Selection Committee’s Tough Task Ahead

The College Football Playoff selection committee may have a more difficult job than it did in the format’s first two years. And this after only the first October weekend of 2016.

Clemson and Louisville played a thriller Saturday, a loss that did little to diminish the losing Cardinals’ bona fides. Meanwhile Michigan and Ohio State seem destined to hurtle toward each other for the post-Thanksgiving collision as top-five unbeatens.

Will the committee, for the first time, pick more than one team from the same conference for the four-team playoff?

Let’s consider this scenario: Both Louisville and the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game finish the regular season with just one loss each, to their rival in a close game that wasn’t decided in the waning seconds. But because they reside in the same division as the lone team they lost to, they wouldn’t be able to play for their respective conference championship.

Does the committee select an “at-large” team (or even two) for the playoff field? In the CFP’s first two years, each of the eight participants were Power 5 conference champions. But would that precedent be ignored in 2016?

Even though we’re only five games into the season, that possibility is very real. The Big 12 has virtually played itself out of the playoff already. The Pac-12 has just one undefeated team left in Washington and its strength of schedule might precludes it from making a case. And there’s still Houston, but if it can’t beat Louisville in a November showdown, it will be instantly eliminated.

So that leaves us with candidates only from the ACC, Big Ten and SEC. Each conference still has multiple undefeated teams currently ranked in the top 10 (AP poll) and at this point the winner of those conferences seemingly are assured of a spot in the playoff.

That leaves us with at least one more spot up for grabs. That means the committee will have to decide if it will, for the first time, invite a team that failed to win its conference (or even its own division) to participate in the playoff. And if it does pick two teams from the same conference, would it force them to face each other in the semifinals as to avoid the potential of an all-(insert your conference) championship game as we did in 2011 with LSU and Alabama in the BCS title game?

It’s still a long way until decision day on Dec. 4. But the committee would be wise to consider its options even now.

Game of the Week

Clemson 42, Louisville 36: This top-5 clash between ACC Atlantic rivals certainly lived up to the hype, and then some. The Cardinals fell behind early and then made a furious comeback to take the lead before the Tigers made their own rally. The game came down to Louisville receiver James Quick’s bonehead decision to make a wrong cut inside the Clemson 5 that denied his team a chance for the winning touchdown.

Despite the loss, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson remains the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, with Clemson QB Deshaun Watson not far behind.

Player of the Week

Jourdan Lewis, Michigan: The Wolverines cornerback missed the season’s first three games because of injury but he returned just in time when his team really could use him. In a top-10 tussle against Wisconsin, Lewis was exactly the shutdown corner Michigan needed, recording four tackles and making this insane interception to seal the victory. The Wolverines held the Badgers to only 159 total yards and a single touchdown.

The Weak

Brent Musburger, one of the best broadcasters to ever call college football, has been relegated to the SEC Network since 2014 because ESPN decided to promote its younger “talent.” So during the biggest games on Fall Saturdays, instead of Brent and his enthusiastic colorful calls, you get middling announcers such as Chris Fowler, Dave Fleming and Steve Levy instead.

It was no different on this past Saturday, when Musburger was assigned the awful blowout of LSU-Missouri while Fowler, who’s a good tennis anchor but ill-suited for college football, had the marquee matchup of Louisville-Clemson. This season, Musburger has been assigned to duds such as Arkansas State-Auburn, Georgia-Missouri and South Carolina-Kentucky. How ESPN is treating this broadcasting icon and Hall of Famer should be considered a crime against college football.

Our Rankings

1. Clemson, 2. Alabama, 3. Michigan, 4. Ohio State, 5. Louisville, 6. Washington, 7. Houston, 8. Texas A&M, 9. Wisconsin, 10. Tennessee, 11. Nebraska, 12. Miami, 13. Baylor, 14. Stanford, 15. Ole Miss.

Process of Elimination Has Begun

In the College Football Playoff era, one loss need not be a death sentence to a team’s playoff hopes. The CFP’s first two champions both suffered a September loss and still managed to come all the way back to win the national title.

Contrast that to the BCS era, when every champion that came outside of the SEC finished the season undefeated. (The SEC managed to claim five titles with one-loss teams and another with a two-loss team – but that’s a story for another day.) With four teams having a chance to vie for the national championship, a September loss isn’t necessarily catastrophic.

