The Back Nine: A Tide vs. Dawg finale would expand playoffs

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks with the media during a news conference for the SEC Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Friday. (Joshua L. Jones,/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

The Back Nine comes at you as I am counting down the days until I get to eat hospital food. My left knee and I have been through so much together — mostly pain.

10. Think Greg Sankey is a happy guy today? The SEC commissioner has watched his league make history again by being the first conference to get two teams into the College Football Playoff and I have to admit I was stunned. I’d have put Bama in, but I fully expected the committee to place Ohio State in the four spot because I ultimately believed the tiebreaker would be not putting two teams from the same conference in. Shows what I know. So now we have taken the first baby step toward expanding the field to eight because two conferences were left out. We’re the winners because we get a Clemson-Alabama Part III in the Sugar Bowl and a Georgia-Oklahoma Rose Bowl, which is going to be an expensive Christmas for Bulldog fans. (An Alabama-Georgia final would be a major step toward expanding the playoff no matter what the expensive suits say. They also said a playoff was a no-go until Alabama and LSU played for a national title). So in the CFP history, 14 of the 16 teams who have made it have been conference champs and the only two who didn’t make it were the last two Big Ten champs. Pardon me while I chuckle at Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany (although he can counter with his $20 million 2017 bonus).

11. The great championship weekend we were expecting really wasn’t all that great. Especially, the much-anticipated SEC championship. To me, the thing that killed Auburn was Jarrett Stidham’s fumble early in the second quarter when Auburn was about to go in for its second score. At that point, Auburn had 135 yards to Georgia’s 28. After that play, Georgia outgained Auburn 393 to 124. I always say that college football is a handful of plays in a handful of games, but this was one play in the biggest game of the season (so far). One thing about Gus Malzahn offenses — when they go stale, they go really stale. Like an open bag of chips-in-a-rainforest kind of stale. And I should know something about stale offenses, having covered the malaise that has been Florida offense the last eight years. For that brilliant display of offense, Malzahn receives a massive pay raise. And for going 6-6, Jimbo Fisher loses a Christmas tree, but gains college football’s richest contract. Suddenly, Florida’s deal with Dan Mullen looks like a bargain. It’s like the AP’s Ralph Russo wrote Sunday night — this is the drunkest week in the history of college football.

12. One more thing on the CFP, if we took everything exactly the way it worked out in terms of who played who and what all of the final scores were and just changed one thing — instead of Alabama we inserted the name “Arkansas” — don’t you think Ohio State gets in? There is no question in my mind. These aren’t blind resumes. One of them has a shiny brand attached to it and in the current state of college football there is no bigger brand than Alabama. It’s good for TV and what the Tide has done in the recent past matters, no matter how much it’s not supposed to. So we welcome you to the Southern-fried playoffs where you still will have more corporate seats than accents.

13. A couple of other quick takes from the final weekend of college football:

• FAU students chanted “We Want Bama!” after the Owls latest win. Pump the breaks guys. You lost to Buffalo this year.

• Whoever gets the UCF job is inheriting a heckuva team with a ton of talent coming back. But you can’t blame Scott Frost for going home, even if he’s walking into a football team that finished last in the Big Ten in defense and defense isn’t exactly his strength.

• Although I am not permitted to tell you who I voted for in the Heisman (take a wild guess), I can tell you that I sent in my coach of the year ballot and All-American teams for The Associated Press. I had Kirby Smart as the national coach of the year, followed by Scott Frost and Dabo Swinney. And I had Eddy Pineiro on my first-team All-America team and Johnny Townsend on my second team. That there was no other Gator to even consider says a lot about where this program is.

• There has never been anything like this offseason when it comes to the coaching carousel. Last Monday after introducing Dan Mullen, UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said, “We’re glad to be off the carousel.” I bet. This has been the craziest thing ever. And SEC Media Days is going to be spectacular.

