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The day college football’s postseason forever changed

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As someone who has been beating a very loud the drum for a college football playoff since even before I came around these parts more than three years ago, today is a red-letter day.  Something, to be perfectly honest, I never thought I’d see without some type of intervention from the federal government.

In essence, the leaders in college football Thursday formally endorsed a four-team playoff.  And officially placed the Bowl Championship Series on life support, with plans to pull the plug beginning with the 2014 season.

Automatic qualifiers?  Dead, although it’s still to be determined whether that’s good or bad for those outside the power conferences.  A plus-one, in which a title game is held after all of the bowl games have been played?  Dead as well, meaning there will be a true playoff in college football, bringing it in line with every other major sport in the free world, professional, collegiate and otherwise.

Following the end of the meetings in Hollywood, Fla., the commissioners of the 11 Div. 1-A (FBS) conferences as well as Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick issued a statement that read in part that the group “will present to our conferences a very small number of four-team options, each of which could be carried out in a number of ways.” Borrowing from JFK, within that document lies the dawning of a new age in major college football’s postseason.

The impact of today’s developments wasn’t lost on the organization perhaps impacted the most by the tidal wave of postseason discussion that’s swept over the sport the past several months.

“This is a seismic change for college football and commissioners are aware of that,” BcS executive director Bill Hancock candidly and correctly stated.

While it was a great day, a tremendous day, it was far from a perfect one.  In my dream scenario, at least an eight-team playoff would’ve been implemented right off the bat.  Officially, and has been intimated for months, there will be no eight- or 16-team playoffs for the foreseeable future. While far from unexpected, seeing it off the table is more than a little disappointing but far from surprising.

Baby steps, y’all.  Baby steps.

Many questions still remain, however.  The one that has seemingly garnered the most attention is also inconsequential, or close to it: where the games will be played.  Whether it be inside the current bowl structure; outside the bowl structure but utilizing those same host sites; or neutral or on-campus venues — yes, the latter one is still officially on the table, but don’t hold your breath — the two semifinal games (that feels so good to be able to officially type) will be held somewhere.  Again, the where is almost inconsequential.  The how?  Not so much.

The how, of course, is what process the newly-revamped postseason will utilize to determine which teams will qualify for the four spots in a playoff.  Many possible scenarios have been mentioned, from limiting the field to teams that have won conference championships to taking the top four teams in the final rankings — using computers or human polls or some combination of both similar to the current system — to three conference champs and a “wildcard” to just about anything else in between.  Another scenario that’s gaining momentum?  A selection committee, similar to the one utilized in college hoops for its postseason tournaments.

Regardless of how that question is answered when a final decision is rendered in July, this part of the equation is simply something the sport can’t afford to get wrong.

In that vein, here are some helpful hints for the game’s decision makers to help them not get it wrong:

  1. If computers are part of the selection process, make any program utilized open and available for public scrutiny and have strength of schedule as part of the criteria.  The importance of that, especially the latter part, cannot be overstated.
  2. If human polls are part of the selection process, the first poll of a given season should in no way, shape or form be released until at least three weeks of the season have been played, preferably four or five into the new year.  Based on the annual turnover nearly every team in the country experiences, a preseason poll based off the previous year’s results is not only useless but it’s actually damaging to the process of, at the end of the season, determining the four best teams in college football.
  3. If human polls are part of the selection process, the coaches’ poll should not be one of them.  That one should be fairly self explanatory.
  4. If a selection committee is part of the process, make it as close to possible to being a full-time job.  If the sport is hellbent on going in that direction, do it right.  The selection process is not something to be half-assed, and neither should the committment any future committee members make.

Today — and the several months preceding it — was certainly a step in the right direction toward righting the wrongs of the abominable system used to determine a national champion in major college football.  Still, though, there are many more steps to take.  And many, many ways for the leaders of the sport to somehow screw it up.

Keep every available appendage crossed.  These next three months or so are monumental for the sport.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson wins the 2016 Heisman Trophy

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 22:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals signals a touchdown during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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It was his in September and it was his in December.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson completed a storybook season on Saturday night in New York City to become the winner of the 82nd Heisman Trophy as college football’s most outstanding player.

Jackson’s numbers were simply overwhelming in 2016 and put him in a class of his own even if the Cardinals faltered a bit down the stretch in losing their final two games. The quarterback accounted for an ACC-record 51 touchdowns on the year and joined fellow Heisman winners Cam Newton and Tim Tebow as only the third player to throw for over 30 scores and run for another 20. In total, he found the end zone more than all but 38 FBS teams this season.

In addition to becoming the first Louisville player ever to win the award (and first finalist, period), Jackson is just the fourth sophomore to capture the honor and the 10th ACC player overall to win the Heisman. The signal-caller also becomes the youngest Heisman Trophy winner ever at 19 years and 337 days old, beating Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston by five days at the time of his win.