But it’s just about October now.

This weekend, three games will match up top 10 opponents (in the AP poll), each with playoff consequences. Two of those are intra-divisional showdowns, meaning the loser could be barred from playing for its conference title, therefore any hopes of getting into the playoff field. This is what befell Ohio State last year, when its lone loss to Michigan State denied it the chance to repeat as national champions.

The flip of the calendar also means that each one of the Power 5 is now playing conference games, so the stakes are higher for every team with an aspiration to get into the playoff field. Every week from now on there’s a potential for the winners to move on and losers to go home.

Let the elimination games begin …

Game of the Week

Louisville (-2) at Clemson, 8 p.m. ET, ABC

The ACC quarterback everyone touted as the Heisman frontrunner entering this season was Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, yet the one that everyone is talking about now is Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. And for good reason – Jackson has led the Cardinals to No. 3 in the AP poll after a stunning rout of Florida State. But Watson, who took the Tigers to CFP title game last season, will have a lot to say about who wins this game and therefore the ACC Atlantic championship.

Also keep an eye on

Wisconsin at Michigan (-10.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Perhaps the surprise team of the early season, Wisconsin has already scored two huge upset wins over LSU and Michigan State. With redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook now starting at quarterback, the Badgers have become much more dynamic offensively to complement their suffocating defense. Michigan has a nasty defensive unit of its own, which has recorded 17 sacks through four games. Because they’re in different divisions, a loss in this showdown might not be fatal to either team’s playoff hopes as they may meet again in the Big Ten championship game.

Upset special

Stanford at Washington (-3), 9 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN

After two ho-hum seasons, Chris Petersen has returned Washington to be among the elite of the Pac-12. Now comes the test to see if the Huskies are truly a national powerhouse as this North division showdown might prove to be a winner-take-all. Both Stanford and Washington struggled offensively last week and needed a last-minute TD and overtime, respectively, to escape with wins. Expect this to be a low-scoring affair as well with the Cardinal – more accustomed to play in pressure-packed big games – trying to eke out a fourth straight win over the Huskies.

Player to watch

San Diego State (-19.5) at South Alabama, 8 p.m. ET, ESPNews

Who, you ask, is Donnel Pumphrey? Let’s see, he only leads the nation in rushing with 599 yards (in just three games), seven touchdowns and an 8.2-yard per carry average. He’s now the all-time leading rusher in the history of San Diego State, breaking the record set by Marshall Faulk (perhaps you’ve heard of him?)

Pumphrey, a senior who’s generously listed at 5-foot-9, is a dynamo and a workhorse. He rushed for 281 yards in a 45-40 victory over Cal and has led the Aztecs to a 3-0 record and No. 19 ranking in the latest AP poll. Like Faulk in 1992, Pumphrey has a large hurdle to clear in the Heisman race as most of his games are against non-Power 5 opposition and aired on non-major networks. Faulk eventually finished second to Miami’s Geno Torretta in that year’s Heisman race and Pumphrey should get at least an invitation to New York if he keeps up his production.

Big 12 Has a Houston Problem

It looks like Houston will be the Big 12’s best bet for a spot in the 2016 College Football Playoff.

Just three weeks into the season, it appears all but certain that the conference will be missing out on the four-team playoff for the second time in three years (since expansion candidate Houston is still technically in the American Athletic Conference). The Big 12’s last best hope died in Strawberry Canyon late Saturday night as Texas was buried under an avalanche of half-a-hundy Cal points.

There are only two unbeaten teams left in the Big 12 – untested West Virginia and tarnished Baylor. The conference so far this season is 2-10 against teams from Power 5 conferences, the American and the MAC. In the latest AP poll, only Baylor (No. 16) is in the top 20, but nowhere near sniffing the playoff.

All of this makes Houston that much more attractive as an expansion candidate. After beating Oklahoma in the season opener, the Cougars rallied to defeat Cincinnati, 40-16, the other favorite to land a spot in the Big 12 expansion game. Houston also has a Nov. 17 date with Louisville, which might be a contest pitting two top 5 teams with a playoff berth on the line.

Cincinnati missed its best chance to make a case for inclusion in the Big 12 by blowing a fourth-quarter lead against Houston. The rest of its schedule doesn’t move the needle much, except for a Nov. 5 showdown against BYU in a game pitting the two best expansion candidates after Houston. It might even be viewed as a play-in game of sorts.