14. For a lot of us, the idea of spending a year without having to work and getting paid for it is appealing. We probably would put our feet up and sip cool drinks until pina coladas started spilling out of our ears. But my friend Brett McMurphy took a different road. He just keeps breaking stories. McMurphy was among the many laid off by ESPN months ago, but his agreement included a non-compete clause. “A lot of people thought I should take a year and travel the world,” he said. “But I thought it was more important to stay relevant for when I’m employed again.” So even though he is not working, he kind of is. McMurphy keeps breaking stories on Twitter like every bowl matchup, Joe Moorhead’s hire at Mississippi State, Mike Gundy’s rejection of Tennessee and Scott Frost’s acceptance of the Nebraska job. He also was the first to tweet that Dan Mullen to Florida was finalized (we had our own scoops as well). It was hilarious during the ESPN broadcast of the UCF-Memphis game when Steve Levy gave McMurphy credit and referred to him as “our own Brett McMurphy.” Anyway, this is a bit of an inside the industry story, but Brett is as good a guy as there is and deserves to get as much credit as possible.

15. This is pretty funny. There is a great frozen custard place in Starkville, Mississippi, called “Bops.” Up until a few days ago, the place featured a special treat called “The Dan Mullen,” which was his favorite when he stopped by. It featured M&Ms, chocolate chips, caramel and chocolate syrup. With Mullen leaving, Bops decided to rename the dish with an online poll. The winner? “The Lateral Move,” a reference to Mullen’s comments three years ago when Geoff Collins went from Mississippi State to Florida. I do like the billboards welcoming their new coach to Starkville that read, “MOOR COWBELL.”

16. I think the best part about getting my knee replaced is not checking Twitter or emails for a few days. And sleeping. Everyone has some advice and it has all been welcome and so many have offered prayers and they have been accepted with gratitude. When I get back in the saddle, let’s all just try to get along.

17. There were so many snarky tweets about the situations in Knoxville and Tallahassee to choose from but I thought the best Tweet of the Week candidate (unvetted) came from the great Chris Low of ESPN — “My stock answer for how it’s all gone so downhill for Tennessee is simply this: Once the new head football coach is hired, that will make it 16 different presidents, chancellors, ADs and head football coaches for Tennessee over the last decade. Zero stability.” What he said.

18. Put together a sweet playlist for the flight to New York for Steve Spurrier’s induction into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach (already in as a player). I wonder if he gets two plaques on the wall at UF?

• “Losing All Sense” by Grizzly Bear.

• “Everything Is Alright” by The Glorious Sons.

• “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire.

• “Stand By My Girl” by Dan Auerbach.

• And for an oldie, something different. A reader sent me a link to a song by Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles and Matthew Sweet, a cover of “And Your Bird Can Sing” by the Beatles. I loved it and then discovered there are two albums called “Under The Covers” where these two cover great songs — not just the hits — from the past. My favorite is their version of “Beware of Darkness.”

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. The CFP should be for Conference Champions only. Sorry Bama. Try it again next year. Why is it so hard to preserve the integrity of the regular season (Auburn beats Bama – wins the West)? And, bonus, it turns conference championship games into honest to goodness playoff/play-in games (how much fun is that?). What’s wrong with rewarding the teams that EARN their way in? Why should Bama lay on the massage table watching other teams kill themselves playing an extra game? Why should they be rewarded for ducking the SEC Championship? Why should they be rewarded for literally doing NOTHING last Saturday? All that said, it is what is. And we have the teams we have. Good for the SEC. Not so good for others. Bring me the all SEC National Championship. S-E-C! S-E-C!

    • Mark, I’m c you and have been beating that drum forever. You’re a Power-5 school? You won your conference? You’re in. Period. You represent your conference in the playoffs, since you won it on the field. I don’t care if you’re not ranked as high as the team that lost to you, I don’t care if your W-L record is not as good as the team that lost to you. YOU WON YOUR CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP ON THE FIELD, the only place that actually matters. So let’s go to a 6 game playoff. Five from the Power-5, and the highest ranked conference champion from among the Non-Power-5 conferences. In my mind, it’s the fair way to do it. Also gives the AAC, Conf-USA, Mtn West, MAC and so on a legitimate way to get in, and who knows what might happen. I get that it’s mostly about TV and revenue, but let’s actually get real.

