Another tough weekend for many of the teams followed with particularity here. Results were mixed, and it gets complicated now that college basketball is in full swing, but it’s somewhat remarkable how losses hurt more than wins feel good.
In the win column, MSU avenged last year’s embarrassing loss with a solid win at Iowa, and Vanderbilt demolished Kentucky at home. Clemson bounced back with a narrow win against Wake Forest, while other notable top 25 teams took their first losses of the season. Oregon was all over Stanford in Palo Alto, and Boise State fell at home to TCU on a missed last-second field goal, which sounds familiar. That leaves LSU and Oklahoma State atop the BCS rankings at 10-0. Houston, also 10-0, comes in at eleventh.
This morning, the eponymous hosts of ESPN Radio’s morning show, Mike & Mike, were discussing Kirk Herbstreit’s assessment of the final few games of the season, which, to Herbstreit, set up much like a playoff this year. The would-be national championship contenders, LSU and Oklahoma State, each face difficult tests over this final stretch. The former still must face Arkansas and probably Georgia in the SEC championship game, while the latter has to play Iowa State in Ames before taking on rival Oklahoma at home. Waiting in the wings should either team lose are Alabama and Oregon. Greenberg pointed out that the only thing Alabama and Oregon have in common this year is a loss to LSU (the Tigers beat Alabama last week in Tuscaloosa, and they beat Oregon on a neutral field to start the season), and both Mikes then roundly rejected as undesirable any scenarios in which these two teams would leap over a one-loss LSU team to play for the national championship, exclaiming that this is why college football needs a playoff system.
The problem is that that sort of result is exactly what happens in a playoff system. In the NFL, it doesn’t matter when you lose, or how badly you lose, and to the extent it matters to whom you lose, predetermined, objective organizational and tie-breaking rules determine the consequences. For many reasons, the analogy isn’t perfect, but those wishing for a college football playoff must abandon certain mentalities of the current system, including the way we think about losses. If we take Herbstreit’s conceptual approach to these last few games of the season and consider them “like a playoff,” then we shouldn’t reject an outcome the way the Mikes did today. In a playoff system, once you’re in the playoffs, what happened before doesn’t matter (seeding and byes and such aside). Once you meet the qualifications to get into the playoffs, all that matters is that you “survive and advance,” to use Tom Izzo’s words. And the NCAA basketball tournament provides a ready analogy. Although they made it interesting early and didn’t give up late, Michigan State fell to UNC by a decent margin in a majestically set game on Friday night. If UNC also beats Duke this season, but MSU and Duke ended up facing each other in the tournament finals, no one would have a complaint about the legitimacy of that pairing. Similarly, if these last few college football games are seen as “the playoffs,” we shouldn’t care exactly how LSU, Alabama, and Oregon got to this point; rather, all that matters is what they do now and going forward.
On the topic of not caring, Vandy basketball embarrassed themselves at home in a 71-58 loss to Cleveland State, and the Lions looked abysmal in a 37-13 loss at Soldier Field that wasn’t even that close.