Bravo to college football for making a national title by its greatest dynasty come as something of a surprise

Is it possible to be shocked when Alabama wins a national championship?

I would have said no before Monday night. That 26-23 overtime win over Georgia was almost too much to process, even for Nick Saban, who when it was over actually sputtered “I’ve never been happier in my life.”

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, right, sits next to head coach Nick Saban during a press conference in Atlanta, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Alabama beat Georgia in overtime to win the NCAA college football playoff championship game. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Think of what just happened here. The Tide won with Saban grasping for straws this time, not mechanically processing and dominating one situation after another.

When his young star quarterback got off to a lousy start, Saban switched to an even younger one, true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, and came climbing out of a couple of 13-point holes. Oh, and the hero is a lefty from Hawaii wearing lucky No. 13. You know, the usual.

When Alabama’s kicker missed two standard-range field goals, including what should have been the game-winner in regulation, Saban forfeited his usual bonus of stellar special-teams play but overcame that, too.

Finally, when a disastrous sack opened Alabama’s overtime possession, Saban hoped that new playcaller Brian Daboll, a former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator, could come up with something remotely positive to get his balky kicker in position to force a second extra period.

Who could have dreamed that the game would end on the next play, a 41-yard touchdown bomb, and that Georgia’s night would turn out so horribly wrong after the Bulldogs had done so many things right?

It’s not like Saban has never been shocked and disappointed in a similar manner. Clemson beat Alabama in last year’s national title game with one second remaining. Also, at the end of the 2014 season, the top-ranked Tide drew No. 4 Ohio State in the first College Football Playoff and lost 42-35.

This year, though, it was Alabama’s time to squeeze into the last playoff spot. That got a lot of people grumbling, and not only because the Tide didn’t even win their division, or because the title game was an all-SEC affair. The biggest annoyance was that everybody kind of figured Saban would win it all again, like always.

Well, Alabama did win it, but not like always. This was a crazy demolition derby, with tensions so high that one Tide player had to be restrained from going after an unidentified man on the sidelines and another player needed emergency personnel to cart him away with some kind of medical issue.

Put it all together and you’ve got five national titles in nine years for Saban at Alabama. Miami fans don’t need that kind of dynasty to be explained to them. The Hurricanes won four titles in nine years, plus five in the space of 19, and ESPN made an epic 30-for-30 documentary about it.

What if I were to tell you that Saban isn’t slowing down at the age of 66, and that after winning six national titles, including one with LSU in 2003, he’s still adapting and finding new ways to crush the competition?

That’s not a documentary. It’s a horror movie, played on an endless loop.

[Richt must advance beyond his Year 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]

[Does anybody, including Nebraska’s Scott Frost, want a piece of UCF now?]

Most got in free for college hoops’ inaugural title game, which was played in a stuffy, old campus gym

 

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is kind of a big deal.

This year’s Final Four, for instance, will be played in the same Arizona stadium where Super Bowls and national college football titles games have been played, and no tickets will be left over.

The thing wasn’t always so enormous, however, or so special.

In 1939, the first year of the NCAA tourney, eight teams were in the field and the championship game was played in what seems like a closet by today’s standards.

Northwestern University’s original Patten Gymnasium, since demolished and replaced, was the site of Oregon’s 46-33 win over Ohio State that inaugural year. According to an old Chicago Tribune article, a crowd of 5,500 attended the game, with many of them getting in free.

James Naismith, basketball’s inventor, attended the game that night in Evanston, Ill. Everything else about the affair was extremely low key, with Northwestern’s athletic director even advertising the need for four extra-long beds to accommodate the taller players on the visiting Oregon team.

TV coverage? Not a chance, not even locally.

The other teams in the tournament field that year were Texas, Oklahoma, Villanova, Utah State, Wake Forest and Brown. Pretty cool to think that Villanova was in the first NCAA tournament and enters the 2017 version, 78 years later, as the defending champion.

For some time the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden was better known than the NCAA, and usually had better teams. There even were cases where teams played in both events.

As a result, the following oddities jump out from NCAA tournament history.

San Francisco has won more NCAA championships (two) than Ohio State or Michigan or UNLV or Syracuse (one each).

Loyola-Chicago and CCNY and La Salle and Holy Cross have as many (one each) as Georgetown and Marquette and Arkansas (one each).

Oklahoma A&M has as many (two) as Florida and Michigan State and North Carolina State.

[Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all]

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to a healthier, happier life]

[NCAA berths weren’t automatic for UM in Rick Barry’s golden era]

And Oregon? They took that first NCAA title and haven’t scored one since. They’re a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region this week, however, with Iona and Creighton between the Ducks and the Sweet 16.

Anything can happen. Looking at the history of this quirky tournament, from its days on the back pages of the newpaper to billion-dollar TV contracts of today, just about everything already has.

Might as well just let ESPN directly manage the college football championship product

So here’s an idea.

Rather than fooling around with committees and weekly rankings and complaints about which criteria are being absolutely applied, why not just let ABC and ESPN pick the four College Football Playoff participants according to which matchups promise them the best TV ratings?

YEAR IN FOCUS - SPORTS (1 of a set of 105) GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11: Lawrence Erekosima #43 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after defeating the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Crimson Tide defeated the Tigers with a score of 45 to 40. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Don’t sweat the seedings, which if mishandled or bound by some mechanical process might pair up teams like Alabama and Ohio State prior to the championship game.

Forget conference championship games. Well, other than the bonus money they bring in.

Just allow the TV networks to select their headliners with one all-encompassing December press release, based on the eyeball test and brand power and the wishes of advertising sponsors. After that, the boys in the colorful bowl committee sportcoats can fight it out over whoever’s left.

