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In a sports world that bears little resemblance to the one we took for granted, it seemed as if the chaos would produce unusual championship chases. Yet rarely have so many sports seasons ended so predictably.
LeBron James and the top-seeded Lakers didn’t play for nearly five months, moved to a bubble and won the title they were favored to claim. The Lightning were co-favorites when they entered isolation in Canada and seized the Stanley Cup, one year after their record-setting season ended in a first-round sweep. Major League Baseball expanded its playoff by six teams, yet the top-seeded Dodgers finally lived up to their talent and took the World Series crown.
College football will be no different.
Alabama is again the country’s top-ranked team. Notre Dame looks like a lock for another playoff berth. Clemson is one win from a sixth straight playoff. Ohio State will almost certainly be back again, too, following the Big Ten’s bending of its rules to get the Buckeyes to the league title game.
For the first time, there probably will be no first-time playoff participant. And it won’t be the last time.
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One of the sport’s biggest problems has again been highlighted in this strange season. More than ever, playoff expansion is needed because of imbalanced schedules. It is needed because the Group of Five is no closer to earning a varsity letter.
It isn’t just that it’s stale to see the same teams in the playoff every year. It’s embarrassing that the sport pretends the championship is open to all, but remains rigged by an elitist, close-minded committee, which has two-loss Iowa State at No. 7, ahead of undefeated Cincinnati (No. 8) and one-loss Louisiana-Lafayette (No. 19), even though the Cajuns convincingly won at Iowa State and suffered their lone loss by three points to undefeated Coastal Carolina.
You’re familiar with the Chanticleers (10-0) by now, right? They just won the most entertaining game of the season, when they beat undefeated BYU on just a few days’ notice. They are now No. 13 in the nation, behind three two-loss teams.
Such special seasons have been ignored too many times. Since BYU’s 1984 national title, eight teams outside of power conferences have completed undefeated seasons. Who knows how many might have pulled an all-time stunner? Opportunity is all that was necessary to make legends of Buster Douglas, Joe Namath, Rulon Gardner, March Madness Cinderellas and the Miracle on Ice U.S. hockey team.
College football could be so much more, if it included just a few more. Instead, Coastal Carolina (-13.5) simply has a blowout of Troy to look forward to.
- MARYLAND (-8) over Rutgers
- COLORADO (-1.5) over Utah:
- ARKANSAS (+32) over Alabama
- MISSOURI (+13.5) over Georgia
- NORTHWESTERN (-14.5) over Illinois
- ARMY (-5.5) over Navy
- North Carolina (+3.5) over MIAMI
- IOWA (-1.5) over Wisconsin
- OREGON (-5.5) over Washington
- FLORIDA (-22) over LSU
- Usc (-3.5) over UCLA
- San Diego State (+16.5) over BYU
MARYLAND (-8) over Rutgers
First-year starter Taulia Tagovailoa looked like his older brother in two contests. In two other starts, he looked like he awoke to a pop quiz. The latter performances came against defenses in the top 20 nationally. Rutgers hasn’t filled that bill in eight years.
COLORADO (-1.5) over Utah:
The Utes have won three straight meetings by at least 21 points. The difference this year? Jarek Broussard, who has started his career by rushing for more than 183 yards per game — second-best in the nation — in Colorado’s 4-0 start.
ARKANSAS (+32) over Alabama
The last time the Crimson Tide had a letdown-lookahead spot — in between wins over Texas A&M and Georgia — they allowed the most yards in program history. The Hogs just happen to be catching the nation’s top team at the right time to stay within four touchdowns, kicking off after the revenge game against LSU and before the SEC Championship.
MISSOURI (+13.5) over Georgia
Is the committee keeping Kirby Smart in the top 10 out of habit? Does it know the Bulldogs’ three-year reign atop the SEC East is over? How else can it be explained that Georgia’s two losses, and six wins over teams with a combined record of 18-36, add up to the No. 9 ranking?
NORTHWESTERN (-14.5) over Illinois
In 2018, the Bears’ Matt Nagy was named the NFL Coach of the Year. Now, Pat Fitzgerald is being reported as Chicago’s potential replacement for Nagy. But why would the Northwestern alum ever leave? Fitzgerald has one of the best jobs in the country — earning millions of dollars to exceed moderate expectations, while enjoying maximum job security.
ARMY (-5.5) over Navy
Malcolm Perry rushed for 304 yards last year to end the Black Knights’ three-game win streak in the series. Even if he were back, the Midshipmen might not have enough, with their 111th-ranked rushing defense tasked with slowing the nation’s third-best run game.
North Carolina (+3.5) over MIAMI
Before beating down Duke (2-8), the Hurricanes had won their previous three games by a total of nine points. The ACC made it clear how it felt about Miami when it granted Clemson and Notre Dame the week off to rest up for the league title game.
IOWA (-1.5) over Wisconsin
Graham Mertz should have opted out after Week 1. After one touchdown pass and four interceptions in his past two games, the Badgers freshman will look the part again against another top-20 defense.
OREGON (-5.5) over Washington
Example No. 781 why divisions are obsolete. If USC and Colorado both finish undefeated, the Buffaloes will be left out of the Pac-12 title game because of fewer games played. The unranked winner of this game, meanwhile, will be assured a spot in the championship. It’s remarkable how many institutions of higher learning collaborate to keep such stupid ideas in place.
FLORIDA (-22) over LSU
Would you like to laugh? Before the season began, LSU’s first-year starting quarterback, Myles Brennan, was given better odds to win the Heisman Trophy than Florida’s Kyle Trask. Thank you. I’ll be here all column.
Usc (-3.5) over UCLA
The Trojans are coming off their best outing of the season, annihilating Washington State, 38-13, to secure their first four-game win streak since 2017. The craziest part of this absurd season may be Trojans coach Clay Helton sliding off the hot seat.
San Diego State (+16.5) over BYU
The Cougars were forced to cobble together one of the softest schedules in the country to save their season. Against the first legit defense it faced, BYU was held 30 points below its season average. Now, the nation’s third-ranked defense comes to Provo.
Best bets: North Carolina, Army, Iowa
This season (best bets): 101-86-2 (18-20-1)
2014-19 Record: 772-756-13