The college football postseason isn’t over. There’s one more game to go, the appealing championship bout matching No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 TCU. The Horned Frogs are 12.5-point underdogs … just how they like it. In the betting markets, TCU is 9-3-1 against the spread this season. So this one sets up as another chance for TCU to jolt the college football universe. But this time around, the Frogs won’t be overlooked by their opponent.
While waiting for Monday night’s showdown and Georgia’s attempt to bag a second consecutive national title, let’s review the Winners and Losers of the action through Jan. 2.
WINNER: The national college football semifinals. After too many blowouts from the 2014 season through the 2021 season, we finally were entertained with two thrilling, entertaining, and down-to-the-wire drama on New Year’s Eve.
No. 3 TCU upset No. 2 Michigan 51-45 in the opener. Georgia held its breath on a missed 50-yard field goal to survive Ohio State in the second shootout of the day. All four fan bases – and a record number of TV viewers – were taken on exhilarating adventure rides that ended in extreme joy or despair depending on your rooting interest. Or the gambling interest.
And this was all made possible mostly for two reasons: Alabama lost two games during the regular season and didn’t make the playoff – and Utah upset playoff-bound USC in the Pac 12 title game, which opened the gates for Ohio State.
In the first eight years of the Playoff, the average margin of win in the 16 semifinal tilts was a ridiculous and boring 19.5 points. And only four of the 16 games were settled by fewer than 17 points.
On Saturday the two semifinal games were decided by only seven points … total.
If you were immersed in happiness on New Years because of college football instead of champagne, get ready for more games like this two years from now when the CFP format expands to 12 teams.
As Matt Hayes pointed out at Saturday Down South: “Yes, there will be blowouts in the new system, too. But the clustering of teams ranked No. 5 through No. 12 — where the talent gaps usually won’t be as big — will produce more games like the two we saw Saturday. And the win-or-go-home stakes will make the close ones as dramatic as these two were … The fact that it took so long to get a semifinal Saturday like this one only reinforces why the change had to be made.”
WINNER: TCU HORNED FROGS. Before the season, TCU was a 200-to-1 bet to reach the national playoff, and were picked to finish in seventh place in the Big 12. Too many of us underestimated the impact of Sonny Dykes, an underrated and overlooked coaching master who was stuck in bad gigs (especially Cal) before TCU hired him to replace program legend Gary Patterson at the end of the 2021 season.
A program that doesn’t have much of a chance at bringing in five-star recruits had the great equalizer in Dykes, a Mike Leach mentee who added a physical running game to the Air Raid passing frenzy. TCU went 5-7 last season and had a losing record over the three previous seasons. Dykes moved over from SMU and is 13-1 in his first go-round. Incredible.
I can’t go along with a new narrative – TCU inspires hope for mediocre programs! – because it simply isn’t true … not unless those mediocre programs have Sonny Dykes as their head coach. And they do not. Having toppled Michigan and Jim Harbaugh – never trailing at any point in the game – Dykes moves onto the biggest stage of collegiate football to take a shot against Georgia. It was stunning to see TCU outmuscle a bigger, stronger Michigan side … which they did … and we shouldn’t count them out on Monday, even as a heavy underdog.
LOSER: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. He’s 1-6 in postseason games – including six straight defeats – as Michigan’s HC. Harbaugh didn’t have the Wolverines ready to play and made some goofy decisions including the pathetic and botched “Philly Special” trick play on a 4th and 2 on Michigan’s opening drive.
Michigan had two passes intercepted and returned for touchdowns and scored only three total points when having the ball inside TCU’s five–yard line on three occasions.
It was a bad look for the overconfident Wolverines to get overpowered by TCU on the ground. To their credit, Harbaugh’s team Wolverines battled – but then again, what were they supposed to do, quit?
Harbaugh was thoroughly outcoached by Sonny Dykes. In his two straight appearances in the football playoffs, Harbaugh’s Michiganders were bullied for an average of 42.5 points, 525 yards and three turnovers per game.
Harbaugh may be heading back to the NFL.
WINNER: Tulane. Quarterback Michael Pratt didn’t back down in a duel with USC’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Caleb Williams, in the Cotton Bowl. Pratt made several big plays in the final minutes as the Green Wave stunned USC with the winning TD pass on the final play to run off with a 46-45 victory. The Green Wave won after trailing by 15 points with 4:10 left to play.
In 2021, Tulane tumbled to 2-10 in a rebuilding season. But in 2022 the Green Wave came back to go 12-2, capture the American Athletic Conference title, and post a remarkable comeback win over a top-10 USC team. Tulane hadn’t played in the equivalent of a “New Year’s Six” game since 1939.