BYU, meanwhile, lost another close game to a Pac-12 foe, this time 17-14 against UCLA a week after losing 20-19 to Utah. The Cougars visit Morgantown next week and the Big 12 will get a good chance to evaluate them. BYU also still has games remaining against Power 5 teams Michigan State and Mississippi State, so there are opportunities to score style points.

But for now the absurd expansion show is pretty much all Big 12 has going for it the rest of the season. After the third weekend of September it’s already played itself out of playoff contention – there are no more games against Power 5 opponents left and no conference title game to provide a “13th data point” as the selection committee likes to reference.

It’s pretty safe to say that, Houston, you don’t have a problem. Your membership invitation is in the mail and please sign and return, pronto!

Irish Famine: Notre Dame also has played itself out of playoff contention. After losses to Texas and Michigan State in their first three games, all the Irish have to look forward to is nine meaningless games and at-best an outside shot at a New Year’s Six bowl game.

This is what Notre Dame bargained for when it opted to remain independent in the age of power conferences. The school signed a 10-year extension with NBC through the 2025 season to televise its home football games at $15 million per season, but that number is already dwarfed by new deals struck by Power 5 conferences. Members of the Big Ten and SEC are expected to collect north of $40 million each annually beginning this season.

Without a conference affiliation, the Irish have little to play for the rest of the season as its remaining schedule is dotted with low-wattage ACC games and a pair against the service academies. Other than an Oct. 15 date against Stanford in which Notre Dame may play spoiler to the Cardinal’s playoff hopes, don’t expect much more ink spilled on or eyeballs tuned to the Irish the rest of the season.

Game of the Week

Alabama 48, Ole Miss 43: The Rebels had beaten the Tide in each of the last two seasons and seemed headed for a third straight victory after taking a 24-3 early lead. But just as they did against Florida State in the season opener, they fell apart soon after. Ole Miss did rally late to make a game of it, and in the process exposed some glaring weaknesses of the still top-ranked Tide.

Player of the Week

Lamar Jackson, Louisville: Orchestrating the Cardinals’ sensational destruction of Florida State, Jackson announced himself as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner by throwing for 216 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 146 and scoring four more TDs. The Louisville QB spearheaded an attack that shredded the then-No. 2 Seminoles with 530 yards on offense.

The Weak

First, it was Cal running back Vic Enwere, in what seems to be a weekly occurrence in college football now, casually dropping the football before he crossed the goal line late in Cal’s 50-43 victory over Texas. (And don’t call it a potential game-clinching TD, because the Bears would’ve been better off if he had just gotten a first down and not scored.)

But then, the Big 12 officiating crew added to the farce first by failing to notice that Enwere did not cross the goal line with the ball, and then compounding the error by claiming that there was no “immediate recovery” of the fumble, when Texas clearly possessed the ball before the whistle was blown. The Longhorns should’ve had possession at their own 20 with 1:20 to play with a chance to tie/win the game.

Our Rankings

1. Louisville, 2. Ohio State, 3. Alabama, 4. Houston, 5. Stanford, 6. Michigan, 7. Washington, 8. Michigan State, 9. Clemson, 10. Texas A&M, 11. Wisconsin, 12. Florida State, 13. LSU, 14. Nebraska, 15. Miami.

College Football Back on Schedule

We now rejoin programming already in progress.

A week after college football seemingly took a break – saved only by the fantastically absurd finish in the Central Michigan-Oklahoma State game – the 2016 season is back on schedule. Conference games are on the slate for three Power 5 leagues and several heavyweights are taking on foes of their own size.

There are four matchups featuring ranked teams (in the AP poll), all with playoff implications. Three ranked teams do face FCS opponents, but one of them – Big Ten title contender Iowa – should tread very carefully. The Hawkeyes host North Dakota State, the five-time defending FCS champion who has beaten an FBS opponent in each of the last five years (an FCS record).

So this isn’t the weekend to get all that yard work done. Instead, get ready for a good workout – for your remote control:

Game of the Week

Ohio State (-1.5) at Oklahoma, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX

These two college football blue bloods don’t face each other much, but when they do, it’s worth your rapt attention. The first time the Sooners took on the Buckeyes it came down to a 41-yard field goal by Uwe von Schamann, who brashly led the Ohio State crowd on a “block that kick” chant before drilling it for a 29-28 OU victory in Columbus in 1977.

