Something to holler about: College football is headed toward a fun six weeks


There's going to be a donnybrook of a squabble concerning the Big Ten. There's going to be a Colorado in the Pacific-12 Championship Game just one season after Colorado finished going 5-40 across five seasons of conference games, and just two seasons after it went 0-9 in conference play. There's going to be a new coach at Texas, Tom Herman, who briefly on Thursday was reported headed to LSU, a matter reported during an LSU game, which LSU won, at Texas A&M, by 54-39, after which LSU's athletic director hinted that someone "orchestrated" the rumor.

And there's a new coach at LSU, native Louisianan Ed Orgeron, who found himself so giddy Saturday morning that he made the one-hour drive for his meeting with Athletic Director Joe Alleva and said, "I had the window down, hollering half the way."

We're all about to do some hollering. Next Saturday night in Indianapolis, they're going to hold a Big Ten Championship Game between two teams who absolutely everyone presumes to be the third- and fourth-best teams in the league. Either No. 7-ranked Penn State (10-2) or No. 6 Wisconsin (10-2) will win, and that team presumably will become the Big Ten champion, even though one of them (Wisconsin) lost to both the most-fancied two teams (Ohio State, Michigan), and the other (Penn State) got mauled by one (Michigan) and upset the other (Ohio State) on a blocked-field-goal return.

OK. At the same time, we also have this three-year-old concept the College Football Playoff, its four annual participants decided by a 12-member committee sitting in a boardroom at a gaudy hotel near the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and sometimes you can type these sentences over and over while still having trouble believing them. The committee, which meets privately, has given ample evidence that it prizes conference champions.

Yet as we begin this coming week with the forecast calling for emotion and messiness and maybe even bad vibes, there's reason to believe that the committee might award a playoff spot to Ohio State (11-1), which holds down the No. 2 spot but did not win its division, the Big Ten East. This might happen even if Penn State defeats Wisconsin. And this reinforces that if you have ever tried to explain this sport to people from the other side of the world, you know that you can't.

Back and forth the wrangling will go. On the one side, a conference champion! On the other, Ohio State! But Penn State has two losses, Ohio State one. But Ohio State's one is to Penn State. There's even a chance that, during this argument that precedes any outcome, Wisconsin will feel slighted.

There'll be passages like the one the senior Ohio State guard Pat Elflein used Saturday: "Our wins on the road against top-10 teams."

One team beat the other yet the other team is better according to almost everyone, and Ohio State has wins on the road against No. 8 Oklahoma and No. 6 Wisconsin. It can sit making its case because it weathered one of the damnedest games anyone ever saw on Saturday afternoon, a double-overtime football carnival crammed with so many notable things that you could go on for 10 minutes without remembering Michigan's fumbled snap at the 1-yard line or Ohio State's failed fake punt from the 19-yard line, or that Ohio State had only 57 passing yards through three quarters, or that Ohio State suffered only two penalties for six yards.

Then finally, we're here at this juncture because a quarterback (J.T. Barrett) tried to get one yard on fourth down in the second overtime with Michigan ahead 27-24. He squeezed his way through a tackle on his left. He banged into a tight end's rear end. He fell backward, with his forward progress somewhere in the ether. On some video replays, Barrett appeared stopped shy. On other video replays, he appeared to have just enough, somewhere there in the air. Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh signaled no first down. The officials signaled a first down. They play went to review. Michigan players celebrated a very possible win.

Those conducting the official review could not be certain, because they were in the fetal position in the corners of the room.

Actually, there's no evidence of fetal positions, but clearly they weren't going to end a game on a video overturn. Harbaugh spent eight minutes with the media making frequent use of the word "bitter," upbraiding the officials. As Michigan fans commenced days, weeks, months and years with agony ricocheting through the corridors of the brain, Harbaugh had another barbarous loss to go with his 2011-12 NFC Championship Game, his 2012-13 Super Bowl, his 2013-14 NFC Championship Game and his punter-fumble loss last year to Michigan State.

"I'm bitter," he said, reeling off grievances such as a non-call with Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley guarding Michigan wide receiver Grant Perry on Michigan's last offensive play, preceding the field goal that put Michigan ahead 27-24.

"Weird life, man," said Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer, who collapsed to the ground in relief at the winning touchdown, one play after the achingly narrow spot.

In the weird life on Saturday evening, they stormed a field in Boulder, Colorado. Colorado (10-2, 8-1) was bound for a Pac-12 title game with Washington (11-1, 8-1), a matter of runaway wonder and lunacy for a team ranked last in Pac-12 pre-season polls. After a gutty 27-22 win over Utah, senior safety Tedric Thompson told reporters, "Nobody thought we'd be here, especially four years ago," and that's true, especially as some back then thought Colorado had disbanded.

Now Mike MacIntyre is the national coach of the year, unless you want to name Penn State's James Franklin, and just look at what's embedded in that particular season. On Sept. 24, the irrelevant Penn State became 49-10 yard mulch at Michigan to go 0-1 in the Big Ten. It had injured linebackers strewn all over campus. On Oct. 1, it played at home against Minnesota, which took a 23-20 lead with 54 seconds left.

So here's another nod to quarterback Trace McSorley for the third-and-10 pass that followed, and for his 26-yard run that followed that, and to Tyler Davis for his rock-gutted, game-tying, 40-yard field goal with two seconds left. That turned out to be the hinge that led not only to a 29-26 overtime win, but, boom, seven straight more wins to follow, the last a 45-12 wreckage of Michigan State, which beat Penn State 55-16 just 12 months ago. "We got better every week," Franklin said, and really, who knew?

Now two second-tier types will play for the Big Ten title, and either or neither will reach the ultimate prize, and people will try to make sense of it but fail. Meanwhile, Herman will return to one of the six Texas schools at which he has coached, while LSU hires a happy guy hollering out the window, as should we all whenever possible.


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