What a magical day for New Orleans-based Tulane.
Oh, yeah, there’s this: Willie Fritz is a helluva coach. Hopefully this will get him the recognition he deserves.
LOSER: USC head coach Lincoln Riley. Let us be blunt: Coach, you gotta go buy a defense that can make stops during the 2023 season. And you have to start caring about defense and understanding the importance of having a defense that can support your high-flying offenses.
What a travesty, losing to Tulane on a day when your quarterback (Caleb Williams) passed for 462 yards and five touchdowns.
I don’t know if any CFB coach has ever squandered as much elite quarterback talent as Riley. As the coach of Oklahoma and USC, Riley is now 0-3 in postseason games with a Heisman-winning QB running the offense. He’s 1-4 in a postseason bowl or playoff games, and the one victory came against Florida in the Cotton Bowl to cap the 2020 season. But even then, Oklahoma faced a Gators team that competed without 17 players who either opted out or missed the game for other reasons including injury.
In three college football playoff appearances as coach of the Sooners, Riley went 0-3 with his defense plundered for an average of 53.3 points per game. That’s absurd, but nothing has changed.
This season Williams passed for 4,537 and a USC-record 42 touchdowns – and rushed for 382 yards and 10 touchdowns. But the Trojans’ porous defense ruined USC’s chance to secure a Pac 12 championship, a selection to the CFB playoff, and a win in the prestigious Cotton Bowl.
In the final eight games of the 2022 season the USC defense was overrun for an average of 37.1 points per contest and gave up 43 or more points four times.
Facing Tulane, USC couldn’t put the game away despite its offense piling up 594 yards and 45 points. USC’s defense allowed 32 second-half points and failed to make stops on two huge fourth-down plays on Tulane’s game-winning touchdown march. For the day, Tulane’s offense averaged an astonishing 10.4 yards per play from scrimmage.
Since becoming a head coach at Oklahoma in 2017, Riley has lost six times after his teams opened a lead of 14 points or more – the most in the FBS over that time.
WINNER: Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark has reason to celebrate. TCU became the first Big 12 team to win a playoff or BCS game other than Oklahoma or Texas. And Oklahoma and Texas – both overrated and living on the past – are leaving for the SEC. With the sudden rise of TCU, the Big 12 is pumped up with credibility and will receive more respect.
WINNER: Georgia Bulldogs. The Peach Bowl was a doozy. The defending national champs had to sweat it out during a grand battle royale with Ohio State that lasted until midnight Atlanta time. But the Dawgs defense put its teeth into the fourth quarter, holding Ohio State to three points to make the win possible. And with the season on the line, the irrepressible Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett had a sensational fourth quarter, going 10 for 12 with two touchdowns including the perfect touchdown strike to cap the winning drive. The Dawgs are 28-1 over the last two seasons and 32-1 in their last 33 games. Good gracious …
WINNER: Georgia coach Kirby Smart. He’s rightfully being hailed for his alert decision to call a fourth-quarter timeout when he correctly detected an odd Ohio State formation that was set to run a fake punt. With 8:58 remaining, Smart raced to the official to call a timeout that terminated Ohio State’s surprise play. The Buckeyes led 38-27 at the time, and a successful fake punt could have eaten more time off the clock, set up another score, and put the Dawgs on the edge of defeat. That said, Ohio State appeared to have 12 men on the field – so the fake punt could have been wiped out by penalty. But Smart didn’t know that at the time, and there was no guarantee that the officials (including the review booth) would have caught the too-many-men infraction.
LOSER: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. After controlling the ball and living in Tennessee’s back yard for much of the game, Clemson somehow lost the Orange Bowl 31-14 to the Vols and backup quarterback Joe Milton. Despite playing in the chronically weak ACC, Clemson has failed to make the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, losing six of 27 games. Going back to the 2019 national championship game against LSU, the Tigers are 1-5 vs. SEC teams and Ohio State. The stubborn and sanctimonious Swinney has to take a hard look at his coaching staff and his own outdated policy of refusing to take in transfers.
WINNER: Coach Josh Heupel and Tennessee. The win over Clemson gave Heupel an 11-2 season despite losing Heisman-contending quarterback Hendon Hooker to a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 19. Heupel has won 18 games in his two seasons at Tennessee; before he got there the Volunteers had won just 20 games over a four-season stretch. This season Tennessee won 11 games in a season for the first time since 2001.
