Starting 11: Bowl and Playoff Games Edition

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And then there were two.

After all the wildness of the 2017 college football season we end in Atlanta with an all SEC title game between Alabama and Georgia that is likely to be the most expensive ticket in the history of college football.

Right smack dab in Atlanta, the South’s college football capital, we’ve got a game that will feature two teams within a short driving distance from the city.

It’s SEC football nirvana.

I honestly can’t wait.

Outkick will be there doing our radio show live on Monday and Tuesday of next week and I’m hopeful that this year the radio row at college football will be open to the public so some of you can come by and say hi.

Regardless, this is the final Starting 11 of the season and I’ve got a ton to get to so let’s get rolling.

The Outkick Starting 11 is brought to you by Krystal – where you can always get 79 cent Krystals everyday, text OUTKICK to 37793 for two free Krystals and a Coke right now.

1. Props to the college football playoff committee for getting it completely right.

It’s an unforgiving job to pick the four best teams. But in the wake of last night’s win over Clemson I defy anyone who is looking at these games logically to argue that Alabama isn’t one of the four best teams in college football.

That wasn’t just a win over Clemson last night, it was utter destruction, eerily reminiscent of the 2011 title game rematch against LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

Alabama deserved to be in this playoff because the goal of the committee is to pick the four best teams. And Alabama proved that they were one of the four best on the field last night.

With everyone geared up to crush the committee if the Tide lost, I haven’t heard anyone else in the entire sports media congratulate them on a job well done in having the balls to put Alabama in the playoff.

So consider this the congrats you guys all deserve.

Well done.

2. Three of the four halves in the college football playoff were exactly what I expected. 

It hasn’t been a great gambling year for Outkick, but I told you exactly what would happen in Alabama-Clemson, the Tide would stifle Clemson’s offense and win by double digits in a low scoring game. I predicted a final score of 24-14 and instead we got 24-6, but nothing in this game surprised me at all.

The second half of the Georgia-Oklahoma game was also what I expected — Georgia’s great defense making it very tough on Baker Mayfield and the Sooners great offense. Indeed, Georgia held Oklahoma to one offensive touchdown and a field goal in an entire half and two overtimes.

But the first half of the Rose Bowl was an offensive explosion I didn’t see coming.

It was bedlam on the field and the combination of those two halves produced the second greatest college football game I’ve ever seen — the best remains USC vs. Texas in 2006.

I honestly feel bad for anyone who isn’t a college football fan and believe they are wasting their lives.

3. Georgia’s response from the 31-14 deficit should be scary to the rest of college football.

We’re talking about a team with a true freshman quarterback down by 17 on the road against a veteran Heisman trophy winner with the best offense in college football.

No team in the playoff or the BCS era had ever come back from more than 11 down at the half and certainly no team had done it against the best offense in college football.

Plus, none of these Georgia players have every played on a stage like this.

It would have been very easy for the Bulldogs to wilt and never put forth much of a serious challenge in the second half.

And then, boom, the Dawgs run off 24 unanswered to take back control of the game.

It was a phenomenal response that was eerily dynastic like.

Kirby Smart may win the national title at his alma mater in year two which is insanely impressive regardless, but if you look at the recruiting class he just signed he’s just getting started.

Georgia is only a fraction as good as Georgia is going to get.

And that should scare the bejesus out of the rest of college football.

4. I thought Oklahoma went conservative late when their identity all year long had been to be gunslinging badasses. 

It’s hard to find fault with a team losing in double overtime in an immediate classic, but if I were an Oklahoma fan what would upset me the most isn’t that we lost it’s the way we lost — by trying to sneak our way to the title instead of grabbing it with big brass swinging balls.

Helicopter dicks win titles and Oklahoma went mosquito dick at crunch time.

I’ll point to two situations which were, to me, evidence of Oklahoma going tight late.

