Joseph Goodman: Opportunity is power in college football

No one watched the Rose Bowl on television, good game though it was.

Penn State won 35-21, upsetting Utah for the Nittany Lions’ second signature victory of the season. The first was… [checks Penn State’s schedule] … at Auburn? The game was played on Monday afternoon, or the day after New Year’s Day, which means only your retired grandfather watched the “Granddaddy of Them All.”

This year’s Rose Bowl had its lowest TV ratings ever.

My column last weekend on hating the current format for the “New Year’s Six” bowl games outside the College Football Playoff drew some pretty strong reactions — both good and bad — and then America validated it on Monday, for good or ill. The semifinals finally delivered with two great games, but college football’s postseason can be soooo much better.

But isn’t that something we’ve known for a long time?

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If only there were a way to make these also-ran bowl games part of the American consciousness every year. Oh, right. There absolutely is because people in this country enjoy playoffs over exhibitions.

No one’s complaining that Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are headed to the postseason with an 8-8 record going into Week 18 of the NFL schedule. Now imagine Brady headed to a postseason exhibition game despite the Bucs winning the NFC South. He’d probably retire before the game.

Evolution is coming for college football, and maybe in five years or 10 years we’ll also be calling it a revolution. The 12-team playoff format begins in 2024, but they’re already talking about expanding it out to 16 teams beginning in 2026. I’ve been advocating for a 16-team playoff for years. Why wait any longer for what’s inevitable?

Picture Tulane in the Cotton Bowl upsetting USC. Pretty good, right? Nice little feel-good story. Now picture No.12 Tulane playing to the wire against No.5 Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in a first-round playoff game. Talk about turning back the clock on college football. Tulane and Alabama like the old days? That’s the stuff of legends from way back at the turn of the 20th century. Under the new 12-team playoff format, teams ranked five through eight by the College Football Playoff selection committee will host first-round playoff games. What a prize. Shouldn’t teams ranked 1-4 get a chance to host a playoff game? Doesn’t America deserve the chance for a mythical 16-seed like Troy upsetting a No.1-ranked team from the SEC on the road in the playoffs?

It sounds so beautiful I could cry.

Tulane inspired America on Monday with its upset of USC in the Cotton Bowl. Tulane didn’t even run the table this season in the American Athletic Conference. The Green Wave lost to Central Florida 38-31 and also dropped a game to non-conference opponent Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles went 4-4 in the Sun Belt.

Tulane was a great story this season and everyone loved seeing the Green Wave win the Cotton Bowl. Guess what? Troy was better. The Trojans would have given TCU a great game this season. It doesn’t seem impossible for a team like Troy or UAB or Tulane to make a 16-team playoff in the future. Well, it seems likely.

UAB coach Trent Dilfer doesn’t seem so crazy after all.

When Dilfer took the job on the Southside, the former NFL quarterback turned coach said it was time to start thinking about the College Football Playoff. He wasn’t wrong. UAB joins the AAC in 2023 and immediately plays an exciting schedule. The Blazers have rivals Memphis, South Florida, Florida Atlantic and Temple at home. Away conference games are against North Texas, UTSA, Tulane and Navy.

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Opportunity is power, and it makes for lucrative TV deals, too. The NCAA Tournament isn’t considering an expansion to include 25 percent of Division I teams for nothing.

No.3 TCU (13-1) plays No.1 Georgia (14-0) at 6:30 pm CT on Monday night in the College Football Playoff championship game at Sofi Stadium in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood, California. Absolutely no one predicted TCU to make the College Football Playoff this season, but new coach Sonny Dykes mined the transfer portal well and the Horned Frogs caught fire with veteran quarterback Max Duggan. Duggan wasn’t even TCU’s starter for the first game of the season. He was, however, my first-line pick for the Heisman Trophy, and I’m feeling pretty good about that selection after TCU upset Michigan 51-45 in the semifinals of the CFP.

Is TCU a fluke or a trend? I’ll pick the latter because in 2021 Cincinnati became the first Group of 5 team to make the CFP. Doesn’t seem like TCU is going away either. The Horned Frogs are restocking for next season with transfers from SEC schools, including three players from Alabama: offensive guard Tommy Brockermeyer, receiver JoJo Earle and, most recently, running back Trey Sanders.

Alabama fans always scoff at the transfers leaving the program and tell themselves that it doesn’t hurt the Crimson Tide, but that’s not the point, is it? The point is that TCU doesn’t have to play an SEC schedule, but is filling holes in its roster with players from the best league. Of TCU’s 20 transfers between 2021 and 2022, six started in either the Big 12 championship game or the semifinals of the CFP. They were cornerback Josh Newton of Louisiana-Monroe, safety Mark Perry of Colorado, tight end Jared Wiley of Texas, offensive line Alan Ali of SMU, linebacker Johnny Hodges of Navy and linebacker Shadrach Banks of Texas A&M. Former Georgia player Tymon Mitchell is TCU’s backup nose tackle.

The transfer portal and NIL collectives are reshaping college football faster than anyone thought possible, but the greatest equalizer of all is an expanded postseason.

Does TCU’s place in the College Football Playoff national championship game give Texas and Oklahoma second thoughts about joining the SEC? It should. No way this TCU team would run the table in the SEC. How silly do the Longhorns feel for bolting for the SEC and then watching TCU make the College Football Playoff? TCU won at Texas 17-10 this season.

As a columnist who primarily covers the SEC, I’m happy Texas and Oklahoma are joining the league in 2025 (but probably 2024). It’s going to be a circus inside a zoo during a rodeo wrapped around Mardi Gras every weekend. As a fan of college football, though, I’m more excited about the future health of the game if the College Football Playoff jumps to include 16 teams.

Georgia is a 12.5-point favorite in the national championship game, and everyone will proclaim the Bulldogs as the next Alabama with back-to-back championships, but it seems pretty obvious to me that the days of decades-long dynasties are on the way out. Or at least shifting to something else.

Is this how the dynasty ends for Alabama’s Nick Saban, or does the benchmark for what makes a dynasty just transform into something else? Bobby Bowden’s dynasty at FSU was measured against history by the Noles’ number of consecutive 10-win seasons (14). Alabama’s run with Saban has produced six national championships in 12 seasons and 15 consecutive 10-win seasons (and the first-ever season to include 11 consecutive wins against SEC opponents, which was so historic and legendary that I wrote a book about it). With the parity created by the transfer portal, NIL collectives and an expanded postseason, will simply making the playoffs be the new standard for Power 5 heavyweights?

Who’s the next TCU? Could be Colorado. Don’t laugh. New Buffaloes coach Deion Sanders has already picked up 17 players from the transfer portal. When the Buffs make the playoffs in 2024, then you already know that the College Football Playoff selection committee is going to put Coach Prime in primetime inside the Rose Bowl.

Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group, and author of “We Want Bama: A season of hope and the making of Nick Saban’s ‘ultimate team'”. You can find him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.

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