      • 100% agree…but do the math. It’s the Power 5 conferences (as in 5 individual champions) and 4 playoff teams. Last I checked, 5>4. The CFP committee doomed this from the start. It was BY DESIGN impossible to not have this turn into a beauty pageant at some point.

      • GATOR-6, I like your idea, since it would be a true playoff where teams earn their way in by winning their conference. What we have now is a tournament, not a playoff, as evidenced by the existence of a selection committee. Playoff teams earn their way in by the objective means of winning their conference, while tournament teams “earn” their way in by the subjective means of being selected by a committee. Your method would free us from the debate over whether the committee should select the “four best teams” or the “four most deserving teams”. The sooner we accept the fact that playoffs are not meant to determine the best team (debatable), but, rather, a champion (not debatable), the happier we’ll be with the result. The only thing I would add to your idea is to use the big name bowl games as the playoff games AND the championship game, so the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton, and Fiesta Bowls get back to their tradition of determining the national champion as they did in the days before the BCS.

        • Have a six-team playoff – each of the Power 5 conference champs gets in with one wild card. Top two teams get a bye. Rankings and polls determine seeding in the playoff. That way, teams are playing to get in and/or playing for a bye (so polls still matter), but conference championships still matter, too (March Madness style – if Stanford won at 10-3 in the PAC-12 this year, they would be in with a chance for the whole enchilada). An undefeated lower conference champ or second team from a Power 5 conference could get in (UCF/BAMA) if they poll strongly. Rankings and human error will still create conflict, but overall the product would be better because you ultimately can’t dispute championship teams earning their way in. I’m not worried about the absolute best team winning every year. I teams that earned championships to have something extra to play for, as well as excitement for teams that catch fire at the right time. Just my two cents.

    • Bama beat FSU when they were a top 5 team and Francois was healthy. Not sure how many “hard” out of conference games you expect SEC teams to schedule. Georgia scheduled Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. They can’t predict before the season all of those teams will suck at the end. Pre-season Ohio State’s out of conference schedule was worse than Alabama’s. So at the end of the season we can say that Ohio State played one tough out of conference game, that was at the time was not even more difficult that Bama’s game, and they lost.
      You say UGA and Bama had no tough out of conference wins. So who that was eligible for the playoffs did?
      Was it OSU’s win over UNLV or Army that is so impressive? Both?
      OSU had one tough out of conference game and they lost.

  2. The amount of money being paid to NCAA and conference administrators and coaches, all to coach and administer to unpaid talented kids, is truly OBSCENE. Of course that can be said of actors, pro athletes and CEOs, but at least, as far as the actors and athletes go, they are being compensated for their own performance.

  3. Stidham’s fumble killed them? Really? They were toast before they got off the bus. Kerryon Johnson WAS the Auburn offense and you can’t get it done with (at least) one bum shoulder. He looked to be in pretty serios pain the whole game, and the Dawgs were certainly not shy about taking shots at him, many of them cheap.

  4. 4 is ok. 8 is flat out wrong.

    4 is good for right now because it’s the fist start to the playoffs, etc. evne though one conference (or two cough cough) get left out, at least every game matters… However, teams like 2014 TCU and Baylor, 2015 Stanford, 2016 Penn St. and 2017 Ohio St. all were high caliber championship teams that were left out, and some had a case that they were the best team in the nation. Also GO5 teams like Houston, UCF, and, although this was pre-playoff era, 2006 Boise St. all deserve to at least have a chance to compete for the title.

    In an 8 team playoff, a game like UF-FSU simply wouldn’t matter if UF had already clinched the east. Games at the end of seasons where the team has already clinched the division (like November for Georgia) wouldn’t matter either – just win the conf champ game, u in. This style of playoff is ludicrous.