An OU loss to Houston in the season opener might have taken a little shine off this blockbuster, but make no mistake, plenty is still at stake in this game. The Big 12’s playoff hopes may well be riding on a Sooners victory whereas Ohio State has little margin for error either, with Michigan and Michigan State still looming in its own division in the difficult Big Ten East.

Also keep an eye on

Florida State (-2) at Louisville, noon ET, ABC

This game might’ve been overlooked before the season began, when Clemson and Florida State were considered the class of the ACC. But no more, not after Louisville QB Lamar Jackson’s virtuoso performances in the season’s first two games. Against Syracuse last week, Jackson put up video-game like numbers, passing for 411 yards while rushing for 199.

But Florida State has found a quarterback of its own in true freshman Deondre Francois, who led the Seminoles to a pair of impressive victories, including a come-from-behind win in the season opener against Ole Miss in Orlando.

Upset special

Alabama (-11) at Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Speaking of Ole Miss, it’s the only team to have beaten Alabama in each of the last two seasons. Could the Rebels do it for three in a row? Sure, why not?

While the defending national champions cemented their hold on the No. 1 ranking after the season-opening pasting of USC, many questions remain with regard to their offense, so much so that Nick Saban chewed out offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin near the end of last week’s game against Western Kentucky.

Though Ole Miss isn’t quite the same team as it was last season, which featured three first-round picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, it has veteran Chad Kelly back at quarterback. Kelly shredded the Alabama defense with 341 passing yards in last year’s 43-37 thriller therefore the question is whether the Tide’s sputtering offense can keep up.

Player to watch

Texas (-8) at California, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Cal quarterback Davis Webb spent his last three seasons playing for Texas Tech, but he never got to face Texas. In his freshman season, he sat behind Baker Mayfield (now with Oklahoma). As a sophomore, he was injured and watched Vincent Testaverde Jr. (now with Miami, his namesake father’s alma mater) took over. Last year he was benched in favor of Pat Mahomes II.

Through two games this season, Webb is second in the nation with 963 passing yards, behind only Mahomes’ 1,023. As a graduate transfer and able to play immediately, Webb chose Cal over Colorado and so far has found Sonny Dykes’ Bear Raid offense to be a perfect fit. Last week Webb threw 72 times for 522 yards in a 45-40 loss at San Diego State. The Longhorns defense will be in for a long day, maybe even more so than it did against Jared Goff last year when the top pick of the NFL Draft led Cal to a 45-44 win in Austin.

 

10 Burning Questions for 2016 Season

After a two-year absence at the top, Alabama stormed back to reclaim the college football throne by defeating Clemson in a scintillating national championship game. Nick Saban went on to corral the top-ranked recruiting class a month later, so it looks like the crimson dynasty will continue, right?

Actually, maybe not. Now in the third year of the playoff era, the college football landscape looks more competitive than ever. The Big Ten is unquestionably on the rise again; the elite teams in the ACC are as good as those in the SEC; and the nouveau riches of the Big 12 have successfully broken up the Oklahoma-Texas monopoly.

Will we see a third different champion in as many years? Might there be a legitimate party crasher from out of the Power 5 conferences? We have questions – and answers – from on the off the field for the 2016 season:

Check out live college football odds & futures

  1. Has Alabama lost too much to repeat?

 Sure, Saban is just going to reload, no matter how much he’s lost in the offseason. But it might not be that simple. The Crimson Tide will debut a fourth starting quarterback in as many seasons and must address attrition throughout both sides of the ball, including Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry. Add road games at LSU, Ole Miss and Tennessee, the task of repeating suddenly looks pretty daunting.

  1. Is Houston a legitimate playoff contender?

Under first-year coach Tom Herman, the Cougars seemingly came out of nowhere to go 13-1, claimed the Group-of-Five bid for a New Year’s Six bowl and blew out Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Houston then added the most impressive recruiting class among G5 schools. With nonconference home games against Oklahoma and Louisville, the Cougars may get a shot (though a long one) at a playoff berth if they can go undefeated.

  1. How soon will Big 12 expand and which schools will it add?

It’s not a matter of if, but when, will the Big 12 add at least two more teams to make its name eponymous again. And that may happen as soon as this summer. The top candidates for the conference’s expansion are BYU, Cincinnati, UConn and maybe UCF and USF. West Virginia favors an eastern school as a travel partner, and school president Gordon Gee is lobbying hard for it.

