Tim Crone: Virus makes college football playoff choices more difficult

The Examiner
Tim Crone

The 2020 college football season is unpredictable – not only which teams are in the top four but also which teams will play week to week.

As an example, Northwestern beat Wisconsin last week 17-7. That puts the Wildcats at 5-0 and the Badgers 2-1. Wisconsin, however, has been hit extremely hard by the COVID-19 virus and has not played for two straight weeks. Football requires more preparation time than most other sports.

The committee that selects the four teams to play in the NCAA Division I playoffs will have to use the eye test to determine who should be able to play for the national championship. Loss of key players due to the virus has become a huge factor. Clemson lost to Notre Dame when the Tigers lost Heisman Trophy shoo-in quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The Fighting Irish are ranked No. 2 in the country with that huge win, but if they play Clemson again with Lawrence in the game, you can put your money on the Tigers. Clemson is ranked fourth in the country at the present time so the rematch is a real possibility.

The lineup of teams is like scrambled eggs this year. Oregon is ranked No. 11 and they have played only four games. BYU is ranked eighth at 9-0. They have played twice as many games as Oregon, but obviously that is not a factor in who will move on to play at the end of the year.

Three of the top teams in the country are out of the SEC. Alabama is No. 1, followed by fellow conference members Texas A&M at No. 5 and Florida at No. 6. These three teams have to be valued at a higher scale than say Pac-10 teams that have only played 2-3 games in a much weaker league.

Since there are no nonconference games it is impossible to evaluate a true performance. Cincinnati is having a great season, but they are not in the same class as the usual powerhouse teams. Last Saturday Indiana played Ohio State. Indiana is having the best season they have had in 35 years and they played a talented Ohio State team to a tough 42-35 loss. Cincinnati obviously does not have nearly as tough a schedule.

The Big 12 is having a remarkably interesting 2020 season. Iowa State is challenging for a conference championship and they have not been contenders for decades. The traditional Big-12 powerhouses of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas are also ranked but have had some bad losses. The Big 12 conference champion this year will not be a serious contender to move into the playoff picture.

Teams like Coastal Carolina (8-0), Marshall (7-0), Liberty (8-0) and Louisiana-Lafayette (7-1) have great records but come on man, they can’t play with teams like Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Clemson. They would most likely get hammered by Texas A&M, Florida and Indiana just to mention a few. Miami is in the ACC and is 7-1 but they got taken apart by Clemson when the Tigers had everyone healthy.

The three teams that clearly have the most talent by evaluating the teams they play are Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson. Any of these teams can be taken out of the picture because of the COVID-19 situation. Clemson already has been affected. The thing that these three teams have in comparison to everyone else in the country is their quality depth. They have second team offenses and defenses that would start for 95% of the rest of the teams in the country.

Notre Dame deserves to be ranked second in the country because of its undefeated season and defeat of Clemson, but the reality is that they do not have as much depth. The committee already knows that Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson are the teams to beat. If the Irish can hang-on they will be in the final four. If Clemson is healthy they could easily regain a national championship.

Most people would put Alabama and Ohio State in the championship game. The Buckeyes could finally win another championship game but coach Nick Saban and the Tide will always be looming. It will all be up to how each team handles virus problems and remembers how to play the game.

• The quote of the week comes from English author Edward F. Benson: “How desperately difficult it is to be honest with oneself. It is much easier to be honest with other people.”

– Tim Crone, a William Chrisman High School graduate, is a former activities director and coach for Blue Springs High School and is a host of a weekly radio show, “Off the Wall with Tim Crone,” on KCWJ (1030 AM) 6 p.m. every Monday. He writes a weekly column for The Examiner. Reach him at t.crone@comcast.net.