The first one came with Oklahoma having a seven point lead and just over three minutes remaining in the game. Oklahoma faced a third and three at its own 30. You’ve got the Heisman trophy winning quarterback on your team. How do you not let him survey the field and throw for the first down here?

Instead Oklahoma runs an option play to the short side of the field.


Sometimes you outsmart yourself by trying to be too cute.

This is a great example of that.

Why do I want Baker Mayfield running with the football here? Why do I want him pitching it on the option to the short side of the field? Put him in shotgun and let him look over the field. If he throws an incompletion and stops the clock, so be it. If he throws an interception, so be it too, I want to win or lose with Baker Mayfield making plays with the ball in his hands.

I don’t want my Heisman trophy winning passer turning into an option quarterback here.

And then came overtime.

The playcalling in overtime was incredibly conservative, but in particular I can’t believe Oklahoma played for a field goal on the first possession after holding Georgia to a field goal. You took the ball out of Mayfield’s hands on two of the three play calls on that first overtime possession and you neglected to go for it on fourth and very short in order to attempt a 33 yard field goal and go to a second overtime.

I know it takes real balls, but I think the play was to go for it on fourth down there and, again, I want Mayfield with the ball in his hand on that third down play at an absolute minimum.

Neither of these things happened.

Lincoln Riley is going to have a long and successful career as a coach — the play call to put Oklahoma up 31-14 on a touchdown pass to Mayfield was a thing of beauty — but I suspect that he’s regretting those decisions late in the game. Someone has to lose, but if I’m going to lose I want to lose with my best players going balls to the wall with my best plays.

Does Oklahoma feel like they did that?

I don’t think so.

And that’s what would bother me the most.

5. Nick Saban is now 15-3 in national title games, college football playoff games, and SEC title games.

The only three losses — to Florida in the 2008 SEC title game, to Ohio State in the 2014 playoff semifinals and to Clemson in the 2016 title game. All three of these teams that Saban lost to won national titles.

This makes Nick Saban the most dominant big game coach in the history of college football.

Arguing anything else is patently absurd.

We have never and probably never will see another run like Nick Saban’s at Alabama in our lifetimes.

6. With Georgia and Alabama playing for the national title in Atlanta this means the SEC will win the national title for the ninth year in 12 seasons.

What’s more in both Florida State and Clemson’s title wins the SEC schools, Auburn and Alabama, respectively, lost the titles on touchdown passes thrown by FSU and Clemson with under 15 seconds remaining in those game.s

That’s how close the SEC is to having won 11 of the past 12 national titles. (Ohio State won the other title and there are still Bama fans convinced that if Lane Kiffin had run the damn ball Alabama never would have lost that game.)

For those who would say the SEC is top heavy if Georgia wins the title next week it will mean six different SEC schools have won undisputed national titles since 1998: Tennessee, LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.

No other conference has more than two teams to win national titles during this twenty year period. (Miami’s titles came as a member of the Big East, not the ACC, but even if you give those titles to the ACC the league only has three teams with titles in the past twenty years. The Big Ten has one team that has won a title, the Big 12 has two and the Pac 12 has one.)

That’s the very definition of depth.

And for those that want to argue the SEC vs. the Big Ten here’s a stat that’s the equivalent of pulling out the Big Ten’s still beating heart and holding it up in front of them.

The SEC has 16.5 football national titles in the past forty years.

The Big Ten has 2.5 football national titles in the past forty years.

(I picked forty years because it’s two generations, Or. if you want to be fair, three generations in the SEC. If you want to go back sixty years the Big Ten picks up two more and so does the SEC. So in the past sixty years of college football the SEC would have 18.5 titles and the Big Ten would have 4.5. The point is, it’s not remotely close to even).

As much as other media and fans may hate it, the SEC plays college football at a different caliber than the rest of the country. It really does just mean more down here.

