Final four reveal

by Dec 6, 20214 comments

If you caught the Selection Show Sunday, you learned all is well: no need for playoff expansion, it played itself out, and we got the right four. When Cincinnati was revealed as the no. 4, Kirk Herbstreit waxed sarcastic, questioning why people ever doubted. Pay no attention to the fact it took eight years. And while the clouds parted from the playoff picture Saturday night, it was also clear the field is indeed too small. Look no further than Oklahoma State, which was three inches short of ushering in some of the chaos so many of you had ordered. The committee seems determined to milk the phrase it’s better to be lucky than good for all it’s worth. Ultimately, we agree on the matchups, but one of these years, the committee will have gone to the well one too many times. Amazing how we have to wait for it to blow up in our face rather than exercising some foresight.

Below are the final rankings based on the eight metrics I introduced three weeks ago. Head-to-head results are now included in the category of “performance issues”, injecting a considerable amount of objectivity into what had been by far the most subjective metric.

No. 1 Alabama

Very few if any predicted the beatdown the Crimson Tide laid on Georgia Saturday, 41-24. Bryce Young laid emphatic claim to the Heisman Trophy, which was very much up for grabs until he lateraled to tailback Brian Robinson about four minutes into the second quarter, who went for 13 yards and a first down to the Georgia 14. Two plays later, Young directed John Metchie, who would later suffer a season-ending injury, to the right corner of the end zone for a 13-yard hookup and the Tide’s first lead, 14-10. Young finished with 421 yards passing on 44 attempts. Next up for Alabama is the AAC champion Cincinnati Bearcats. And if former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy is any indication, “They’re really, really, really good.” The committee obliged Saban’s request for the matchup to take place in the Cotton Bowl (New Year’s Eve, 3:30 p.m., ESPN), where he’ll go for his ninth playoff victory in 12 tries.

No. 2 Georgia

Despite the lopsided loss, my metrics dictate Georgia slide just one spot, probably because the Tide’s and the Dawgs’ schedules were the strongest among playoff contenders. Georgia’s second half comeback attempt suffered a huge blow when freshman sensation tight end Brock Bowers stopped his route, resulting in a redzone interception. Bowers was otherwise brilliant, catching 10 balls for 137 yards and a touchdown. It was over when senior quarterback Stetson Bennett threw his second interception, a pick-six with 12 minutes left that extended Bama’s lead, 38-17. Interestingly enough, the 24 points Georgia scored is the exact point total Alabama surrenders on average to opponents with records above 0.500. Kirby Smart and the Dawgs will have a chance to regroup against Michigan in the Orange Bowl (New Year’s Eve, 7:30 p.m., ESPN).

No. 3 Michigan

The gap between Georgia and Michigan this week is the smallest between any two teams at any point since we started these rankings three weeks ago. The Wolverines sprinted out to a 14-0 lead in Indianapolis, kickstarted by an explosive 67-yard scamper by Blake Corum. He picked up key blocks along the way, one from backup quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who had confidently stated the team was not flying back to Ann Arbor without a ring. McCarthy somehow sprinted ahead of Michigan’s fastest back to lay the block on Iowa defensive back Kaevon Merriweather a split-second after junior receiver Mike Sainristil sent DB Riley Moss airborne, paving the way to the end zone. Michigan’s next offensive snap was a backward pass from Cade McNamara to Donovan Edwards, who threw a perfect strike 46 yards downfield, hitting Roman Wilson in stride for the 75-yard touchdown. Michigan turned a 14-3 halftime lead into a 42-3 rout, earning its first Big Ten title in 17 years and the first playoff berth in school history.

No. 4 Cincinnati

After eight long years of waiting, Cinderella finally has a date for the ball. The Bearcats, surprisingly enough, enter the playoff with hardly a trace of controversy. Cincinnati outscored no. 16 Houston in the third quarter 21-0, en route to a 35-20 victory. Jesse Palmer, Herbstreit, and McElroy all like Cincinnati’s chances going up against Alabama in the CFP semifinal. McElroy attributed the Bearcats’ early struggles as a result of playing smaller teams that relied on athleticism and unorthodox looks, making it hard for their offensive line to know whom to block. “When they play against the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, I actually think they match up better. They’re big and they’re built like a Big Ten team. They have great, great players on the perimeter, both offensively and defensively. And the biggest strength of their team is probably the corners.” The Bearcats are relying on 6-foot-2-inch cornerback Ahmad Gardner and 6-foot corner Coby Bryant, nos. 8 and 92, respectively, on Draftteck.com’s Big Board for the upcoming NFL draft, to contain Heisman frontrunner Young and his bevy of talented receivers. Cincinnati has four players in the top 100 of draftable prospects, including quarterback Desmond Ritter and rush end Myjai Sanders. For comparison, Alabama boasts nine. Luke Fickell’s squad will have 15 practices before attempting to do the unthinkable in Arlington.

