On Friday Dec. 5, 2014, the Oregon Ducks leveled the Arizona Wildcats, 51-13 in the Pac-12 Championship game. On Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, The Florida State Seminoles remained undefeated by squeaking past a feisty Georgia Tech team, 37-35. That same day, the Alabama Crimson Tide took Missouri to the woodshed in the SEC Championship Game, 42-13. Later that night, the Ohio State Buckeyes completed a masterful turnaround of a season, winning their 11th game in a row in emphatic fashion, 59-0 over Wisconsin.
The above results were some of the (and in Ohio State's case, probably the biggest) deciding factors in how the College Football Playoff Committee decided to fill the inaugural College Football Playoff. There were, as we all remember, rumblings about Big-12 teams sitting the first football "Final Four" out, and some of the critiques were fair, to an extent. But in the end, it was Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State that would play premier the newest era in college football's postseason.
No use wasting time reliving the marvel that was Ohio State's win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Or even Oregon's complete and total ownership of the 'Noles in the Rose Bowl. Well, we can re-live one part of the Rose Bowl, anyway...
After that, it was a national championship for the Buckeyes after devouring roasted Duck in Jerry World. And thus ended the 2014 season.
Now, in 2015, those same four teams are having a devil of a time living up to their reputations from the previous year. Ohio State's situation is one thing, coming in as the consensus No. 1 team in the country in the preseason. But the other three teams were well-represented in the AP preseason top 10, too. Alabama started the year at No. 3, Oregon at No. 7 and Florida State at No. 10. Given the right combination of wins and losses, there was an honest to goodness shot at having all four keep their place for the second go at the College Football Playoff.
But, as usual, college football is a fickle game, and the results speak for themselves. Let's check in on last year's National Semifinalists.
Ohio State (4-0, AP: No. 1, Coaches: No. 1)
It's been a weird year for the Buckeyes so far. First you have Braxton Miller changing positions. Then Cardale Jones surprises more than a few and wins the starting job over J.T. Barrett. Then the Buckeyes spin moved their way to a big road win against Virginia Tech.
And then ... pedestrian 38-0 win over Hawaii. Disappointing 20-13 win over Northern Illinois. Somewhat impressive, if not somewhat aggravating at times, 38-12 win over Western Michigan. What the Buckeyes showed in Lane Stadium on Labor Day -- a multi-faceted offense and a killer defense -- seemed to have some trouble getting back to Columbus. Sure, the defense has been dominant, and has certainly looked as ferocious as ever. But the offense has been largely disapointing. Miller was supposed to be the new toy in the offense, but after his spin move against Virginia Tech, he's been largely missing from the offense. Jones has looked both great (opening drive against Western Michigan) and awful (Northern Illinois). Ezekiel Elliott has hit 100+ yards in every game, but isn't the workhorse most expected he would be.
Now a lot of this can be explained by the fact that the teams Ohio State has faced have thrown non-traditional defenses at them, or that the Buckeyes are breaking in a new offensive coordinator, or that maybe Urban Meyer is treating these opening games like the preseason, and he doesn't want to give away the farm too early. With Big Ten season opening this weekend, we'll probably get an answer to the latter soon.
Florida State (3-0, No. 11, No. 9)
#TalkingBoutTheNoles! That little upstart squad up in Tallahassee! What a difference a starting quarterback makes. Where once Jameis Winston led every story about Florida State (for good and bad reasons), now the Seminoles are being quietly ignored. And maybe rightfully so: their 34-14 win against South Florida wasn't anything to write home about. And a 14-0 Friday night victory at Boston College was as ugly as it sounds. How invisible has FSU been this year? They didn't play last week, and I didn't know that until I looked up their schedule.
The 'Noles go to Wake Forest before facing a murderer's row of likely wins: Bill C. says they'll be double-digit projected victors in all but one game, at Clemson on Nov. 7. Maybe quiet is the way to do it this year. And maybe that's why Florida State is #2 in the S&P+ Rankings.
Alabama (3-1, No. 13, No. 13)
The Crimson Tide opened their season with major questions at quarterback, but still managed to double up on Wisconsin in week one. A ho-hum win over Middle Tennessee followed, before a huge home showdown against Ole Miss, one of two teams to beat Alabama in 2014. The Tide put 37 on a vaunted Ole Miss defense ... but allowed 43 and lost. The SEC season continues this week at Georgia where the Tide are an underdog for the first time since 2009.
Alabama still has questions at quarterback. Their offensive coordinator continues to forget about Derrick Henry as an option on offense (though it may be because Mr. Kiffin is busy with other things). But this is still Alabama, and, even as an underdog, you can't count out the Tide: the last head coach to go head-to-head with an underdog Nick Saban was Urban Meyer. We all remember how that game turned out.
Oregon (2-2, NR, No. 24)
This one is really the puzzler of the group. Losing to Michigan State in East Lansing isn't a bad thing at all. Losing by just three and going to the wire is even better. But last weekend was something completely different. A 62-20 shellacking in Autzen Stadium to a Utah team that needed four quarters to beat Michigan in Salt Lake City. Oregon's defense, exposed in the Championship last year by Ohio State, was beaten mercilessly by Utah:
Four games in, every potential weakness has become an extreme weakness. The secondary is shipwrecked, asking for quite a bit from sophomores Arrion Springs and Chris Seisay and freshmen Ugo Amadi, Glen Ihenacho and Khalil Oliver. Opponents are completing 64 percent of their passes, and the Ducks rank 113th in passer rating allowed (152.7).
If the Ducks aren't careful, 2-2 could turn into 8-4 (or worse) very quickly.
Through a quarter of the season, we've learned a few things about last year's Championship semifinalists. First, defense can save you (Ohio State) or kill you (Oregon). Second, early losses are all part of the plan sometimes (Alabama, if it can shake off the Ole Miss game and go 2014 Ohio State on the rest of the SEC). Third, sometimes quiet is the best way to get invited back to the party (Florida State).
But most importantly, the thing to remember is this: Reloading is hard. Rebuilding is harder. And more than any of those, repeating is the most difficult thing to do.