Buh-bye BCS, hello College Football Playoff

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The death Friday night of one system used to determine the best team in college football officially — and thankfully — gave birth to a new one.

Florida State’s thrilling 34-31 win over Auburn closed the book on the 2013 season, bringing with it an end to the controversial 16-year run of the Bowl Championship Series.  In its place beginning with the 2014 season will be the aptly-named College Football Playoff, a system that’s been more than a decade in the making.

For those who are unaware or have simply forgotten, the CFP will feature four teams (for now) that will be selected by a committee consisting of former athletic directors, coaches, a media member — and an ex-Secretary of State.  The championship game will be bid out to different cities — Arlington in 2015 (following 2014 season), Glendale in 2016 and Tampa in 2017 have already been announced — while the two annual semifinal games will rotate among six bowls: the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A.

The Jan. 1, 2015, semifinals will be hosted by the Rose and Sugar Bowls.

While there’s certainly a sense of excitement swirling around the CFP, there’s also, as is ofttimes the case when change is involved, some trepidation.  Below are but a few of the pluses and minuses of the new system that will be used going forward to crown a national champion.

PLUS
Simply put, four teams vying for a national championship is better than just two.  Personally, I’ll feel much more comfortable arguing over which are the fourth-/fifth-best teams than the second-/third-best under the old system.  The more teams you have in the field, the less chance that a deserving team gets snubbed.  At least, in theory that’s the way it works.

MINUS
The fact there are “only” four teams is viewed by some as a negative.  Many people, myself included, thought the field should’ve been pushed to eight teams right out of the gate; still others thought 16 teams was the way to go.  The current contract calls for a four-team playoff through whole of the 12-year agreement.  My guess?  Roughly midway through that 12-year deal, the powers-that-be will realize how much money is being generated by the four-team playoff, will realize how much additional money could be stuffed into its coffers by adding more teams to the playoff, and will increase the field to eight around the year 2020.

PLUS
No current coaches being involved in picking the teams vying for the title of FBS champion may be the single greatest development wrought by the CFP.  One of the most unnecessary injustices of the BCS was including a poll whose voters consisted solely of coaches — or people in the football program voting for their coaches.  With the exception of bye weeks, a head coach’s sole focus on game day is on that day’s opponent. It’s utterly impossible for a head football coach at a major FBS program to be asked to make accurate judgments on which teams should be ranked where.  Add in the inherent biases for teams in their own conference, and the coaches’ poll was rife with inconsistencies and made a further mockery of the easily-mocked BCS.  Good riddance, coaches’ poll; you will not be missed.

MINUS
Out with the coaches, in with a narrower, just-as-human element.  Out of all the issues, pro and con, when it comes to the CFP, the selection committee is the one that will receive the most attention both positively and negatively because it’s the single-most important facet of the playoff, the linchpin for the entire process.  As humans will serve as the sole arbiters of who’s in and who’s out, you have to think that bias, on some level, will still be in play.  Yes, committee members will have the ability to recuse themselves when there’s a conflict of interest on a particular team, but the perception is that “Guy X” — or “Gal X” in the case of Condoleezza Rice — will attempt to impact the process based on previous or current relationships.  How the group will determine the four playoff participants is a work in progress and a source of worry for some.  It’s not all bad when it comes to the selection committee, though.  The select members have either a deep background in the game of football or an in-depth knowledge of it or both.  They will spend hour after hour after hour during the season debating and discussing and, ultimately, selecting the four teams that will qualify for the playoffs.  Best of all, the group won’t release its first set of “rankings” until the midseason; another way the coaches’ poll got it wrong was selecting a preseason Top 25 and adjusting from there.  Still, this selection committee will be among the most scrutinized group in the history of sports, especially during the first year or two as everyone feels their way through what could be an awkward — and controversial — beginning.

PLUS
For those who enjoy postseason college football, the CFP will be a boon.  Of course, you will have the semifinals serving as two games above the previous norm.  Additionally, and as fallout from the creation of the CFP, the five non-power conferences — the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt — have created their own set of bowl games in addition to the 35 “traditional” bowls.  Essentially, you’ll have upwards of 40 or more postseason games beginning in 2014.  Whether that’s about 15-20 too many is another argument for another day.

MINUS
Pro-BCS folks would argue that a playoff will diminish the importance of what’s easily the most meaningful regular season in all of sports.  Forget the fact that, theoretically, more games during the regular season will become important because four spots will be available in this new format instead of a mere two.  Also forget the fact that there are now seven prime bowl games instead of the five BCS bowls for which to qualify; anti-playoff proponents espouse the fear that the first three months of the season will be watered down because of the CFP.  That won’t happen, but it’s certainly a scare tactic that’s used incessantly — and misguidedly — by the anti-playoff crowd.

Jimbo Fisher vows to change culture at Texas A&M

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If there was one thing that really seemed to put Kevin Sumlin on the hot seat during his time at Texas A&M, it was the Aggies seemingly annual collapse in the second half of the season and inability to finish games they had the potential to win. That explains some of the reason why the school ponied up to lure Jimbo Fisher from Florida State in a $75 million hire late last year.

While most of the outside focus on Fisher’s move to College Station has been centered on that humongous contract, there’s little question that hiring a national title-winning coach was a coup for the team. That subject was brought up again on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show Friday evening and ESPN college football analyst Booger McFarland relayed a rather interesting conversation he had with the coach earlier this year in which Fisher said something you typically don’t hear made public. You can head to the 8:18 mark (or there abouts) for the interview.