  1. What kind of TV windfall can Big Ten expect to get?

Commissioner Jim Delany is a shrewd negotiator and this is why the Big Ten is expected to get the most lucrative media rights deal when its current contracts expire after the 2016-17 season. Fox anted up $250 million per year for half of Big Ten’s media rights, with ESPN and NBC in hot pursuit of the other half. When it’s all said and done, the Big Ten will at least triple the $100 million annual take from its last deal.

  1. Will USC’s schedule torpedo Clay Helton’s first season?

Let’s see, the Trojans open against Alabama at Jerry World, play road games at Pac-12 champ Stanford, Utah, Washington and UCLA. And they also get Oregon at home and finish the regular season with Notre Dame. Is that all? This is by far the hardest schedule any team will face this season, if not in recent memory. Helton, in his first full season as USC’s head coach, will have his hands full, even with a very talented squad.

  1. Will another running back win the Heisman Trophy?

In this century, the Heisman has been dominated by quarterbacks. You have to go back to 1998-99 to find non-QBs winning the statuette in consecutive years. That may happen again this year as most of the Heisman front-runners are running backs, including last year’s runnerup Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson may have a different idea, though.

  1. Is Clemson here to stay as a powerhouse?

Watson, who dazzled in the national title game and nearly single-handedly took down Alabama, is back with the Tigers. But Florida State, which won the last BCS title in 2013 and also made the playoff in 2014, will want to reclaim supremacy in the ACC. Their clash on Oct. 29 at Doak Campbell Stadium will settle a lot more than who wins the conference title.

  1. Might it be SEC’s turn to miss the playoff?

Given the current playoff format, each season at least one Power 5 conference will be kept out of the four-team field. And don’t laugh, it might be the SEC’s turn in 2016. If Alabama should stumble in conference play and no dominant team emerges in its stead – especially if the still-rebuilding SEC East wins the title game – the “toughest conference in college football” just might be missing out.

  1. What will Jim Harbaugh do to stay in the news?

Without question, since he returned to college football last year, Harbaugh has been the No. 1 newsmaker in college football. Whether it’s his satellite camps, recruiting tactics and clever subtweets, the Michigan coach has had everyone’s rapt attention. But the thing he craves the most is winning, and this year he might have the team to compete not just in the Big Ten but also for a playoff berth. If the Wolverines win the conference for the first time since 2004, Harbaugh-mania will be difficult to escape.

  1. Who’s going to win it all in 2016?

Last year, only Alabama made it back to the playoff after being in the inaugural field in 2014. This year, Clemson will be the only team among last year’s final four to return. The ACC champion Tigers should be joined by Big Ten champ Michigan, Pac-12 winner Stanford and the surprise entrant Houston in the four-team field. Clemson will win it all this time, defeating Heisman winner McCaffrey and Stanford in the title game.

Who Needs Cinderella for This Power Ball?

Good thing the fair prince didn’t ask the knights of the NCAA selection committee to guard the entrance to his dance hall.

If they had seen Cinderella, they would’ve curb-stumped her to a bloody pulp, pulverized her glass slippers, ransacked her carriage and left her dying by the moat.

That’s essentially what the Gang of 10 has done to what was once the most romantic sporting event on the planet – March Madness. They’re only letting in the prim-and-proper offsprings of the nobility, and leaving the riff-raff out in the cold.

Read the entire transcript from Joe Castiglione – the Oklahoma athletic director and NCAA tournament selection chair – if you wish. But there is only one unmistakable message from the committee: If you’re not from a power conference – drop dead.

How else would you explain the outrageous exclusions of Monmouth, St. Bonaventure, St. Mary’s, Valparaiso and San Diego State while power conference also-rans such as Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Michigan and Tulsa all got a free pass? Of the 25 non-power conferences (excluding football’s Power 5, Big East and American), only Dayton, VCU (Atlantic 10) and Wichita State (Missouri Valley) earned at-large berths out of 36 available.

That’s right. If you’re a mid-major or a small conference program, no matter how well you scheduled, how many big-name schools you beat and how much you dominated your conference during the regular season, you should go directly to the NIT if you don’t claim your conference’s automatic bid.

