It happens every year.
We get down to the final month of the college football regular season, and crazy things start to happen.
Top-ranked teams lose.
“Mid-major” teams knock at the door of making a national statement.
Glory and heartbreak rest just a few laces apart.
So it shouldn’t surprise us that the 2016 college football edition has started to get wild.
On Nov. 12, the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 teams all lost on the same day for the first time since 1985. I had just celebrated my first birthday at that time.
And on Nov. 17, No. 5 Louisville seemingly didn’t show up, or was grossly outplayed, in a game against the Houston Cougars.
After all the dust has settled from the past week, Alabama sits alone atop the college football world, still undefeated and still leading the race to the College Football Playoff.
But we know they’re not safe either. They still have to play the Iron Bowl against bitter rival Auburn. And, if they’re lucky, they have to make it through an SEC Championship game to earnestly win a spot in the Playoff.
None of the teams are safe at this point, regardless of their one-loss record. Ohio State and Michigan, we already, must play each other in the regular-season finale, and one of those teams will get a second loss. The other will be faced with making it through a Big Ten Championship game, with a possible College Football Playoff berth on the line.
The other thing, perhaps the most important thing, that’s not safe is the College Football Playoff format itself.
By now, hardened college football fans realize there’s no true way to determine a champion unless only one unbeaten team stands at the end of the season.
The poll system did not work, determining a champion based on who finished No. 1 in national polls.
The BCS was a nightmare with its computer rankings and questionable crownings of national champions.
And now we have the Playoff of four teams. There will always be a fifth who claims they deserved a shot. But there’s no tournament format big enough to keep that from happening. In college basketball, we see a selection committee choose 68 teams for the Big Dance in March Madness. There are always No. 69s and No. 70s vouching for their rightful spots in the tournament.
So is there a perfect answer for determining a champion? I’d say there’s only one: Finish undefeated. You don’t get any breaks, not even one slip-up. You have to win ’em all.
If Alabama can get to the playoff unscathed and win a pair of games, only Western Michigan (if they continue to stay undefeated as well) could state its case for a championship. But they’re an easy look-off because they play in a smaller conference with a seemingly “weaker” schedule.
Survive and advance, as Clemson, Michigan, Washington and Louisville have now struggled to do. Just keep winning, and you can truly claim both a National Championship and your honest case you deserve it. That may be the only way to come out on top of the wild world that is college football.