College football roundup: Decisions looming for selection committee


College football roundup: Decisions looming for selection committee

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee releases its first set of rankings this week, which means that playoff speculation will dominate the national conversation for the rest of the season. This will be the third year of playoffs in college football and, by all accounts, they’ve been an unmitigated success. But it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point.

Up until 1998, the national championship was determined by polls, rather than settled on the field. The main recognized polls were conducted either by football writers (Associated Press) or football coaches (first United Press International, then ESPN and USA Today). The polls weren’t always taken at the same time—some were conducted at the end of the regular season and some after the post-season bowls—and they didn’t always agree. So “split” championships weren’t uncommon, spawning lots of water cooler discussion and media controversy.

In 1998, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was created, matching the No. 1 and 2 ranked teams as determined by a combination of human and computer polls. History will view the BCS as a mixed bag. Its main achievement was expanding college football from a regional to a national sport. Because of potential BCS ramifications, football fans in Columbus, Ohio were suddenly interested in the results of games in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and fans in Los Angeles were interested in the outcome of Texas-Oklahoma. 

As for matching the top two teams, the BCS, for the most part, got it right. The main exception was 2003, when the championship game didn’t include the AP’s No. 1 ranked team, USC. Lots of fans, including this one, thought the Trojans were the best team in the country that year.

During the last 10 years, as college football overtook Major League Baseball as the nation’s second most popular sport (after the NFL), both the media and the public clamored for a playoff that would include more than two teams. Finally, the commissioners of the five major conferences, along with the Notre Dame athletic director, bowed to pressure and created the College Football Playoffs, a four-team tournament that began in 2014. 

The four participating teams are selected by a 12-member blue-ribbon committee that includes five athletic directors (one from each of the Power Five conferences), four former head coaches, a former NCAA vice-president, a university provost, and a former college football reporter from USA Today. No computers are involved. 

While media pundits and college football fans everywhere will have a lot of fun dissecting and debating these rankings, it’s important to remember that it’s still early and much could change before the four teams are selected for the playoffs on December 4, otherwise known as Selection Sunday. 

Last weekend: A number of undefeated teams went down to defeat Saturday, including No. 7 Nebraska, No. 8 Baylor, No. 10 West Virginia and No. 13 Boise State. Meanwhile, No. 1 Alabama had a bye, while No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington all registered impressive victories on the road. Those results may have made things a little easier for the selection committee. 

Bears trapped: Cal was overwhelmed by resurgent USC last Thursday in Los Angeles. The Trojans have been on a roll since switching to redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, but the Pac-12’s made-for-TV schedule also may have affected the outcome. The Bears were playing their second straight weeknight game (after hosting Oregon the previous Friday), had only six days in between games, and had to go on the road. The Trojans, meanwhile, were coming off a bye week, had 13 days to prepare, and didn’t have to travel. 

Academics? We’re used to hearing a lot of lofty rhetoric from conference officials, school presidents and athletic directors about concern for the "student-athlete.” When it comes to scheduling, however, it seems that concern for the almighty TV dollar takes precedence over any worries about missed class time. Consider these comments from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott in response to a question about Cal’s back-to-back weeknight games: "That hasn't been a parameter, academic schedules per se, so it hasn't come up at any of our discussions…at the bottom, we’ve got obligations with our business partners." 

Salary inflation: Last week USA Today published its annual listing of the salaries of college football head coaches. Leading the way was Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh at a tidy $9 million, or $9,004,000 to be exact. Not bad for a guy who was sent packing by the 49ers two years ago. Alabama’s Nick Saban was second at $6,939,395 with Ohio State’s Urban Meyer third at $6,003,000 (exactly two-thirds of Harbaugh’s base). I suspect Meyer will bring that disparity up to his president if the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines later this month.

In all, 36 college coaches are making $3 million or more this year. Stanford’s David Shaw was 19th on the list at a reported $4,067,219. Cal’s Sonny Dykes was 39th at $2,900,000. 