Comments

4 Comments

  1. Good article, Keith. I was surprised to find out Alabama & Georgia had tougher schedules than Michigan. As you said, they’re all very close, except Cincinnati; yet this is a year that a small school could surprise due to the top 3 being, perhaps, not quite as strong as past teams. A thought for fans around the country who have not followed Michigan closely: whereas, arguably, (some would say it’s inarguable) the most important position in all of sports is the QB, that is not the case for Michigan this year. We have two quarterbacks who we ‘could’ win with. The most important position for Michigan is NOT our running back (Haskins), who on his way to rushing for over 1,000 yards has hurdled several tacklers in the open field. It is defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson. The reason other teams can and do score against Michigan is due to the modern day rules of holding — or the lack thereof. Despite double teams, and 320-lb lineman grabbing, holding, horse collaring, and sometimes tackling, Hutchinson still set the Michigan single season record for QB sacks. Hutchinson, more than any other Michigan player, has to be accounted for by the opposition’s offense on every single play. As a result, he makes everybody else on defense better just by being out there. Something for the rest of the country to look out for. Merry Christmas and go Blue.

    • Thanks for the comment! My ranking system is made up of eight (or nine depending how you look at it) metrics, five of which relate to strength of schedule. Michigan, Alabama, and Georgia finished tied for first in games played against ranked (at the time they played) opponents that finished the season above 0.500, so that category is a wash. Wisconsin’s season-ending loss to Minnesota not only kept the Badgers out of the B1G championship game, but contributed to the AP leaving it out of its top 25 in its final rankings. Otherwise, the category of finished ranked opposition would have been a three-way deadlock, as well. Alabama and Georgia were tied for first in ranked opposition (at the time they played). Michigan and Alabama were tied for first in opponents that finished the season above 0.500. The strength of schedule category per se went Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, which accumulates oppositions’ overall record (minus FCS wins).

      Your point about Hutchinson is noteworthy. Not saying Hutch is Charles Woodson, but you do have to account for him on every play just as you did him. If you’re going to win championships, you need that kind of an X-factor. Other teams may have them, too, but Hutchinson’s presence gives Michigan more than a puncher’s chance based on that aspect alone.

      You also mentioned the sack record for Michigan. It’s disappointing media outlets and, thus, Heisman voters are looking in many cases exclusively at sacks recorded when it comes to determining candidates and ultimately a winner, while wholly ignoring QB hurries, pressures, etc, not to mention the impact a given defensive end has on the opponents’ gameplan and strategy, forcing it to avoid him, which may lead to big defensive plays from his teammates or just subdued numbers in general from the offense as a result of having to limit the playbook. It’s difficult to assess these area, but it’s nevertheless necessary to obtain a complete, accurate assessment of just how outstanding a player is.

  2. Keith, you kind of said what I thought of after I first replied; basically, it’s not just the plays he makes, it’s the plays he causes because he’s out there. Admittedly, Hutchinson is my favorite player. Perhaps it’s because he’s the prototype male that I wished I were. If somebody is threatening me and mine, I don’t want to be the fastest to run away. I would want to be the man who the bad guys would want to run away from. He is ‘the man’. Go Blue!

    • He certainly is. I’ve heard of and seen offensive linemen pancaking defensive linemen, but I’d never seen a defensive end do it. I’ve seen Hutchinson do it twice now on the biggest stages of the season — once against a left tackle that’s going in the first round in April and against a right tackle in the B1G championship game. I’m sure there are others; those are just the two I’m aware of. At the same time, he’s not a one-trick pony. He has an uncanny ability to know when it’s time to blow past you, spin by you, or bullrush you.

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Keith Eichholz

Lead writer for the Voice of College Football. Thorough, evidence-based, critical thinker. Husband to a beautiful wife, father to a terrific kid, always looking forward to football Saturday.

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