By Don Wanlass
All the controversy over whether Florida State belongs in the college football playoff could have been avoided if Florida State’s conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference, didn’t team up with the Pac 12 and Big 10 conferences last year to keep the playoffs from expanding from four to 12 teams a year ahead of schedule.
Those three conferences were afraid the Southeast Conference would be favored in the new 12-team format and delayed the process. That left us with one more season with the four-team tournament and — unfortunately for Florida State — there were more than four great teams in college football this season.
Georgia, which finished sixth, also could claim it belonged in the four-game tournament, its 12-0 regular season and two consecutive national championships outweighing its loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game Dec. 2.
The selection committee got it right and thus we will have Alabama playing Michigan in the Rose Bowl Jan. 1 and Washington facing Texas in the Sugar Bowl the same day. Those are the four best teams in the nation this season.
All won their conference championship games. Granted, Florida State won its conference championship game, too, but the Seminoles overall performance doesn’t stack up with the other four. Or Georgia, for that matter.
For proof, all you need to do is look at the early betting line for Georgia versus Florida State in the Orange Bowl Dec. 30.
Georgia opened up as a 13.5-point favorite over Florida State. The four semifinalists all would have been favored by at least a touchdown against Florida State.
Florida State missed out for a couple of reasons. Star quarterback Jordan Travis broke his leg Nov. 18 against North Alabama and is out for the rest of the season.
His backup, Tate Rodemaker, led the Seminoles to a win over Florida the following week to complete Florida State’s unbeaten regular season, but he didn’t look great doing it. Somewhere between the Florida game and the conference championship game against Louisville Dec. 2, Rodemaker entered concussion protocol and he was ruled out of the championship game before it started.
Third-string quarterback Brock Glenn, a freshman, made his first career start and the Seminoles defeated the Cardinals, 16-6 in a game that was every bit as boring as the final score would indicate.
The selection committee didn’t put Florida State in the playoffs because one of the committee’s discussion points is a team’s injury situation. Without Travis, Florida State isn’t the same team and the four teams selected ahead of the Seminoles were determined by the committee to be stronger than Florida State at this point in the season.
Florida State also lost out because it was the worst of the three conference champions that went undefeated. Michigan and Washington didn’t lose in the Big 10 or Pac 12, two conferences that were significantly stronger than the ACC this year.
When Alabama defeated Georgia for the SEC title that automatically put 12-1 Texas into the tournament because Texas handed Alabama its only loss of the season. And there was no way the selection committee was going to leave out the SEC champion.
Although many fans are in an uproar over Florida State’s situation, college football fans actually win. They not only get two solid semifinal matchups, they get Georgia-Florida State in the Orange Bowl. That’s three terrific games to look forward to.
The Rose Bowl will feature a familiar team, Michigan, against Alabama, one of the best college football programs over the past 50 years.
The Cotton Bowl features Texas coach Steve Sarkisian against the university where he used to coach, Washington.
Anyone worried that the college football playoff system would ruin the major bowls couldn’t prove it by this year’s schedule. And the controversy this year will make fans more anxious to see what next year’s 12-team tournament is going to look like.
One thing you can bet on, whoever finishes at 13th in next year’s rankings won’t be as upset as Florida State is this year.
GOING BOWLING: Speaking of bowl games, USC and UCLA will be staying relatively close to home for their bowl games. The Bruins will go about 10 miles down the 405 to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood to play Boise State in the LA Bowl, which has traded Jimmy Kimmel for Ron Gronkowski as the “host” of the game.
The game will be played at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 16 and be broadcast on KABC.
UCLA will prepare for the game without its defensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. D’Anton Lynn was lured away to USC to replace Alex Gronch as defensive coordinator there and quarterbacks coach Ryan Gunderson has been named the new offensive coordinator at Oregon State, his alma mater.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly said his remaining staff would coach the LA Bowl.
Boise State won the Mountain West Conference title with a 44-20 win over UNLV Dec. 2. The Broncos have had their own share of coaching turmoil this season.