    So what’s the middle ground? Average it out. A 6 team playoff would not only be the solution to both problems, but it’s not unprecedented – in fact, there’s one in this very sport, to determine who will represent the A or NFC in the super bowl. I think it’d be all conference champions, 5. wild card, which CAN be a 5th conference champion but doesn’t have to be, 6. highest ranked GO5 team. Every game would matter because you still aren’t guarenteed a spot if you win your conference, and every single other team would be vying for that wild card – not to mention how valuable a first round bye is.

    So the playoff for this year would be

    1. Clemson, which would play lowest remaining seed in round 2, 2. Oklahoma, which would play highest remaining seed in round 2, 3. Georgia, which would play 6. UCF in round 1, and 4. Ohio St., which would play 5. Alabama in round 1.

    Or last year:

    1. Alabama, which would play lowest remaining seed in round 2, 2. Clemson, which would play highest remaining seed in round 2, 3. Washington, which would play 6. WMU in round 1, and 4. Penn St., which would play 5. Ohio St. in round 1 (Can you imagine the beef around a Penn St. OSU rematch? :D).

    Or the year before:

    1. Clemson, which would play lowest remaining seed in round 2, 2. Alabama, which would play highest remaining seed in round 2, 3. Mich St., which would play 6. Houston in round 1, and 4. Oklahoma., which would play 5. Stanford in round 1.

    Or the inaugural year:

    1. Alabama, which would play lowest remaining seed in round 2, 2. Oregon, which would play highest remaining seed in round 2, 3. FSU, which would play 6. Boise St. in round 1, and 4. Ohio St., which would play 5. TCU/Baylor (Committee’s pick) in round 1.

    This is the midle ground between the two. It will make sure that the best team wins the championship, but not make it so that it’s easy to get into the playoffs, with an 8 team.

  5. The committee picked the 4 “best teams”. Would any of you doubters bet next week’s pay check against Alabama not winning it all??? Jalen Hurt is light years better than Barrett. Saban now has a month to get ready. After watching all the games, including the Big 10 Championship, I’m so blessed to have attended the first 5 SEC Championship games, plus a couple of others. NONE of the other conference championship games have half the prestige and big show as the SEC game. Not even close. Its as big as the National Championship.

    Pat, how do you come up with all these songs/groups MOST of us have never heard of? I don’t even have enough time to listen all the golden oldies that most of us still yearn for. Has anybody over the last 30 years had a better pure powerful voice than Gary Puckett or Linda Ronstadt….NO. I’m sadden by the death of real country music. This stuff today they call “country” is nothing but sound alike garbage. Thank goodness I came along during the late 60s and 70s.

  6. Let’s rewrite Pat’s #12…
    12. One more thing on the CFP, if we took everything exactly the way it worked out in terms of who played who and what all of the final scores were and just changed one thing — instead of Ohio State we inserted the name “Minnesota” — don’t you think Alabama still gets in? There is no question in my mind.

    Your logic should be applied both ways.

    The only reason people are making a stink about an 11-2 conference champion getting left out is because it’s THE ohio state. You want proof? There’s another 11-2 champion of a power-5 conference who actually had a higher SOS, who’s conference has more bowl teams, more teams with winning records, more out of conf wins vs. top 25 teams, better non-conf record vs. power 5 teams overall…basically they won the tougher conference championship. I’m talking about USC. Both of their loses were to final rankings top 20 teams, and although the Notre Dame loss was bad it certainly wasn’t as bad as that beat down that Iowa gave the Buckeyes.

    Do the Trojans deserve that #4 spot? I’m not sure about that, but the fact that NOBODY even considered them despite a nearly identical (and arguably even better) resume as THE ohio state speaks volumes.

    Pat, you can claim that Alabama only got in because of their brand, but Ohio State was only in the conversation because of their brand.