LOSER: Ohio State coach Ryan Day. He’s 45-6 as the leader of the Buckeyes … but has a problem in big games. There was a 45-23 loss to Clemson in the 2020 season national playoffs … losses to Michigan by 15 points in 2021 and by 22 points this season. And on Saturday, despite playing a superb game on offense, the Buckeyes couldn’t close Georgia out after twice leading this game by 14 points. Ohio State carried a two-touchdown lead into the fourth quarter, only to get outscored 18-3 down the stretch.
After Bennett’s touchdown pass and ensuing extra point gave GA a one-point lead, the Buckeyes had the ball and plenty of time to come back and win. But Day turned conservative, playing it safe in his plan to kick a field goal to secure the win. That would be fine as long as the Buckeyes could set up a high-probability field goal attempt. But that didn’t happen; Ohio State’s season came down to a 50-yard try that went way wide. With the game on the line, Day turned overly cautious and that cost his team a win.
WINNER: Mississippi State. In a game dedicated to late head coach Mike Leach, quarterback Will Rogers gutted it out in an emotionally challenging day to win one for the Pirate. Mississippi State had to fight hard and overcome an Illinois lead to score a 19-10 victory. It was uplifting to see the Bulldogs have reasons to smile, savor joy and feel deep satisfaction by honoring their fallen leader with a triumph that hopefully eased their anguish.
WINNER: Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud. I didn’t believe he’d be capable of slaying the Georgia defense; we’ve seen Stroud turn small in big games. But he played a great game against the best defense in the land, completing 23 of 34 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. By engineering an offense that scored 41 points on Georgia, Stroud did more than enough to win this game for Ohio State. The NFL scouts had to love what they saw from Stroud in this one. He was brilliant.
WINNER: Alabama and coach Nick Saban. When Alabama slips, even by just a little, the haters come out of the background shade to declare the beginning of the end of Crimson Tide football as we know it … because King Saban is fading.
Idiots. I laugh at this nonsense every time, and it amuses me to no end to see the big mouths turn silent again. This season was uncharacteristically sloppy, but Bama’s two losses came by a field goal in the final seconds.
After clobbering Kansas State 45-20 in the Sugar Bowl, the Crimson Tide finished 11-2. Quarterback Bryce concluded an exceptional collegiate career in style, throwing for 321 yards and five touchdowns on only 21 passing attempts.
With the victory over K-State, Saban’s team has now won at least 11 games for 15 CONSECUTIVE SEASONS. Saban has a .878 winning percentage at Alabama – and is 187-21 (.899) since the start of his second season (2008) in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has competed in six of the last eight national championships, winning three more to give him seven for his career. (Six at ‘Bama, one at LSU.) He’s 103-10 with three national titles since the start of the 2015 season.
Saban recently completed the nation’s No. recruiting class for 2023. But he’s worn out and staggering, right? For the love of Mike Shula, how does Saban keep his job? (I can’t help myself. I love sarcasm.)
LOSER: Kentucky and coach Mark Stoops. Only 185 yards of offense in a 21-0 loss to Iowa in the Music City Bowl? How embarrassing. And I don’t care that QB Will Levis opted out of the game. He’s overrated, anyway. The Wildcats finished 7–6 in a season of slowed momentum.
LOSER: Big Ten Conference. I’m sorry but when both of your teams get knocked out of the national semifinals within hours of each other, it’s a bad day … even if Michigan and Ohio State lost by a combined seven points. The Wolverines and Buckeyes each flubbed excellent opportunities to win, leaving B1G with a 1-7 record in college football playoff games since 2015.
WINNER, Penn State: The Nittany Lions salvaged some Big Ten pride with a dominant 35-21 win over Utah in the Rose Bowl. QB Sean Clifford and running back Nicholas Singleton were outstanding, and Penn State outgaining Utah by nearly 150 yards. After going 11-11 over the previous two seasons, coach James Franklin got Penn State back on track with a 10-2 mark.
WINNER: Washington, which beat Texas 27-20 in the Alamo Bowl. Let’s hear it for Washington coach Kalen DeBoer, who lifted the Huskies to an impressive 11-2 record in his first season. That’s a seven-win improvement from last season. DeBoer got the most out of transfer QB Michael Penix, who emerged as one of the nation’s most prolific passers in 2022. Washington was one of the most improved teams in the nation – and with Penix back in 2023 the Huskies should contend for the Pac 12 title.