Head coach Andy Avalos was fired Nov. 12 when the Broncos were 5-5. Under interim coach Spencer Danielson, Boise State has won three games in a row and Danielson was rewarded after defeating UNLV by having the interim removed from his title.
USC as a little farther to travel than UCLA, busing down to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl Dec. 27 against Louisville, the second place team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Trojans will be playing without quarterback Caleb Williams, who announced last week that he would skip whatever bowl game the Trojans were selected for to prepare for the NFL Draft.
The Trojans’ second half collapse this year kept Williams from Heisman Trophy consideration, but he is still expected to be a top draft choice next April. Lynn, the Trojans new defensive coordinator, will not be coaching the Trojans in the bowl game, but he will be watching. The game will start at 5 p.m. and be televised by ESPN.
MOTIVATION: A trip to Las Vegas and the possibility of receiving $500,000 is apparently enough motivation for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers defeated the Phoenix Suns Dec. 5, 106-103 to advance to the semifinals of the NBA’s first In-season Tournament.
They will face the New Orleans Pelicans Dec. 7 in Las Vegas for a chance to play for the tournament championship Dec. 9 — also in Las Vegas — against the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks-Indiana Pacers semifinal game.
Each member of the winning team receives a $500,000 bonus, proof once again that more money motivates millionaires.
The game with Phoenix pitted LeBron James and company against Kevin Durant and company. James and Durant both scored 31 points. James had better support.
Anthony Davis scored 27 and grabbed 15 rebounds and Austin Reaves scored 20, including a three-point shot in the last 15 seconds that proved to be the game winner.
Grayson Allen and Devin Booker both scored 21 for the Suns, who played without Bradley Beal, who was out with a back injury.
The win improved the Lakers record to 13-9, good for fourth place in the Western Conference. The team is finally getting healthy, with forwards Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura back in the lineup.
First-round draft choice Jalen Hood-Schifino also is healthy again, although he was not used by coach Darvin Ham against the Suns. Neither was Christian Wood, the off-season acquisition who filled in admirably while Hachimura and Vanderbilt were injured.
Ham has apparently settled on a starting lineup of James, Davis, D’Angelo Russell, Cam Reddish and Taurean Prince, with Reaves being the first man off the bench. It seems to be working, as the Lakers have won seven of their last 10.
Vanderbilt and Hachimura are a good tandem as the backup forwards and Jaxson Hayes played nine minutes behind Davis at center against the Suns.
Max Christie, a second-year player from Michigan State, was the other guard in the rotation against the Suns. The Lakers think Christie can become a star and are giving him more playing time. Only, 20, he is averaging 4.9 points a game in 17.6 minutes.
ADJUSTING: And then there are the Clippers.
They haven’t left California since Thanksgiving, playing the last six games here, in Sacramento and San Francisco. Not surprisingly, they are 3-3 in those games, 9-10 overall on the season. That’s who they are.
Slowly but surely, the Clippers are learning how to play together, although reserve P.J. Tucker told a reporter recently that “there weren’t enough basketballs in the universe” to keep the Clippers’ four stars —Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden and Russell Westbrook — happy.
Westbrook was wise enough to realize the team was better with him coming off the bench instead of starting. That allows Terence Mann to start at guard opposite Harden, but that hasn’t done much for Mann’s game so far.
Westbrook and fellow UCLA alum Norman Powell provide a solid one-two punch off the bench, but the Clippers miss the depth up front that Nick Batum, Marcus Morris and Robert Covington provided.
All three were traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Harden, who is rounding into playing shape, averaging 15.7 points and 6.4 assists in 33-plus minutes a night
The Clippers are currently ninth in the Western Conference standings, which would put them in the play-in tournament if the season ended today. There is still plenty of time for the Clippers to get their act together.
Whether their players can learn to share the ball and do the little things that championship caliber teams do to win games will determine what kind of team they will be this season. Twenty games in, it’s too early to say.