7. Having said that, the Big Ten did have a good bowl season, going 7-1. 

Partly that was the result of not having a playoff team so their teams played down as opposed to played up. (For instance, the SEC had two playoff teams. If those two teams hadn’t made the playoff they would have played lesser teams, which means every SEC team would have slid down and played weaker teams. Instead the SEC played “up.” It’s how you end up with, for instance, a 9-3 Northwestern team playing a 7-5 Kentucky team in the Music City Bowl.)

Of course, the SEC and the Big Ten went 1-1 head-to-head with the only win being Northwestern surviving a two point conversion attempt to beat Kentucky by a point.

The SEC indisputably continues to have the best players — unless you think NFL teams have chosen not to draft the best players over the past 12 consecutive years when the SEC has had the most players drafted — but the Big Ten coaching is better.

Right now the top six coaches in the Big Ten are Urban Meyer, James Franklin, Mark Dantonio, Paul Chryst, Scott Frost and Jim Harbaugh. (That’s honestly the order I would rank them).

What’s the top six look like in the SEC? Here’s my list: Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Kirby Smart, Dan Mullen, Gus Malzahn, and Will Muschamp.

Now you may quibble with these rankings, but I don’t think anyone would argue the Big Ten isn’t much better in the coaching ranks.

The SEC coaching is improving, but that’s where the Big Ten is better than the SEC.

8. The college football playoff should be eight teams. 

I feel bad for a team like Central Florida that puts its heart and soul into the season, finishes 13-0 and almost immediately everyone forgets about them in the wake of the college football playoff games which they had no chance of actually making.

I’m going to keep beating this drum until it happens, but we need an eight team playoff.

Eight teams in the college football playoff — all five conference champs, two wild cards, and the top team from the non-big five conferences.

Boom, you’re set.

The playoff committee then seeds these teams 1-8 and the quarterfinal playoff games take place on campus in mid-December. Then the semifinal and finals exist as they are now.

College football becomes perfect then.

And, no, this will not harm the regular season. Stop with that absurdity. The NFL has 32 teams and 12 of them make the playoffs. Has anyone ever accused the NFL playoffs of ruining the regular season? Anyone who argues that expanding the playoff to eight teams is going to ruin the college football regular season is an absolute idiot.

Remember, these same people said going to four teams was going to ruin it.

Anyone arguing that after the Rose Bowl we just watched?

9. Jim Harbaugh remains the most overrated coach in college football history. 

Congrats to Michigan on locking up fourth place in the Big Ten East and second place in the Outback Bowl en route to an 8-5 third year for Jim Harbaugh.

While he’s been busy snagging headlines about satellite camps, feuding with other coaches, and taking team trips to Italy, Harbaugh has run up a 1-5 record against Ohio State and Michigan State.

Harbaugh has talked like Steve Spurrier and coached like Brady Hoke.

That ain’t a good combo.

10. I’m taking Georgia +4.5 and the under 45.5 in the national title game.

We’re at 49% winners on the year after a 9-10 bowl season.

I know, I know, not great after five years of winning picks.

But on the positive side we did go 3-0 in the college football playoff picks.

And I absolutely love the under in this game, it’s my blood bank guarantee.

11. My final SEC power rankings of the season:

All season long, the Starting 11 and SEC rankings have been sponsored by Krystal.  Krystal burgers are only 79 cents each – only 79 cents! – all day, every day.

Krystal is hooking up the Outkick family again this season – text OUTKICK to ‘37793’ right now for some free Krystals and a soda.  Enjoy!

1. Georgia

2. Alabama

3. Auburn

4. Mississippi State

5. LSU

6. South Carolina

7. Texas A&M

8. Kentucky

9. Missouri

10. Ole Miss

11. Arkansas

12. Florida

13. Vanderbilt

14. Tennessee

And just in case you missed it, Outkick finished off the 2017 calendar year by dunking on CNN so hard I think Brooke Boobs Baldwin is still in concussion protocol.

I love all of you, happy new year!

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.