarter, the Florida D clamped down, and it was on to the BCS championship game for the second time in the Urban Meyer era. That means …

    1. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the four playoff teams should be …

    There’s absolutely no argument to keep out Florida and Oklahoma. They were the two most dominant Power 5 conference champions at the end of the regular season. After that, it’s time to get messy.

    I’m under the firm and unwavering belief that you have no case and no reason to play for the national championship if you can’t win your conference title, so to me, winning a conference earns a premium over all else. However, 2008 might have been my one exception.

    Texas would’ve won the Big 12 championship, but it didn’t get in on a technicality. Yes, you can’t assume a win, but Texas had already throttled Missouri – it earned its stripes. In terms of finding a balance of the four most deserving teams and the four best teams, Texas is the one wild card type of team that fits both sides without actually winning a title.

    Boise State and Utah would’ve merited more consideration in any other year, but not this one. It might not seem fair, and it might not seem right, but this wasn’t the year for the little guy to get their chance.

    Alabama is also out. This might have been one of the four best teams in America to end the season, but the SEC championship already turned into a playoff game, and Florida won. There’s no reason to give the Crimson Tide another shot.

    So it comes down to USC and Penn State for the fourth spot. Both won their respective conference championships, both had tremendous defenses, and both have a legitimate case to be in. I’m not a believer in taking a team just because it’s on a roll, but Penn State’s loss to Iowa in early November was a little too fresh and USC was absolutely killing it after the Oregon State loss, allowing more than ten points just once and giving up a grand total of 23 points total on the year to Virginia, Ohio State, Arizona State, Washington State, Washington, Cal, Notre Dame and UCLA.

    Oklahoma vs. USC. Florida vs. Texas.

    Done. Except that for the committee, I have to come up with my top 25 after the regular season, and I’m not alone. I have to combine forces with Tony, so here’s my baseline to start with. So …

    1. Florida

    2. Oklahoma

    3. Texas

    4. USC

    5. Penn State

    6. Utah

    7. Alabama

    8. Texas Tech

    9. Boise State

    10. Oklahoma State

    11. Ohio State

    12. TCU

    13. Oregon

    14. Georgia

    15. Virginia Tech

    16. Missouri

    17. Pitt

    18. Iowa

    19. Florida State

    20. Cincinnati

    21. Georgia Tech

    22. Oregon State

    23. Boston College

    24. California

    25. Michigan State

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