Bowl Playoffs set up to assure SEC and ACC entries

John Gilbert

Duluth East’s Garrett Worth, left, got free to score the game-winning goal in the 4-2 victory over Wayzata last Saturday. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Duluth East’s Garrett Worth, left, got free to score the game-winning goal in the 4-2 victory over Wayzata last Saturday. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Maybe you have to be an old cynic to see things like the NCAA Division I football playoffs coming into focus a week before they actually came into focus. But for the NCAA playoff selection committee to pretend they are impartial and unbiased when they have such a blatant feeling of favoritism for the Southeast Conference and such a blatant campaign to belittle both the PAC-12 and Big Ten is ludicrous.

Avid football fans from all over the country, or at least the East, South, Southeast and maybe the Southwest might all believe that having Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama in the selected semifinals is justifiable. But not when you can see it coming weeks, if not months, ahead of time.
The situation is that we have five major conferences — the Southeast, ACC, Big 12, Big 10 and PAC-12. My proposal for years is that each of those conferences should submit a team — “a” being the operative singular term —  as its representative, whether league champion or playoff champion. Then one outside conference or independent team gets named — in this case, Central Florida. That makes six teams, and then let the committee decide the ratings of those six, and 1 and 2 get byes, while 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5 to determine the semifinal foes for teams 1 and 2. Simple. And fair.

But the committee spends its season watching along with the rest of us as ESPN shamelessly promotes the SEC, and to some extent the ACC. Their annoiuncers come on and claim that the PAC-12 is weak “this year.” And that the Big Ten isn’t up to usual standards. The weekly pollsters take all that in and rank SEC teams, primarily Alabama, Georgia and Auburn this year, as elite teams. When one of those three loses, it drops about four or five slots. When a Big Te or PAC-12 team loses, it drops 8-10 slots.

East junior goaltender Lukan Hanson got help from Ryder Donovan (22) and blocked everything after Wayzata took a 2-1 lead as the Greyhounds came back. Photo credit: John Gilbert
East junior goaltender Lukan Hanson got help from Ryder Donovan (22) and blocked everything after Wayzata took a 2-1 lead as the Greyhounds came back. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Here’s the shocking news: If a conference is truly elite, and tough, then it would be extremely difficult for anybody to go through undefeated, and a loss or two should be anticipated. If you happened to think the PAC-12 was the toughest conference, then you’d point to the lofty records of Alabama, Auburn and Georgia as evidence that they don’t have any competition that could beat them.

The last dose of my cynicism is that no conference should ever get two of the final four. If a team from a conference is good enough to win the national title, then that conference doesn’t need more than one entry. Look at the other side: If both Ohio State and Wisconsin, the two Big Ten division winners, made the final four, obviously the Big Ten’s chances for a national championship go up greatly. Same if Southern California and Stanford, the PAC-12’s two divisional winners, made the final four, the PAC-12’s chances to win it all would be enhanced.

Instead, a week ago, the selection committee ranked the teams: 1. Clemson, 2. Auburn, 3. Oklahoma, 4. Wisconsin, 5. Alabama, 6. Georgia, 7. Miami, 8. Ohio State. Sounds fair enough, even though the PAC-12’s divisional champs were already mathematically reduced to roadkill, with Southern Cal 10th and Stanford 11th, and a very good Washington team 13th.

I laughed out loud, because the committee knew very well that conference playoffs meant Clemson had to face Miami, Auburn had to face Georgia, Oklahoma had to take on Texas Christian, and Wisconsin had to meet Ohio State. A naive radio guy I heard said he hoped Ohio State would beat Wisconsin just to prove the system was invalid, and if that happened, Ohio State would make the semifinals. 

It was patently obvious to me that if Ohio State beat Wisconsin, the Badgers would be knocked out of tournament consideration, and No. 5 Alabama (who else?) would be voted in — logically, if you drink the same Kool-Aid the committee would have us drink. And if Georgia were to beat Auburn, Georgia would move into the final four. In fact, I could see how the shameless committee could have made the final four Clemson, Georgia, Alabama and Auburn! Yes, they could have bumped Oklahoma out without reason.

Sure enough, Clemson routed Miami to stay No. 1; Auburn, which just knocked off Alabama two weeks earlier to earn No. 2, fell hard, 28-7 to Georgia, so the committee voted Georgia in, and dropped Auburn — the SEC West champ — out of the picture. Oklahoma hammered TCU, verifying its spot and moving up to No. 2. And Ohio State held off Wisconsin in a tough, close battle, so the question was, would Big Ten playoff champ and East Division winner OSU move in ahead of previously unbeaten Wisconsin? Not a chance. Alabama was the committee’s choice, defending the move, incredibly, by saying they’d had Alabama ahead of Ohio State all season, and besides, OSU lost to Iowa. Well, losing to Iowa shouldn’t tarnish Ohio State as much as beating Mercer — Mercer? — 56-0 in their next-to-last game, just before losing 26-14 to Auburn.

So after the final ranking, our national semifinals will have No. 2 Oklahoma, the Big 12 champ and playoff champ, facing No. 3 Georgia, the SEC East and playoff champ, in the Rose Bowl, while No. 1 Clemson, the ACC divisional and playoff champ, taking on No. 4 Alabama, which didn’t win either SEC division and thus didn’t even qualify for the SEC playoff, but just sat home idly and advanced, in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleands.

The Big Ten’s OSU and Wisconsin, to say nothing of PAC-12‘s Southern Cal and Stanford, are simply excluded. Two from the SEC — and NOT Auburn — and one each from the ACC and Big 12, and nobody from the Big Ten or PAC-12. To make it a complete whitewash for the Big Ten and PAC-12, Ohio State and Southern Cal will meet in a Bowl game, but NOT the Rose Bowl. No, they’ll be in the Cotton Bowl at Arlington, Texas.

East, Marshall Fly High

Duluth East coach Mike Randolph is on the verge of winning his 600th game as Greyhounds coach, but the long-term run has done nothing to soften or mellow his demands for excellence from his players.
The Greyhounds opened with a 3-3 tie at White Bear Lake, in which East led 3-0, but gave up the next three. “We were lucky to get a 3-3 tie, we didn’t deserve it,” said Randolph. “We had some guys who believed we were so good we didn’t have to do the things we have to do to win.”

East has a fabulous first line, with Ryder Donovan, Garrett Worth and Ian Mageau sure to torment opponents. Randolph said they didn’t play close to their potential at White Bear Lake, but he kept putting them out there hoping they’d click.
“I apologized to our fourth line,” said Randolph. “I told them I cheated them out of ice time by going to the first line so much.”
So when it came to last Saturday’s home opener at Heritage Center, Randolph broke up the line and rotated four lines regularly. East gained an early 1-0 lead, but Wayzata came back with two goals in the second period. I wondered if Randolph would stick with his disciplinary shift, or put the line back together.

He put them back together in the third period, and it appeared the three were so anxious to be reunited they played a very strong final session. After Ricky Lyle tied the game 2-2, Worth scored with a backhander 1:02 later, and Donovan hit an empty net for the clincher in a 4-2 victory.
But all the personnel on a very strong East team presumably got the message. Do it the coach’s way, or the coach will find a new way.
Meanwhile, Marshall continues to roar. The Toppers rolled through their first four games behind the explosive scoring touch of senior George Grannis. He’s the kid who scored a pure hat trick shorthanded in the season opener and wound up with five goals in all. After that, he scored 3, 4, and 4 for a total of 16 goals in four games. Grannis scored 13 goals all of last season, when he played well. But not THIS well.