“I talked to Jimbo in Atlanta. I told Jimbo point-blank — the same thing I told you guys about Texas A&M the last several years — A&M is a soft program,” McFarland said. “Jimbo looked me in the eye and was like, ‘You know what, you’re damn right. We are soft, but I’m going to change that.’”

Something says that Fisher and the Aggies strength coaches are going to use the comments as a bit of a challenge in the weight room and during spring practice over the coming months as they lay the groundwork for the 2018 season. Even the most ardent maroon and white supporters would probably agree with the sentiment that the team went a little soft toward the end of Sumlin’s tenure but it’s not everyday you see a coach call out his new program quite like that.

Maybe it’s something in the water down there in College Station though, judging by some other comments by the school’s athletic director, but one thing is for certain — things are going to be very different at Texas A&M going forward.

Scott Frost wants Nebraska football roster to grow to 150 players or more in 2018

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In the days before you were limited to 85 scholarship players, it was not totally uncommon to see teams stock their rosters full of players and wind up in the triple-digits with close to 200 players on a team. Even after the NCAA mandated a limit of 85 scholarships, roster sizes were still not that much smaller when you factored in walk-ons and others on a squad.

It appears Scott Frost wants to get back to those sort of days in Lincoln and is apparently pushing the school to help him expand the Cornhuskers roster right into the 150 range.

“I’d like to accommodate (Frost’s) desire” to expand the roster, athletic director Bill Moos said this week in an interview with Rivals’ HuskerOnline. “But we do have that issue with Title IX” along with locker room facilities challenges, organized practice schedules, and other daily management nuts and bolts to sort through.

“Nebraska has been known for having a lot of players on the team…a lot of walk-ons. I’d like to get back to that,” Frost had said on Signing Day earlier in the month. “The best thing Coach (Tom) Osborne did was have everybody practice… and part of that is what led to the development of players and helped walk-ons and young players get better faster and get on the field and help the team. I think that’s an asset that Nebraska can have if we’re willing to expand the roster.”

HuskerOnline details some of the compliance and budgetary challenges that going to 150 would entail but it certainly sounds like the school is making the effort to beef the numbers up. The Cornhuskers are well known in college football history for their walk-on program and roughly 10-15 walk-ons per class would apparently help them land right around Frost’s ideal roster size after factoring in the 85 full-scholarship players he would recruit.

Interestingly, going to 150 would allow the program to pass Michigan for the Big Ten’s biggest roster. The Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh are reportedly sitting at around 135 players after the 2017 season while most of the other conference’s schools are mostly around the 120 mark with a few exceptions. Title IX is not surprisingly the biggest obstacle for teams but it seems like some can manage things with no issue.

Frost was hired this offseason to help take Nebraska back to their perch atop college football and it seems like he is certainly attempting to do that in more ways than one when it comes to Big Red.

Purdue hires Utah State’s Mark Tommerdahl as special teams and tight ends coach

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Jeff Brohm is bringing in longtime coaching veteran Mark Tommerdahl to fill out his staff and serve as Purdue’s special teams and tight ends coach.

The Boilermakers announced the move on Saturday afternoon as Tommerdahl heads to West Lafayette after spending just a season at Utah State where he also coached running backs and ran the Aggies’ special teams. While his stay in Logan was brief, Tommerdahl has been all over the country in 34 years as a coach and is highly regarded for his work in the kicking game.

Tommerdahl has plenty of prior Power Five coaching experience and spent four seasons with Sonny Dykes at Cal where he coached three different position groups and served as assistant head coach. Prior to that he also had stops at Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU and several other schools.

The move to bring in Tommerdahl fills the spot on the Boilermakers’ staff that was left when former Houston coach Tony Levine left after one season with the school to pursue opportunities outside of the coaching profession. Brohm’s 10th assistant Kevin Wolthausen was also given special teams responsibilities when he was elevated to a full-time role so it’s possible the team is really beefing up their emphasis on the third phases of the game with the two new coaches splitting duties when it comes to special teams.

Either way, after a surprising 2017 season that ended with a bowl game victory it’s pretty clear that Brohm is not just sitting back when it comes to his coaching staff and is bringing in some veteran names to help the team take the next step in 2018.

Iowa State OC Tom Manning reportedly leaving Ames for Indianapolis Colts staff

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After one of the most successful seasons in recent memory at Iowa State, it appears head coach Matt Campbell will not be able to keep the band together for another run.

Campbell confirmed to The Des Moines Register on Saturday morning that offensive coordinator Tom Manning was leaving Ames and will be taking a job in the NFL. The paper later was able to confirm that the team in question will be the Indianapolis Colts for a spot on Frank Reich’s new staff. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg says Manning will be the team’s tight ends coach.

“I’m really happy and proud of him,” Campbell told the Register.

Manning has been with Campbell for years and the two actually played (and coached) together at famed D-III power Mount Union in the early 2000’s. Both were on the same staff at Toledo and Manning served as offensive line coach both there and at Iowa State. As offensive coordinator in 2017 he guided the Cyclones to a bit of an offensive renaissance despite relying on backup quarterback Kyle Kempt for most of the season, helping the team produce the third most points per game in school history while ranking in the top five in both total yards and passing.

ISU memorably upset Oklahoma in Norman and capped off an eight-win campaign in the Liberty Bowl with a victory over a ranked Memphis team.

The move leaves two openings on Campbell’s staff for 2018 but the Register notes that graduate assistant Jeff Myers is a possibility for the offensive line job and special teams analyst Joe Houston could be the team’s potential 10th assistant coach.