A little perspective might be of interest here. I was Sports Information Director at Stanford in the late 1970s and served on the search committee when Bill Walsh was hired as head coach. Walsh’s salary in 1977 was $40,000, which according to the Social Security Wage Index equated to $196,760 last year (2016 numbers are not yet available). Of course, in Walsh’s day only one or two games per week were televised and mega-rights fees were unheard of. Now the Pac-12 is getting $3 billion in TV rights over 12 years, and 60 games per week are televised on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ABC, Fox, Fox Sports 1, CBS, NBC and conference networks.

Heisman update: 1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville QB—had another Heisman moment with a game-winning TD pass in the final seconds vs. Virginia; 2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB—led Clemson to a huge win over Florida State with 430 yards total offense; 3. Jake Browning, Washington QB—not a big game statistically, but orchestrated an important win over Utah. 4; Jabrill Peppers, Michigan—do-everything cornerback ran for a score and returned a failed 2-point conversion attempt; 5. Donnell Pumphrey, San Diego State RB—won’t win because of mediocre opposition, but may get an invite to New York. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook are starting to make some noise, but it’s most likely too little, too late.

WNBA All-Star sues Cal over alleged sexual assault


WNBA All-Star sues Cal over alleged sexual assault

BERKELEY — Former California women’s basketball player and current WNBA All-Star guard Layshia Clarendon has filed a lawsuit against Cal claiming she was sexually assaulted by a longtime member of the athletic department.

The school acknowledged the lawsuit Wednesday night and said the staff member, Mohamed Muqtar, had recently been placed on paid leave. The assistant director of student services, Muqtar has been working for the university for just more than 25 years, the school said. An e-mail to Muqtar’s Cal email account was not immediately returned.

Cal said in a statement “the University is aware of the complaint, but has not received a copy of the lawsuit nor had the benefit of reviewing the allegations.”

Clarendon, who plays for the Atlanta Dream and was at Cal from 2009-13, posted on Twitter her thoughts about the lawsuit.

She said in three separate tweets:

— “Regarding the news today: I want the shame to not be my own anymore, because it’s not my shame to carry, but it’s something that I’ve had to carry. It’s a horrible thing to live in silence, to carry that pain and that weight and the guilt.”

— “My biggest hope is that he never does this to anyone else. That no one else has to suffer under his hand, or him violating their bodies again. That this would be the end of him assaulting people. #TimesUp.”

— “It feels there is a big level of responsibility there for me, to make sure this doesn’t continue. And he doesn’t continue to harm other people.”

Cal explained in its statement that this case goes beyond the athletic department for investigation.

The statement reads: “Our department policy states that once anyone in Cal Athletics is made aware of any instance or allegation of a violation of University policy involving a coach, staff member or student-athlete, those matters are referred to the appropriate departments on campus responsible for investigating them. Athletics does not have its own specific conduct process nor does it investigate allegations or cases on its own, but follows the University’s policy and works in concert with campus professionals who are responsible for those areas. All university staff are also required to complete sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention training, and those programs have increased in recent years. Cal Athletics is and will always be committed to fostering a culture where everyone feels safe, welcome and respected. We encourage anyone who is feeling distressed or troubled to contact the PATH to Care Center and other campus resources.

“Layshia holds a special place in our history for her contributions to Cal women’s basketball both on and off the court and we are saddened to hear of the allegations that are coming to light today.”

Alabama wins national title on epic walk-off touchdown in OT


Alabama wins national title on epic walk-off touchdown in OT


ATLANTA -- To add another championship to the greatest dynasty college football has ever seen, Alabama turned to its quarterback of the future, and Tua Tagovailoa proved that his time is now.

The freshman quarterback, who had played mostly mop-up duty this season, came off the bench to spark a comeback and threw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith that gave No. 4 Alabama a 26-23 overtime victory against No. 3 Georgia on Monday night for the College Football Playoff national championship.

Tagovailoa entered the game at halftime, replacing a struggling Jalen Hurts, and threw three touchdown passes to give the Crimson Tide its fifth national championship since 2009 under coach Nick Saban.

"He just stepped in and did his thing," Hurts said. "He's built for stuff like this. I'm so happy for him." The Tide might have a quarterback controversy ahead of it but first Alabama will celebrate another national title.

For the third straight season, Alabama played in a classic CFP final. The Tide split two with Clemson, losing last season on touchdown with a second left.

