SPORTS DIGEST: Despite two great games, college playoffs need to expand


January 4, 2018

Now that we are a second Southeastern Conference championship game away from crowning the next college football champion, can we expand the College Football Playoffs to eight teams?

There are more than four teams that deserve a chance to play in the tournament. After all, there are five major conferences and each of those conferences should have a chance to play for the championship.

This year, the Big 10 and Pac 12 champions were on the outside looking in because the committee that chooses the four finalists thought a one-loss non-conference champion (Alabama) deserved the opportunity more than a one-loss conference champion (Ohio State from the Big 10).

That being said, the two semifinal games Jan. 1 were great college football games. Georgia staged a fantastic second-half comeback to defeat Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime to win the Rose Bowl before Alabama came out and methodically rolled over Clemson, 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl, making it an all Southeast Conference final Jan. 11 in Glendale, Arizona.

The Rose Bowl was exceptional. It was the first Rose Bowl to over go into overtime. Oklahoma and Georgia broke the Rose Bowl scoring record set last year by USC and Penn State. It was Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma against the two-man running tandem of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb of Georgia.

Georgia won on a 27-yard run by Michel after the Bulldogs blocked a field goal attempt on Oklahoma’s possession.

Michel and Chubb combined for 326 yards rushing in the game while Mayfield completed 23 of 35 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. Mayfield also caught a touchdown pass while battling back from a flu bug that caused him to miss a couple of practices leading up to the game.

The semifinals games were exactly what you what to see leading up to the championship game, but after watching Ohio State dismantle USC Dec. 29, it’s hard to picture Ohio State not belonging in the final four.

But Alabama’s recent dominance of college football was hard for the committee to ignore. The Crimzon Tide’s only loss came at the end of the season against arch rival Auburn. It elevated Auburn to the SEC Conference game against Georgia, a rematch of a game played earlier in the season that was won by Auburn. Georgia won the rematch in the SEC title game.

Auburn further blemished its record by losing to the University of Central Florida, 34-27 in the Peach Bowl, giving Central Florida a 13-0 and at least an argument that it deserved a spot in the tournament, too.

Which is why the tournament needs to expand to eight teams.

The five major conferences each should have a representative. That would have put Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson, Ohio State and USC as the first five. Alabama makes six. Central Florida was the best team not in one of the big five conferences so that makes seven teams.

Losing the final polls that would leave Wisconsin or Auburn next in line. Wisconsin only lost to Ohio State in the Big 10 title game so I would have picked the Badgers and that’s a good eight-team tournament.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith was chosen the outstanding defensive player in the Rose Bowl, after making 11 tackles and being all over the field for the Bulldogs.

Smith originally committed to play at UCLA as part of the 2015 recruiting class. However, Jeff Ulbrich, the UCLA defensive coordinator at the time, left shortly after Smith orally committed to UCLA to become the Atlanta Falcons linebackers coach.

Smith changed his mind and went to Georgia. Jim Mora might still have a job if Smith had come to Westwood.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold was under pressure all night from the Ohio State Buckeyes defense in the 24-7 loss Dec. 29. Three first half turnovers contributed to the loss. (Photo by Nick Koza)

USC FLOPS: USC’s 24-7 loss to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl Dec. 29 was a disappointing way to end a season that started with promise that never fully materialized.

The Trojans had a tough time blocking Ohio State’s line and only scored once, despite rolling up more yardage than the Buckeyes. Here’s hoping quarterback Sam Darnold decides he needs another year of experience and returns for his junior year next year. He needs to learn to cut down on his turnovers before turning pro.

Of course if he has to play behind that offensive line for another year, he might be safer in the NFL, even if that means the Cleveland Browns.

First-year head coach Sean McVay has led the Los Angeles Rams into the playoffs. The 12-4 Rams face the Atlanta Falcons Jan. 6 in the Coliseum. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams)

RAMS IN PLAYOFFS: Sure didn’t think I would have been typing those three words in September, but the Los Angeles Rams will face the Atlanta Falcons Jan. 6 at 5:15 p.m. in the Coliseum in the first NFC wild card game.

It will be an interesting matchup, especially among the offensive coordinators for both teams. The Rams coordinator, Matt LaFleur, was the Falcons quarterback coach last year, part of the coaching staff that saw the Falcons take a 28-3 third quarter lead over the New England Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl.

The Falcons’ offensive coordinator knows his way around the Coliseum. Steve Sarkisian returns to the Coliseum for the first time since he was fired by USC in 2015.

Although the Falcons have the edge in playoff experience, the Rams are a 6 ½-point favorite. That is no doubt based on the Rams defense. If the Rams win, they face Minnesota Jan. 14 in the second round of the playoffs.

FINAL WORD: I still say the most popular professional team in Los Angeles is the Oakland Raiders. Their fans packed StubHub Center Dec. 31 in the season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers. I would estimate that four of every five fans was in Raider gear. And the Chargers get to witness that happen every year.

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