The two most important games of this college football season didn’t happen on New Year’s Day. They actually took place in August and September.
Any reasonable person who watched LSU’s 28-24 win over Wisconsin and Auburn’s six-point victory at Kansas State presumably came away with the impression that opponents were pretty evenly matched. If one play goes the other way in either contest, the outcomes might have flipped.
Framed that way, it makes you wonder how wins over About The Same As The Badgers University and A Little Better Than The Wildcats Tech would merit a spot for Mississippi State on the cover of Sports Illustrated, let alone the No. 1 position in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. Or how a win over those three squads helped cemented Alabama as the top seed in the postseason tournament. And then there were the pundits throwing out bold claims like “the SEC West is the best division in college football history” while one of its members was sneaking by Louisiana-Monroe -- in November.
By its very nature, college football can’t function without opinion and consensus playing a central role. Yet, it often feels as though the sport has been reduced to a neverending episode of “First Take” dominated by hype and simpleminded talking points. Aside from dumbing down the dialogue, that kind of climate lends itself to exaggeration of Tebow-ian proportions. And the vast majority of that mindless chatter appears to be coming from south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
So if you want to know why America amassed a record level of collective schadenfreude on Thursday night when Ohio State, the flagship of the beleaguered Big Ten, took down Alabama, there’s your explanation.
No matter what happens in any particular series of bowl games, there’s no denying that year in and year out, the SEC generally fields the strongest collection of football programs of any league in the country. If that’s how we define the best college football conference on the planet, it would be foolish to argue otherwise.
But now that we’ve got that settled, this postseason raises a more important question: What does it really matter?