“Past success and Nick Saban, that’s why Alabama is in.”
Ohio State is set to play the USC Trojans in the Cotton Bowl Classic on Dec. 29. It’s a major bowl that most teams in the country would be clamoring to get into, but is a bit of a letdown for the Buckeyes, who had been hoping for a playoff spot. Instead, the Alabama Crimson Tide managed to make it into the No. 4 spot in the playoff, behind Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia. By accepting Bama into the fold, the playoff committee omitted two conferences--the Big Ten and Pac-12--from contention in the College Football Playoff. Those conferences’ champions, Ohio State and USC, both won an additional conference matchup against a highly ranked opponent to earn their bids, while Alabama did not make its conference title game.
According to ESPN analyst David Pollack, the committee selected Alabama over Ohio State based on past success, rather than what the Crimson Tide demonstrated on the field this season. Pollack cited that the Bama defense, which has been one of the best in the nation in recent years, has taken a step back this year. While some of this erosion can be attributed to injury (including some serious problems at linebacker), Pollack called the unit “the most vulnerable defense at Alabama in a long time.”
Despite Pollack’s words, Bama still ranks second nationally in total defense, and has given up just 138 points on the season. The Tide opened as a one-point favorite over Clemson in the CFP semifinal--a rematch of last season’s championship game which the Tigers won. This year will be the third-straight season that the two teams have met in the playoff.
While the same “past success” argument could be made for why the committee selected Ohio State last season, the group still forewent choosing two teams from the same conference, thereby shutting out an additional conference from the final four.
“He’s a firecracker. So I was just telling him like relax, we’re going to be in a good position, we’re going to be in a good game. And we’re going to go against a great team.”
Several of the potential College Football Playoff contenders had watch parties together Sunday afternoon as they awaited the reveal of the top-four from the playoff committee. Ohio State did not. The team returned home early Sunday morning after a thrilling, six-point win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game, with Urban Meyer admitting that he didn’t get to bed until about 4:30 a.m. Instead of gathering together just a few hours later, Meyer gave his players the chance to process the news, for better or worse, in their own ways.
Senior linebacker Chris Worley took things well, remarking that it was a blessing to be in the position that they are, while Meyer reflected on how he has grown over the years in his response. He continuously referred to his senior players in the room with him at the press conference, who kept him on track with the bigger picture. While he used to take things hard, “where I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep,” he has attempted to move towards reflection and appreciation in tune with what Worley has expressed.
Meyer emphasized the bigger picture of what his team had accomplished, even pointing out the spot in the facility where the recognition of this year’s Big Ten Championship would go. His senior quarterback echoed that sentiment, stating that “what we achieved last night in the locker room and what we achieved last night being Big Ten champs; no one can take that from us.”
While Meyer acknowledged that his team was likely devastated at being left out of the playoff--J.T. Barrett admitted that he was “hurt by us not getting in”--but that the team is handling it like a family. The coach said he loves his team and that they have done everything right up to this point, and that they are going to now focus their work on beating yet another great team.
“The reality is, the beauty of arthroscopy is that it involves three incisions of less than 1 cm, a minimally invasive procedure and quick recovery.”
J.T. Barrett knows what it’s like to miss a game due to injury. Even worse, he knows what it is like to get injured against Michigan and be sidelined for the postseason while the backup takes over and wins the game for his team. Getting knocked out against the Wolverines last month must have been terrible deja vu for the senior quarterback, as he indicated Saturday: “Last time I got us to the party, but I wasn’t let in.”
Credit Barrett’s toughness for making a comeback from arthroscopic knee surgery in less than a week to take his team to their first Big Ten title in three years. And while Barrett certainly deserves the credit he’s received, the reality is that, from a medical perspective, there was minimal risk to Barrett in playing Saturday. Such dangers might include swelling, pain and the possibility of infection.
Some, like all-pro left tackle Joe Thomas, questioned the wisdom of Barrett coming back so soon, especially if he was not given the opportunity for a second opinion from another physician. Thomas, who himself has had significant knee surgeries, indicated that such practice is standard in the NFL. He also acknowledged his feelings regarding the coaching staff having too much control in these situations.
Given what is known about the injury, it would seem that Barrett’s surgery was done to trim a torn meniscus, which is minimally invasive and which does not require extended recovery. The bigger danger, however, is the fact that Barrett may have been playing on the injury for the duration of the season, which could have led to greater risk down the road.
Nonetheless, Barrett was ready for Saturday, and was able to manage his recovery to get back on the field within six days of his surgery to lead his team to a title.