What was Saban thinking as the winning pass soared this time?

"I could not believe it," he said. "There's lots of highs and lows. Last year we lost on the last play of the game and this year we won on the last play of the game. These kids really responded the right way. We said last year, `Don't waste the feeling.' They sure didn't, the way they played tonight."

Smith streaked into the end zone and moments later confetti rained and even Saban seemed almost giddy after watching maybe the most improbably victory of his unmatched career.

After Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal that would have won it for the Tide (13-1) in the final seconds of regulation , Georgia (13-2) took the lead with a 51-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship in overtime.

Tagovailoa took a terrible sack on Alabama's first play of overtime, losing 16 yards. On the next play he found Smith, another freshman, and hit him in stride for the national championship.

Tagovailoa was brilliant at times, though he had a few freshman moments. He threw an interception when he tried to pass on a running play and all his receivers were blocking. He also darted away from the pass rushers and made some impeccable throws, showing the poise of a veteran. Facing fourth-and-goal from 7, down seven, the left-hander moved to his left and zipped a pass through traffic that hit Calvin Ridley in the numbers for the tying score with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter.

He finished 14 for 24 for 166 yards. The winning play was, basically, four receivers going deep.

"After the sack, we just got up and took it to the next play," Tagovailoa said. "I looked back out, and he was wide open. Smitty was wide open." Freshmen were everywhere for the Alabama offense: Najee Harris at running back, Henry Ruggs III at receiver, Alex Leatherwood at left tackle after All-American Jonah Williams was hurt. It's a testament to the relentless machine Saban has built.

But this game will be remembered most for his decision to change quarterbacks trailing 13-0.

"I just thought we had to throw the ball, and I felt he could do it better, and he did," Saban said. "He did a good job, made some plays in the passing game. Just a great win. I'm so happy for Alabama fans. Great for our players. Unbelievable."

Saban now has six major poll national championships, including one at LSU, matching the record set by the man who led Alabama's last dynasty, coach Paul Bear Bryant.

This was nothing like the others.

With President Trump in attendance, the all-Southeastern Conference matchup was all Georgia in the first half before Saban pulled Hurts and the five-star recruit from Hawaii entered. The president watched the second half from Air Force One.

"I don't know how Coach Saban found me all the way in Hawaii from Alabama," Tagovailoa said. "Thank God he found me and we're here right now."

The Tide trailed 20-7 in the third quarter after Georgia's freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm, hit Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown pass that had the Georgia fans feeling good about ending a national title drought that dates back to 1980.

Fromm threw for 232 yards for a while it looked as if he was going to be the freshman star for the game, the first to true freshman to lead his team to a national title season since Jamelle Holieway for Oklahoma in 1985.

"I mean, if you want to find out about Jake Fromm, go ask those guys on the other side of the ball, and they'll tell you because that's a really good defense he just went against," Smart said.

A little less than a year after the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25-point lead and lost in overtime to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, there was more pain for many of the local fans. Two years ago, Georgia brought in Saban's top lieutenant, Kirby Smart, to coach the Bulldogs and bring to his alma mater a dose of Alabama's Process.

Smart, who spent 11 seasons with Saban - eight as his defensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa - quickly built `Bama East. It was Georgia that won the SEC this season. Alabama had to slip into the playoff without even winning its own division.

With the title game being held 70 miles from Georgia's campus in Athens, Dawg fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it turned out to be sweet home for Alabama and now Saban is 12-0 against his former assistants.

But not without angst.

Alabama drove into the red zone in the final minute and Saban started playing for a field goal that would end the game and win it for the Tide. A nervous quiet gripped the crowd of 77,430 as `Bama burned the clock. With the ball centered in the middle of the field, Pappanastos lined up for a kick to win the national championship. The snap and hold looked fine, but the kicked missed badly to the left.

For the second straight week, Georgia was going to overtime. The Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in a wild Rose Bowl in double overtime to get here, and after Jonathan Ledbetter and Davin Bellamy sacked Tagovailoa for a big loss on the first play, Alabama was in trouble - second-and-26.

Not for long. Tagovailoa looked off the safety and threw the biggest touchdown pass in the history of Alabama football.