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All Points West: Elite 8 in college football ... What if?
January 15, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
The college season is officially done. Over. Kaput!

Clearly Alabama and Clemson put on quite a display Monday night. See, when the game matters, everyone brings their A game, and I for one, think the fans got their money’s worth. I’m not sure about the Tide and Tiger faithful who either road tripped or flew to Glendale, Ariz., for the NCAA showdown. In the end, though, the Crimson Tide’s Coach Nick Saban and his trusty right-hand man Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin (a USC head coaching flunkee) made the right calls, getting the offensive brain trust on track just enough to tip the scales in favor of Alabama in this college football shootout. The Tide finished on top, 45-40.

Give all due credit to Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney (a name right up there with Paul “Bear” Bryant and the late Joe Pa Paterno) and Heisman caliber quarterback Deshaun Watson, who single handedly kept the Tigers in the game. Speaking of the Heisman, Bama cut their powerful running back loose. Derrick Henry had 36 totes for 158 yards and three touchdowns, while Watson threw for 405 yards and four TDs on 30-of-47 attempts.

Without further analysis, there were so many sides to this clash of the titans, including the national title count. Saban has won his fifth, just one away from tying Bryant’s record six.

Intriguingly, ESPN drew an average of 25.7 million viewers, down 23 percent from the 33.4 million who watched last year, when the Ohio State Buckeyes shot down the Oregon Ducks for the 2015 title. Likely, the novelty of a true championship game wore off. Or, consider the fact that both teams hailed from the deep south (ACC and SEC) and didn’t translate into national appeal. Left coast and Midwest fans didn’t have dogs in the fight.

Still there are those who will quibble about who makes it into the playoff. The determination, made by 12 college football experts, including Nebraska’s beloved Tom Osborne and NU alum Barry Alvarez, who now serves as the athletic director for the University of Wisconsin. What if, one day Nebraska makes a run, would Alvarez and Osborne recuse themselves over a conflict of interest?

What if the playoffs expanded to eight teams? Some would say extending the season to one or two more games would push the playoffs well into February.

If Clemson had won the championship this season, they would have set a record as the first college team to win 15 games. Nebraska’s 2016 regular season schedule lists 12 games, 13 if you count the Big Ten championship. If they made it into the playoffs and advanced to the final, that count would extend to 15 games – or 17-18 in a fictitious eight-team bracket.

What if Iowa, Stanford, Ohio State and Notre Dame had that chance this year in the fictitious elite eight of college football? Michigan State would have been slated to play Stanford, at least according to the selection committee’s rankings at the end of the regular season. The matchups would have pitted No. 1 Clemson in a rematch with No. 8 Notre Dame. During the regular season, the Fighting Irish lost by two points, 24-22. The early October clash was played in Death Valley with rain coming down. Sans four turnovers by the Irish, the outcome likely would have changed the whole playoff picture. In my book, the Irish win the rematch.

On the other side of the bracket, Ohio State would have had a crack at the Tide. I can’t say enough about a coaching duel between Saban and Urben Myer, who by the way, called the game between Clemson and Bama. Stop Watson, and you stop the Tigers. Among the lower seeds, Michigan State does a better job on Stanford than Iowa, and the different styled offenses for Iowa and Oklahoma would have been like watching an awkward tennis match. Though, in the end, I would have picked Stanford based on sophomore Christian McCaffrey’s performance in the Rose Bowl as a major upset, and Notre Dame on the other side. Frankly, there are too many what ifs, and this is college football. Think, any given Saturday. Look for both the Cardinal and Notre Dame to be back in the hunt next season, which can’t come fast enough. The clock starts on spring practices and scrimmages. Nebraska plays its spring Red-White scrimmage on April 16 – already marked on my calendar. Patrick O’Brien, the four-star recruit out of San Juan Hills (Calif.), is already on the Lincoln campus, and will be there to compete with current first-string QB Tommy Armstrong. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound quarterback is ranked as the 17th best in the nation according to Scout.com. Stiff competition will make both of them better.

In side news, it was rumored Nebraska head coach Mike Riley was up for the job with the New Orleans Saints. As for now, it’s a rumor. Current Saints coach Sean Payton said he’ll remain with the “Who-Dat?” team for as long as they’ll have him.

According to his contract, that’s two more years. Keep in mind, the shifting landscape of college coaches and coaches in general could happen as quickly as the San Andreas shaking off half of the west coast, and regarding paychecks, there is no loyalty to any given program.

I’m looking for Nebraska to lead the Big Ten in making a big statement next season, beyond the disappointing losses this season.

Have faith … and … GBR!
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