Championships and Coaching Moves
We review three takeaways heading from the week that was in CFB heading into championship weekend
After The Game, the Iron Bowl and Bedlam all played out, more chaos ensured with off the field coaching changes.
Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma to USC and Brian Kelly immediately departed Notre Dame and faked a southern accent to appease the nice people of LSU.
Kelly’s departure came as a shock as it marked the first time in CFB history that a head coach took another job when his current team was in national title contention. The Irish are ranked sixth at the moment with only one loss, idle on championship Saturday, and only need a few things to break their way to get into the Playoff.
With Kelly bailing, there is no telling how the Committee sorts out what could be some sour unintended consequences for the folks in South Bend. It is one of three takeaways we discuss in today’s newsletter.
Parity in Chalk
Fans have clamored for parity in college football since the sport began over 150 years ago. The power brokers cycle through—Oklahoma, Nebraska, Michigan, Miami, Florida State, Ohio State and Alabama— and it always great to see the emperors fall to the little guy.
For the past decade, the sport has been dominated by Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma. The four schools have a combined 24 conference championships and ‘Bama has five national titles since 2011.
Now the Buckeyes, Tigers and Sooners are not playing for their conference titles. In a weekend where most fans usually cheer for chaos—this time it is chalk that will guarantee a new national champion.
A Playoff of Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State is right around the corner should all of those teams win on Saturday. The most recent national championship that group owns is from 1997 when Michigan was named co-champions in the poll system prior to the BCS.
Three of those teams have never been invited to the CFP since its’ inception in 2014. The Bearcats would represent the first Group of 5 team to ever qualify.
Cincinnati’s Glass Ceiling
This is what everybody has been watching for so closely this season. Could Cincinnati actually run the table to finish undefeated and grab a CFP spot to prove that Group of 5 teams can, and should, be able to compete against the big boys from the Big Ten, SEC and other Power 5 leagues?
So far, the answer is yes. The occupy the No. 4 spot, own a top 10 win on the road verses Notre Dame and need to win the American championship game over No. 21 Houston to punch their ticket.
It seems unlikely that they get left out if they win. It seems just as unlikely that they still make it with a loss—even if they still own the head to head over the Irish.
The Notre Dame Bottleneck
If chaos does occur, that bodes well for the Fighting Irish who will be on of the few teams with only one loss. And they have beaten nine Power 5 teams from the Big 10, ACC and Pac-12 combined.
If history is any indication, the Playoff Committee gives the benefit of the doubt to one-loss teams over two-loss teams. The Irish received favorable consideration in 2020 despite their loss in the ACC title game over the likes of an undefeated Cincinnati—although the circumstances were drastically different.
Still, there is no arguing that Notre Dame creates a bottleneck when evaluating criteria for selecting the Playoff. They play Power 5 opponents—though not all are even good—but do not participate in a conference championship game.
Not having a thirteenth data point is beneficial if you can avoid a loss and therefore force a stubborn Committee to place you in the Playoff over a potential two-loss champ in either Iowa or Baylor.
This weekend, I believe it is Baylor that would offer the most unique wrinkle to the CFP selection process. The Bears can avenge their loss to Oklahoma State and hold wins over three top 15 teams (BYU and Oklahoma). Their only losses are on the road in Stillwater to a top 10 Cowboy team and on the road to TCU.
The loss to the Horned Frogs kills Baylor. Winning the Big 12 title should put the Bears all the way up to No. 5 in the rankings assuming chalk. They should hop Ohio State, Alabama, Ole Miss and Oklahoma State.
The question would then become does a two-loss Baylor champion jump a one-loss name brand Irish. For the reasons stated above, it seems nearly predetermined that Notre Dame would slide into the fourth and final spot.
That is where the coaching change of this week comes into play. The CFP Committee can evaluate player injuries and coaching changes over the course of the year as they choose the four ‘best’ teams.
Could Kelly’s departure actually negatively affect the Irish’s Playoff chances and keep them out? Could it give Baylor—or another two-loss team— some hope?
It is impossible to say until we see the results play out on the field and the rankings revealed. But it is safe to say that if it does happen, then CFB needs to immediately address the coaching carousel problem that they have.
Here’s to a happy beginning of the CFB postseason. We look forward to covering from Championship Saturday through the national title game. Here’s to hoping that it is somebody different!