No example of the committee’s snubbishness is more evident in the exclusion of Monmouth, which went 27-7 during the season before just falling short of Metro Atlantic’s automatic bid when it lost to Iona in the conference title game. The Hawks played all but one of their 11 non-conference games on the road and won eight of them, beating the likes of UCLA, Georgetown, Notre Dame and USC. The Irish and Trojans are in the tournament, and it’s not Monmouth’s fault that perennial powerhouses Bruins and Hoyas decided to suck this season. (And Monmouth beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, something tournament-bound Kentucky and Arizona couldn’t do.)

Essentially, Monmouth did what the committee has claimed for years what a non-power program must do. Go play the big boys and prove yourself. Never mind how difficult that is in the first place – most power programs don’t want anything to do with decent mid-majors – and the Hawks did it anyway. But on Selection Sunday, the committee found new excuses to keep them out.

Oh, Monmouth lost to Canisius! Lost to Manhattan! Those are bad losses! Funny how the same principle didn’t apply to Syracuse, which lost to the same Georgetown team that Monmouth beat and 8-24 St. John’s; or Vanderbilt, which was sent packing by a 14-18 Tennessee team in the first game of the SEC tournament; or especially Tulsa, which lost to Memphis twice in 12 days by a combined 32 points – and Memphis wasn’t even invited to the NIT!

It’s as if had Syracuse played in the Metro Atlantic, it’d automatically have gone 20-0. No matter what conference you play in, it’s difficult to run the table just because of the familiarity, the rivalry and the fact that for a team like Monmouth, every road conference games it plays in is the game of the year for the opponent. But in the committee’s eyes, every loss is just a bad loss.

And you know who almost did run the table? San Diego State. The Mountain West had been a multi-bid conference in past years, but it’s a little down this year. But still, the Aztecs went 16-2 after winning the first 11 conference games to open the season. You know how hard it is to play in the high altitudes of Laramie and Albuquerque and in as disparate places as Boise, Fresno and Las Vegas? If you put Kansas, Michigan State or North Carolina in the MWC this year, they’d be hard pressed to top San Diego State’s 16-2 mark.

But the committee doesn’t care about any of that. All it wants to do is pick warts from the resumes of non-power programs. If they had quality wins, then it’s the bad losses that did them in (Monmouth). If they don’t have many bad losses, then it’s their non-conference schedule that’s not up to snuff (St. Mary’s). Or it’s just too much or not enough of either (St. Bonaventure).

So what we’re left with is seven teams apiece from the Big 12, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12. Yeah, we can’t get enough of Jim Boeheim, Kevin Stallings or Jamie Dixon. Who needs to see Cinderellas when you can have all those ugly and whiny stepsisters at the ball?

The committee seems to forget that Madness became an essential part of March precisely because Valpo knocked out Ole Miss on an impossible buzzer-beater, Florida Gulf Coast dunked its way to two upset victories, George Mason made it all the way to the Final Four, Butler played in back-to-back title games, and Princeton came within a last-second jumper to slay mighty Georgetown.

Nah, who needs that kind of romanticism? Instead of fourth-year seniors who bring something special in one last organized basketball game before they move on to something other than sports, we’ll see more one-and-dones with agents ready with the paperwork and cash on their way out of the arena. Instead of hearing stories about a unique campus that’s the fabric of Americana, we’ll get more of power conference infomercials on how much they’re spending on their spanking new athletic lounges.

And please, please spare us the bull manure about which teams were more “deserving.” The selection of the final tournament teams is entirely subjective as you can use any metric or analytic tool to justify the inclusion or exclusion of any team that’s on the bubble. When the tournament was expanded by four teams to increase the number of at-large bids, is it really for the purpose of adding more big-conference mediocrity?

Apparently so, to this selection committee. In the world of Castiglione and Co., the three little pigs must be devoured by the big bad wolf, Hansel and Gretel must be cooked by the witch, and Cinderella? She must be locked away in the attic, never to be seen again.

 

Winners and Losers of 2016 Signing Day

National Signing Day never seems to disappoint nowadays. Every year, somebody ups the ante on the hijinks.

On Wednesday, we had Deontay Anderson announcing his decision to go to Ole Miss while skydiving. Mecole Hardman had four cakes and didn’t eat any of them because the Georgia commit was just trolling everyone. And the nation’s top recruit Rashan Gary and his large contingent of family and friends flew up to Bristol, Conn., to reveal his school of choice in ESPN’s studios.

