Regardless of who won the National Football Championship last Monday evening, the fact remains that, of the last seventeen years, sixteen of those years saw a Southern football team capture the crown.
Think about it a moment … 16 out of 17. That is a regional dynasty. Some folks have opined that Texas is not a Southern state. But, since Texas was a part of the Confederate States of America, that makes them Southern, whatever else they may say. On the losing side, to be sure, but Southern, nevertheless.
People who have followed this column over the past few years may recall that I have been a supporter of an expanded football playoff system for Division I colleges and universities. While I believe that the current system favors Southern football teams (16 out of 17 remember), I believe it to be unfair to teams with good records who don’t, for whatever reason, get tapped to be in the final four. And any team on a given day, under the right circumstances, can defeat any other team.
Case in point: Texas Christian University went undefeated this year all the way through the semi-final contests. TCU is a small school with an enrollment of about 12,000. This is a smaller enrollment than the University of West Georgia in Carrollton which has 13,510 enrolled.
Yet TCU went head-to-head with the undefeated University of Michigan Wolverines which has an enrollment of over 51,000 students. It should, by nearly every measure, have been a rout. Michigan had knocked off undefeated Ohio State and should have rolled over TCU.
Yet TCU defeated Michigan by a score of 51-45, an upset few expected, and Cinderella got to go to the ball to play the defending National Champions, the University of Georgia, for the National Title.
Finally, in 2024, there will be a playoff system for Division I football teams that will see the top 12 teams vie for the crown. It’s still not a true playoff system but it’s far better than what we have now.
I realize that the Southern domination of college football may be over as more teams get to go for the title, but I think it’s well worth it. Not long ago the University of Central Florida went undefeated but, because they were not in the top four, they didn’t get the opportunity to show what they might do against better known schools.
Appalachian State University, with a shade over 18,000 students, is nestled in the hills of Boone, North Carolina. Yet, during the 2022 season App State defeated SEC team Texas A&M 17-14. In 2019, ASU beat both the University of North Carolina (ACC) and South Carolina (SEC). In 2007 AU shocked everyone by beating 5th ranked Michigan 34-32. ASU is 6-1 in bowl games. What’s the point? Opening up the number of teams for the playoffs gives the winning teams that may never be “voted in” to the top four slots the opportunity to compete for the national prize.
The present system will be in place for the 2023 season, but in 2024 it becomes a whole new ball game. In 1969, East Tennessee State University, my alma mater, played Louisiana Tech in the Grantland Rice Bowl. ETSU went 9-0-1 and Tech was 8-1. ETSU was a two-touchdown underdog, and the Tech quarterback would be a first-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers. That quarterback would eventually be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In that game the Louisiana Tech quarterback was sacked twelve times for losses of 143 yards. ETSU led 13-0 at the half and defeated Louisiana Tech by a score of 34-14, thus ending the Tech quarterback’s college career with a loss. That man, Terry Bradshaw, would come to be known as one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League. But on that day, it was Cinderella who went to the ball.
People love to see underdogs fight against the odds and prevail. That’s one reason why “Rudy” and “Rocky” were such popular hits in their day. Even the first Star Wars movie featured an unlikely group of heroes struggling against the mighty Empire and the seemingly undefeatable Darth Vader.
So, I’m looking forward to the 2024 season and to the underdogs who will have the opportunity to do the unlikely. The one thing that this 12-team playoff will do is this: It will silence the voices of those teams with good records who complain that they never get a chance to play in the Big Game. I have my favorite teams, but I am also a romantic. I really would like to see Cinderella, against all odds, realize her dreams.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]