The Big Four made it to the Final Four of the college football season, as expected, ending one chapter of the most contentious, controversial and unpredictable years in the history of the sport.
The College Football Playoff selection committee avoided chaos Sunday, pitting No. 1 Alabama against No. 4 Notre Dame in one semifinal game and No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State in the other.
The Clemson-Ohio State game will be played the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, with Alabama-Notre Dame in the Rose-By-Any-Other-Name Bowl in Arlington, Tex.
Let the bickering begin.
Texas A&M fans will be expected to gripe loudly, and unbeaten Cincinnati no doubt will complain of being victimized by Power Five favoritism.
But in reality, the four playoff teams have everything you need to cure a New Year’s Day hangover, including Heisman Trophy candidates Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith of Alabama and quarterback Trevor Lawrence of Clemson, a strong but untested Ohio State team that played only six games, and Notre Dame — the school you either love or hate.
“Our body of work was outstanding,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, shrugging off the blowout by Clemson in the ACC title game.
Bowl season begins Monday afternoon with the Myrtle Beach Bowl pitting Appalachian State against North Texas, and concludes Jan. 11 in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami with the CFP championship game.
It’s a smaller field and an even more condensed bowl schedule than in recent years. And it will lack the pizazz usually associated with much-anticipated events like the Cheez-It Bowl.
At this point of the season, we’re all used to postponements, cancellations, empty stadiums, abrupt rules changes and the 2020 mantra, “due to an abundance of caution…,” so anything goes.
Due to COVID-19, 12 bowl games already have been canceled, including the inaugural LA Bowl in Inglewood, Calif., Three others, including the venerable Rose Bowl — the site of one of the two semifinal games, have been moved to other cities.
The “Granddaddy of hem All” decided to move the semifinal game from its namesake stadium in Pasadena, Calif., to AT&T Stadium near Dallas late Saturday night after failing to convince government officials to relax COVID-19 restrictions in a hot zone and allow fans inside.
Whether it will still be called the Rose Bowl is up to the city of Pasadena, but a Rose Bowl by any other name will still smell as sweet thanks to the money it generates for ESPN, the CFP and the playoff teams. Perhaps a virtual sunset over the San Gabriel Mountains can be displayed on the ginormous video boards at AT&T Stadium to appease the traditionalists.
Kelly was among those calling for the switch of venues, and he got his wish.
The Notre Dame coach complained Friday about the possibility of the Rose Bowl “worshipping the ashes of tradition” by possibly staying in Pasadena, and threatened to opt out of the playoffs if players’ families couldn’t be in attendance. This, of course, came from an employee of a university whose president, Rev. John Jenkins, contracted COVID-19 after attending a superspreader event at the White House Rose Garden for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
California officials held their ground for the welfare of all the state’s residents, including the granddaddies and grandmas of them all, whose health and safety were deemed more important than a college football game.
Kudos to them.
Kelly told ESPN Sunday he “loves the Rose Bowl” and “it wasn’t really about the fans.”
“We’re grateful to the Rose Bowl to make that change,” he said. “I know it was difficult. There are a lot of things that go along, there’s television and just really grateful that everybody was able to sit down and think about it, that this makes sense.”
Kelly didn’t mention the pandemic that ultimately led to the decision to change the site. Either way, more fans will now be able to watch the Irish in Texas, thanks to Alabama’s presence.
“We know there’s going to be 16,000 fans able to watch in Arlington, and 3,000 fans able to watch the game in New Orleans,” said selection committee chairman Gary Barta on the ESPN selection show. “The committee decided there is an advantage for the No. 1 seed (by having more fans on hand).”