But none of that topped “Signing of the Stars” extravaganza at the University of Michigan. Thanks to a highly polished production by The Players’ Tribune, the show was part-pep rally, part-American Idol and mostly an informercial for the Wolverines. The star-studded cast included Tom Brady, Derek Jeter and Lou Holtz, but the one who brought the house down was Ric Flair.

Woooooo!

Just like on the football field in the fall, whenever there’s competition, there are winners and losers. Here’s our quick take on the recruiting scoreboard after Signing Day:

(All rankings courtesy of Rivals.com)

Winners

Jim Harbaugh: The man who can’t stop making news was once again the headliner. Not only did he conceive “Signing of the Stars” that packed the Hill Auditorium on the Michigan campus, he also hauled in the Wolverines’ best class in a decade, coming in at No. 4 after securing the commitment of the aforementioned Gary. And of course he didn’t stop there: Harbaugh says Michigan will have its first week of spring practice at the IMG Academy in Florida, which will cause lots of teeth gnashing and whining down south.

Alabama: While Harbaugh made the most noise, Nick Saban quietly came out on top, with a flurry of signings – nine in all – on Wednesday to finish with his fifth top-ranked recruiting class in the last six years. The defending national champions just did a quick reload, especially on defense.

SEC: LSU and Ole Miss came close to dethroning ‘Bama for the top-ranked recruiting class and finished sixth and seventh. In all, SEC teams occupied half of the top 10 and eight of the top 16 spots. Saban’s protege Kirby Smart did well to haul in the No. 10-ranked class despite splitting time after getting the Georgia job while continue to coordinate the Tide’s title-winning defense.

USC: Despite all the turmoil – a third coaching change in the last three years – the Trojans had a spectacular Signing Day to end up with the eighth-ranked class after beating ‘Bama for first last year. Clay Helton, only named permanent head coach in early December, capped off the day by nabbing five-star corner Jack Jones out of Long Beach Poly to finish with the best class in the Pac-12, and west of the Mississippi.

Charlie Strong: Coming off a 5-7 season, things were looking pretty bleak for the coach entering his third season in Austin. Texas’ recruiting class were ranked well outside of the top 20 coming into Signing Day but Charlie finished strong, not only landing a few five- and four-star recruits but picking them off Texas A&M to boot. Strong’s class ended up 13th, easily the best in the Big 12.

Losers

ACC’s Also-Rans: Florida State and Clemson have dominated the ACC for the last five years, and that trend doesn’t look to be halted anytime soon. The ‘Noles and Tigers finished with the second- and fifth-ranked classes, respectively, while no one else in the ACC landed in the top 20. Mark Richt’s rebuilding project at Miami will require some patience as the ‘Canes came in a distant third among ACC schools, at No. 22.

Non-Power 5: How big is the gap between the haves and have-nots? Look no farther than Signing Day, as the top-rated class by a Group of Five school came in 44th, well behind such Power 5 bottom feeders as Kentucky and Maryland. And that class belongs to Tom Herman’s Houston Cougars, who were coming off a brilliant 13-1 season capped by manhandling Florida State in the Peach Bowl.

Penn State: James Franklin’s class came in fourth in the Big Ten … the bad news is that it’s also fourth in the cut-throat Big Ten East, well behind Ohio State, Michigan and even Michigan State. The Nittany Lions’ No. 23-ranked class was hurt by a few late defections, most glaringly top-rated kicker Quinn Nordin, who flipped to Michigan after Harbaugh came to his house for a sleepover.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten with the expectations that being in the preeminent conference in college sports will help them keep a good number of New Jersey’s top players, as the state is a fertile football recruiting ground. That didn’t happen, at least not on this Signing Day, as nine of the state’s top 10 players did indeed stay in the Big Ten, just not going to Rutgers (the other went to Tennessee). That includes Paramus Catholic’s Gary, the top-rated recruit.

Pac-12 Network: While ESPN’s networks, including the SEC Network, and the Big Ten Network competed for audience on Signing Day, not much was heard from the Pac-12 Network, as it joined the fray way too late in the day when all the festivities were nearly over. In addition, since the network is still lightly distributed even in the conference’s own footprint, never mind nationally, few even thought about tuning in anyway.