All told, he led the Cardinals to a 9-3 record and finished the season with 3,390 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions to go along with 1,538 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground.

Jackson finished with 2,144 points and was the overwhelming choice in the Heisman race, winning every single region of the country and finishing with the sixth-biggest win. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, making the trip to the ceremony for the second straight season, finished as the runner-up with 1,524 points. Voters were only allowed three choices on their ballot.

Oklahoma teammates Baker Mayfield (third, 361 points) and Dede Westbrook (fourth, 209 points) finished back-to-back behind the two ACC quarterbacks. Fellow finalist Jabrill Peppers of Michigan wound up fifth with 208 points.

Washington quarterback Jake Browning (sixth), Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (seventh), Texas tailback D'Onta Foreman (eighth) and Stanford all-purpose star Christian McCaffrey (ninth) rounded out the voting while Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and San Diego State Donnel Pumphrey both tied for 10th.

All had incredible seasons but none could come close to the eventual winner in Jackson, who threw, hurdled and stiff-armed his way to the trophy and into college football history.

Former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham announces transfer to Auburn

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 21:  Jarrett Stidham #3 of the Baylor Bears scrambles with the ball against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the second quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham has traded ‘Sic ‘Em’ for ‘War Eagle.’

The highly prized quarterback recruit announced on Twitter Saturday evening that Auburn would be his next college destination. Stidham did start three games as a freshman for the Bears last year (12 touchdowns, 1,265 yards) but broke his ankle and missed the remainder of the season. He ended up leaving the program as a transfer over the summer following the firing of Art Briles in Waco and sat out all of 2016.

Stidham will have three years of eligibility remaining and provides a big boost to Gus Malzhan’s offense. The Tigers struggled at the quarterback position when starter Sean White was hurt and were mostly focused on running the ball when he was under center anyway.

Now with Stidham in the fold, Auburn could sport one of the more dangerous backfields in the SEC with the signal-caller providing a threat through the air to go along with tailbacks Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson.

Texas A&M and Florida were other schools reportedly in the mix to land Stidham but, in the end, he is headed to the Plains.

Army ends 14 game losing streak with turnover-filled victory over No. 25 Navy

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 10: Andrew McLean #58 of the Army Black Knights tackles Zach Abey #9 of the Navy Midshipmen in the first half at M&T Bank Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The streak is over.

After 14 consecutive losses, countless heartbreaks and some of the most amazing moments in college football on either side, Army finally chased away their demons and beat rival Navy 21-17 on Saturday night in Baltimore.

Turnovers were the hallmark in the game for both sides: a whopping seven combined, along with a handful of other close calls that nearly added to that total. Three of the first four drives in the game ended with a giveaway and a pair of fumbles in the third quarter by Army allowed their rivals to quickly get back into a game they had nearly given away early on.

It was still a rough first half for Navy starting quarterback Zach Abey, who was in the stands at this game last year and was the team’s third-stringer most of the season under center. However the signal-caller pressed into starting duty because of injuries picked things up after halftime and helped the Midshipmen storm back to take the lead in the fourth quarter with a 41 yard touchdown to cap a run of 17 straight points.

But Army would not be denied a victory, which included an appearance by President-elect Donald Trump in the stands and in the CBS broadcast booth. The team put together an 80 yard drive over 12 plays that featured a key 4th down conversion before Ahmad Bradshaw (51 yards rushing, one touchdown) plowed through the defense to find the end zone from nine yards out. That helped the Black Knights re-take the lead with just six minutes remaining.

Navy would go three-and-out on the next drive thanks to a big defensive stand and Army milked away the rest of the clock to secure a win that was their first in the series since 2001.

That set off a raucous celebration that included a field storming by hundreds of cadets and, no doubt, plenty of cheers from the armed forces around the world looking on.

Is this the year? Army jumps out to two-score halftime lead over No. 25 Navy

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 10: Army cadets take the field before the start of the Army Black Knights and Navy Midshipman game at M&T Bank Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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There are few traditions in college football quite like the annual Army-Navy game and the pageantry was in full force once again on Saturday afternoon from Baltimore.

Army kicked off the scoring for the third season in a row in this rivalry game after recovering a Navy fumble and marching right down the field with a 14 play, 66 yard drive that culminated in a touchdown.

While the early score was notable, turnovers dominated first quarter play with three of the first four drives from the teams ending in a giveaway. The quarterbacks combined to complete just a single pass to their own team all half but completed three to the opposing defenses in the form of three ugly interceptions. Army’s Xavier Moss forced the first fumble of the season from Navy fullback Shawn White for the first quarter’s other turnover as well.

Army’s triple option looked to be the superior attack for most of the half, with the Black Knights picking up six of their seven third downs and converting the other on fourth down. Andy Davidson punched it into the end zone both times and finished with 15 carries for 50 yards.

There’s still a lot of football left to be played but the best Army team in nearly a decade certainly is looking primed to end Navy’s long winning streak in convincing fashion based on how the first half went.