By: Josh Schiesl
This past Saturday fans were treated to an instant classic in the Big Ten Title game where both the Hawkeyes and Spartans left everything on the field with hopes of tasting victory and a chance to play for a National Championship. It’s difficult to think that with this same scenario a mere 2 years ago the result of the the most heart-pounding game this Saturday would not have mattered to the National Championship race. Alabama had already won convincingly and locked up at worst the number 2 ranking, and the Clemson Tigers were hanging on for a victory and the number 1 overall ranking with a little help from the referees.
The most exciting game of Championship Saturday featuring Michigan State and Iowa would have simply been a play-in game for the “Grandaddy of Them All.” As one blog displayed, the bowl matchups we would have had in the “old system” featured interesting matchups at best–and it’s a wonder why it took so long to get rid of it. Thankfully, due to the glorious advent of the College Football Playoff we were spared from the ever-maddening BCS system and the “sometimes-not-unanimous-national-champion-system” that precipitated it. Instead, this Championship Game featuring the 4th ranked Hawkeyes and 5th Ranked Spartans was a de-facto quarterfinal for the 4-team College Football Playoff even though the committee’s chairman, Jeff Long, might not have admitted it.
And it played exactly like you would have imagined a College Football Playoff Quarterfinal would be played. The game was a back-and-forth tug-of-war from the very first minute where Iowa’s defense held the Spartans to a field goal after fumbling the ball on their own 27 yard line all the way down to the last 30 seconds where L.J. Scott’s second effort just barely got the ball past the goal line to secure the victory. As the former Iowa Hawkeyes coach, Hayden Fry, called them, the “Big Uglies” on the offensive and defensive lines were the showcases of this game as they should be in a Big Ten Title Game.
This wasn’t a 45-37 shootout that the ACC Title Game gave us or a flashy SEC Title Game featuring a plethora of 5-star skilled players. This was a knock-em-out, blow-by-blow, tooth-and-nail fight to the bitter end where the extra half yard mattered on numerous occasions. The Iowa Hawkeyes were 4th and 2 on Michigan State’s 47 yard line with 9:31 left in the game and a 13-9 lead and you have to think that almost everyone agreed with Kirk Ferentz’s decision to punt the ball away, after all, their defense was winning the game with the patented “Bend Don’t Break” system. Instead, what ensued was a 22 play, 82 yard touchdown drive that ate up a whopping 9 minutes and 4 seconds of game time and entailed only one play of more than 10 yards. 22 plays, 82 yards, that’s only 3.7 yards per play and just enough yardage to sustain a drive without having to punt the ball. While the Hawkeyes defense didn’t break by giving up a play of 25+ yards that usually cripples a team, they instead bent to the point beyond exhaustion where they couldn’t quite muster enough gas to stop Connor Cook on a 4th down at their 5 yard line or L.J. Scott at the goal line securing the Spartans 16-13 victory with 27 seconds left.
As a result, the Spartans were deservedly granted a spot in the coveted College Football Playoff along with the ACC Champion Clemson Tigers, the SEC Champion Alabama Crimson Tide, and the Big 12 Champion Oklahoma Sooners while the Iowa Hawkeyes were left on the outside looking in although they had just proven to everyone they could play with anyone. Along with the Hawkeyes, multiple other teams were also left on the outside although they too had proved they could play with anyone including Ohio State, Notre Dame, Stanford, and not to mention Florida State or North Carolina. Very few people are going to argue that Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma are not the 4 best teams in the nation. However, there are also very few people who think that any one of the top 8 teams in the most recent CFP Rankings couldn’t run the table in an 8-team playoff. As sweet as the taste of the College Football Playoff has been, it only leaves us thirsting for more.
Largely regarded as the richest man in history, John D. Rockefeller was posed the question “how much money would be enough?” and he responded with “just a little bit more.” While Rockefeller was playing with oil and monopolies and we’re playing with pigskins and pylons, the idea remains the same. Four teams is better than two but we’re not quite there, an eight team playoff would be ideal. Imagine for a second the potential matchups we would see in an 8-team playoff using the final CFP Rankings:
- 1. Clemson vs. 8. Notre Dame
- 2. Alabama vs. 7. Ohio State
- 3. Michigan St. vs. 6. Stanford
- 4. Oklahoma vs 5. Iowa
Clemson versus Notre Dame would be a highly anticipated rematch of the October game where the Tigers beat the Fighting Irish. You better believe that every Notre Dame fan is dreaming of a second chance at Clemson since that 2 point loss that featured a torrential downpour and less than ideal playing conditions. Alabama versus Ohio State would pit a rematch of last year’s CFP Semi-Final that saw an entitled Alabama team enter as 8-point favorites only to leave with their tail between their legs as Ezekiel Elliot blasted the famed Bama defense for 42 points and 250+ rushing yards. 3rd ranked Michigan State playing 6th ranked Stanford would be a rematch of the 2014 Rose Bowl that sparked the Spartans rise to prominence and probably still leaves a sour taste in Cardinal fans. Lastly, Number 4 Oklahoma versus Number 5 Iowa would feature two head coaches who both coached in the famed Hayden Fry coaching tree. Oklahoma would be playing to give the Big 12 the respect it lost this season and Iowa would be fighting for a potential rematch against Michigan State in the National Championship.
This isn’t to say that the College Football Playoff won’t be exciting this year. There is a slew of intriguing storylines to watch for and these are most definitely the four best teams in the country right now. With the potential 8-team College Football Playoff matchups that we would have this year it’s hard not to dream, and until then, dream we will.