It feels like the season started only a few days ago, but here we are, at the beginning of December, and college football’s regular season is over, except for Army and Navy. We now know which four teams will be competing for a national championship in the College Football Playoff. Here are the winners and losers of week 15, the final winners and losers of the season.
Winner: The College Football Playoff Selection Committee
For the second week in a row, I have the selection committee as a winner because the decision it had to make could not have been easier. No. 5 Utah lost on Friday night against No. 13 Oregon in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game, eliminating them from contention. No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Clemson all won their championship games, with LSU (13-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) taking No. 4 Georgia out of contention in the process. That made the Big 12 Championship Game between No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 7 Baylor a de facto play-in game for the final spot, which Oklahoma (12-1, 8-1 Big 12) won. Four playoff spots, four teams in the Power Five with one loss or fewer: It doesn’t get much easier than that. It’s always fun when the committee has a dramatic decision to make on Selection Sunday, but I have to admit, I feel some satisfaction when the decision on who gets in is decided on the football field and not in a conference room. Your 2019 College Football Playoff: No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Oklahoma.
Loser: The Pac-12
For a few weeks, it was actually looking good for the Pac-12. They had two teams ranked ahead of the top Big 12 team not that long ago, and both Oregon (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12) and Utah (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12) were getting key wins to stay below two losses. But in the last three weeks of the season, everything unraveled. Oregon probably controlled its own destiny heading into week 13, but then it lost that game to Arizona State. That and Alabama’s loss in the Iron Bowl propelled Utah to the fifth spot; had the Utes won the Pac-12, they would have had a strong case to jump into the playoff. Instead, they lost to none other than Oregon. Once again, the Pac-12 has played itself into oblivion, with each team having at least two losses, and once again, the conference has missed out on the playoff. They have the fewest playoff selections among the Power Five conferences.
Not only was week 15 important for determining the College Football Playoff field, but it also featured a heated race among three or four teams for a spot in the Cotton Bowl. The top-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five gets an automatic selection to a New Year’s Six bowl. In years past, there have been teams that ran away with this distinction, but this year it was a tight race heading into the final Saturday of the season. After a back-and-forth conference championship game in the American Athletic Conference (AAC), No. 17 Memphis has won that race and will represent the Group of Five in the New Year’s Six bowls. Facing No. 20 Cincinnati for the second time in as many weeks, the Tigers (12-1, 7-1 AAC) faced a much stiffer challenge from the Bearcats (10-3, 7-1 AAC) this time around, but were able to engineer a game-winning drive that ended in a touchdown with 1:14 remaining, grabbing a victory and sending Memphis to its biggest bowl game in program history.
Winner: Joe Burrow
Congratulations, Mr. Heisman. The official announcement of the winner will not be made until Saturday, Dec. 14, but the Heisman race has been all but won by redshirt senior quarterback Joe Burrow of LSU. Other contenders made their cases this past weekend as well. Sophomore quarterback Justin Fields of Ohio State had a solid outing against No. 8 Wisconsin, and Buckeyes junior running back J.K. Dobbins had another strong running performance, but Burrow was outstanding on Saturday. He threw for nearly 350 yards and completed four touchdown passes, tearing the Georgia Bulldogs (11-2, 7-1 SEC) to shreds. Georgia’s defense came into the game ranked fourth in the nation, but that did not stop Burrow from gunslinging the ball wherever he wished. I’d be shocked if anyone else took home the Heisman this year.
Honorable Mention: Body Slammin’
Not much went right for Georgia in the SEC Championship Game against LSU, but there were a couple of bright spots early in the game. In the first quarter, Georgia thought they had recovered a fumble deep in LSU territory. Head coach Kirby Smart was so thrilled by the fumble recovery that he tried to chest bump one of his defensive players. It did not end well. The player bumped Smart with so much force that he got slammed to the ground. And it turned out that the player was down anyway, and the fumble didn’t count. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, coach.