LOSER: Texas and coach Steve Sarkisian. The wheels on the mediocre bus go round and round. Under Sarkisian, the Longhorns are 13-12 in two seasons. Before the Alamo Bowl he was caught in the tunnel on video screaming vile obscenities at an off-field official who was in charge of sending the Longhorns out to take the field as scheduled. Imagine what Texas could do with Sonny Dykes as head coach. But as usual the Longhorns can’t get it right with coaching hires. In three head-coaching jobs at three prominent Power 5 programs – Washington, USC and Texas – Sarkisian is 59-47 for a .557 winning percentage. He’s never lost fewer than four games in a full season.
WINNER: LSU coach Brian Kelly. With his team smacking Purdue around for a 63-7 rout in the Citrus Bowl, the Notre Dame expatriate finished his first season on the Bayou with a 10-4 record that included the SEC West title. There were a few disappointments along the way – especially a horrible loss to Texas A&M – but Kelly clearly exceeded expectations. LSU’s win over Alabama knocked the Crimson Tide out of playoff contention and gave Kelly his first signature victory in the SEC.
It became a sport down south to ridicule the northerner coach when he took command of the Tigers, with the lazy “terrible cultural fit” narrative taking hold. Wrong. LSU went 11-12 over its two previous seasons. Kelly got 10 wins in his first season, has reeled in an impressive recruiting class for 2023, and is way ahead of the schedule in the quest to make LSU great again.
WINNER: Air Force. The Falcons doubled up Baylor with a 30-15 triumph in the Armed Forces Bowl. Air Force out-rushed Baylor 276-42 while posting another double-digit victory total – which makes it three in a row excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020. Coach Troy Calhoun has an exceptional .608 winning percentage in his 16 seasons at Air Force. That includes a .755 win percentage over the last four seasons.
LOSER: Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin. The Rebels opened the season with seven straight wins, rising to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll. But in a collapse that hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should have, Ole Miss went 1-5 in its final six games including a 42-25 drubbing by Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl. Mississippi committed five turnovers to set up Texas Tech for an easy win.
WINNER: New Mexico State coach Jerry Kill. The former Southern Illinois coach did a heck of a job in his first year at NMSU. After a 1-5 start the Aggies won six of their final seven including a 24-19 victory over Bowling Green in Quick Lane Bowl. It was only the second bowl-game win for NMSU since 1960. Kill took over a program that had won only eight games (combined) over the previous four seasons. But the highly respected Kill turned the Aggies around immediately with a 7-6 season in 2022.
WINNER: Oregon State and coach Jonathan Smith. The Beavers completed a 10-3 season with a 30-3 drubbing of SEC representative Florida in the Las Vegas Bowl. Oregon State hadn’t won 10 games in a season since 2006. Smith had a massive rebuild on his hands when taking over the Oregon State program in 2018, and he needed time to get things moving in a better direction. It’s happened, with the Beavers going 17-9 over the last two seasons. Clemson transfer quarterback DJ Uiagalelei will join the program for the 2023 season.
LOSER: Oklahoma State and coach Mike Gundy. A 24-17 loss to Wisconsin in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl was the final defeat in a 1-5 free-fall that ruined a 5-0 start to a season that had them ranked No. 7 in the AP poll in the second week in October. Final record: 7-6.
WINNER: Florida State. A 35-32 victory over Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl gave the Seminoles their first 10-win season since 2016. Coach Mike Norvell’s squad closed the 2022 season with a flourish, winning its last six games. It took awhile, but Norvell has Florida State on the move.
WINNER: Fresno State. Nine straight wins after a 1-4 start, culminating with a win over Boise State in the Mountain West title game, and a 29-6 whupping of Washington State 29-6 in the LA Bowl. Fresno State became the first team in FBS history to notch a 10-win season after losing four of its first five games.
WINNER: Duke. Yes, Duke. The Blue Devils didn’t win a single ACC game in 2021, but swiftly improved to 9-4 overall and 5-3 in league play in 2022. The comeback season was capped by a 30-13 demolition of UCF in the Military Bowl. It was Duke’s first win in a bowl game since the 2018 season. Head coach Mike Elko had a superb season in his first year at Duke, and he’ll soon be a target for larger programs that will be looking for a new coach. The 5-3 mark in ACC play is a big deal when we consider that previous coach David Cutliffe had a 1-17 conference record during his final two seasons.
LOSER: UCLA. The Bruins yakked up a 14-point lead in a 37-35 loss to Pittsburgh. UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson gave the Panthers three interceptions to make the comeback possible. UCLA hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2014 season. And Bruins coach Chip Kelly has led his team to only one bowl appearance in five seasons. Good luck in the Big Ten.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.