Wait, you’re not comfortable without some sort of predetermined structure to the process of choosing national semifinalists?

Fine, so do it Electoral College style.

Cable TV executives from the nation’s largest markets get 20 votes each in selecting the college powerhouses that their customers would most enjoy seeing. Middle-sized markets get 10 votes each. Remote outposts like Casper, Wyo.? They get half a vote.

What you’ll get out of that is a couple of teams from down South (People have come to expect it), a classic Big Ten brand name (or Notre Dame when they’re hot) and some team from out West (can’t have an entire region of the country tuning out).

Nobody’s going to care about records. Nobody’s going to cry about some upstart being left out, even if they’re unbeaten, because there’s a lot to watch on TV these days and Western Michigan football is the wrong kind of reality show.

[Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaign follows successful pattern of Tebow]

[FSU keeping Jimbo is most important news since FSU hiring Jimbo]

[FAU job was tough enough without Butch Davis moving in next door]

Cut to the chase, that’s what I’m saying. Come up with some good matchups and dare college football fans to change the channel based on hurt feelings or on analytical arguments about head-to-head matchups and such.

Pare it all down to one question, the only one that matters, apparently. Are we not entertained? There need be no other rule, no endless series of meetings, once the College Football Playoff committee system is abolished and TV’s larger goals are wired directly to the NCAA’s celebrity roster.

Tell you the truth, it kind of feels like we’re there already.

AP’s all-time Top 100 may favor Buckeyes, but FSU is on the fastest climb

Hey, I thought we weren’t supposed to worry so much about the Associated Press college football poll anymore. Now the AP has come out with its all-time Top 25 based entirely on the organization’s data and everyone’s getting bent out of shape?

Miami fans are howling that five national titles ought to be worth more than No. 13 on the all-time list.

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2003,  file photo, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel holds up the championship trophy after Ohio State beat Miami 31-24 in two overtimes in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. The Associated Press has been ranking the best teams in college football for the last 80 seasons. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)
TEMPE, Ariz. – Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel holds up the championship trophy after Ohio State beat Miami 31-24 in two overtimes in the Fiesta Bowl to win the 2002 national championship. The Associated Press has been ranking the best teams in college football for the last 80 seasons. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)

The Florida Gators come in at No. 10, second only to Alabama among SEC schools, and that has everybody else in the conference upset.

Florida State is No. 9 and what Seminoles fans want to know is how Texas, a proud program stuck in a terrible slump, could be ranked above them.

All of this is beautiful to me. It’s the reason the AP list always has mattered in August, when there are no games to play and passionate college football nuts can’t wait to win something, anything, even an imaginary list built on all kinds of arbitrary factors.

What’s needed here is an understanding of exactly what this all-time Top 100 is supposed to be. The AP isn’t saying that Ohio State, No. 1 in this poll, is the best program in history.

It’s not saying that the Buckeyes’ five AP national championships are more important than Miami’s five, or that Notre Dame’s greatness in the 1940s was more significant than FSU’s in the 1990s.

This thing is an amalgamation of everything that has come before, with AP staffers doing an exhaustive search of every poll since the poll began in 1936. From that points were awarded for how many times a program was included in the Top 25 through the years, how many times it rose to No. 1 in a weekly poll and how many times it was awarded an AP national title.

Consistency is rewarded most of all. Being a name brand for longer than other programs brings consistency in this setting.

Regional bias in the earliest years of the poll makes a big difference, too. And if anyone’s looking to debate which polls matter and which don’t, forget it. This AP Top 100 recognizes national champions recognized by the AP alone, and not all those ancient other ones that you’ve never heard of which always show up on the resumes of Alabama and Notre Dame and other bluebloods.

Put it all together and it’s ridiculously impressive that FSU could find a spot in the all-time AP Top Ten.

[The Olympic gold medal sprinter who played for the Miami Dolphins]

[Amar’e Stoudemire belongs on my list of all-time greats from state of Florida]

[Here’s a fun look back at Dolphins’ first training camp at Boca Raton in 1966]

The Seminoles didn’t even field a football team until 1954. That means 18 years of AP polls had already gone by with no chance of representation for FSU but tons of recognition for Ohio State and Oklahoma and Southern Cal and Nebraska and similar monster programs.

FSU didn’t appear in an AP poll until 1964. Since then Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher have combined to push the Seminoles to the No. 1 position in 72 weekly AP polls. That’s only two times fewer than Alabama, which has been at this thing from the start.

Penn State, meanwhile, has been No. 1 in 19 weekly polls and has just two AP national titles, which doesn’t compare too well with Miami’s 67 times at No. 1 plus five national titles.

Still, the Nittany Lions come in at No. 12, one spot above the Hurricanes, because they’ve always been there. That’s what the numbers say, with Penn State appearing in 53.4 percent of all AP polls throughout history and Miami appearing in 41.5 percent.

Bottom line, don’t let this thing eat your lunch. It’s something to talk about, or shout about, with the certainty that no one will ever be completely satisifed, even all-time top dog Ohio State, which has Urban Meyer but still can’t seem to push Jim Harbaugh and Michigan out of the headlines.

Here’s a reason to crow. The AP Top 100 verifies that FSU, Miami and Florida have established themselves as elite programs and that they’ve done so the hard way, by winning a lot of games in a short time.

The Hurricanes would be higher if they hadn’t lost their momentum in recent years. On top of that, it won’t matter what any all-time poll says if Miami gets great in real time. That’s what brings in the recruits and makes the stadium rock and gets people eager to see the rankings the drive the industry these days.

That would be the College Football Playoff committee rankings. A topic for another day, much later in the season, long after this provocative and entertaining AP Top 100 has been pushed down the list of rage-worthy college fan debates.