5-at-10: College football playoff delivers classic, NFL power poll, bright big Orange ‘24

Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava shows his MVP belt to teammates after defeating Iowa in the Citrus Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava shows his MVP belt to teammates after defeating Iowa in the Citrus Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

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CFP greatness

Yeah, about that controversy.

So, I am on record saying FSU got hosed.

A power-five champion without a loss has a place in the playoff, even without its superstar QB1 and if it was going to get back-handed by the No. 1 seed.

But after the thrilling hours of college football glory from Pasadena and New Orleans, it's hard not to believe CFP committee chair Boo Carrigan is preening like a proud peacock and calling back to the Kool Moe Dee classic, "How You Like Me Now."

Alabama-Michigan was on the shortlist of most dramatic and intense college football games I have ever watched, and that's saying something considering I am 53 and have been in sports journalism in the college-football-crazed South for half my life.

Not to be outdone, Texas-Washington was the expected shootout it promised to be with the Huskies defense saving the day in a 37-31 thriller, that, again, was a glorious scene for the game.

And it also delivered an exclamation point on the decisions and rankings of Carrigan and Co.

And that praise has little to do with the Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff pile driver Georgia delivered to FSU.

(Side note: Also, FSU's argument was not helped in any way by Louisville getting blitzed by an opt-out depleted USC earlier in the bowl season.)

It may have been the most exciting day in the history of college football.

And no, I believe adding teams to the party will not enhance that excitement. It will delay it a week as the first-round games — played on campus — will be a mixed-bag of blowouts and expected outcomes.

Plus, the extra round — where's the folks who clamored for safety a decade ago — will make the leftover bowls feel even more like the NIT.

NFL power poll

Like a napping fireman when the dinner bell rings, let's get to the poll.


1. Baltimore (13-3). Wow, any questions? Baltimore throttled San Fran on the road and Miami to secure home field over the past two weeks. And Lamar Jackson is the runaway MVP favorite after his near-perfect showing in the destruction of the Dolphins.

2. San Fran (12-4). The NFC top-seed will also get the chance to rest anyone it decides, too. Are you worried about Brock Purdy in the biggest moments against the best teams?

3. Cleveland (11-5). Joe Flacco for comeback player of the year. Who's with me? That said, it feels like a there's huge gap between the 1s and everyone else in each conference, no?

4. Dallas (11-5). Monster game for the Cowboys this weekend. A win means the 2 seed and multiple home games if they advance. A loss and an Eagles win over the hapless Giants means a wildcard draw and doubtful of any home games.

5. Buffalo (10-6). Are the Bills ready for prime time? Not sure. But would you rather bet on Josh Allen and that roster or what the Eagles currently are or the almost assured playoff fold of the warm-weather Dolphins.

Powerless (coaching question division)

28. Los Angeles Charger (5-11). This job is already open and has to be intriguing to some confident fellow — could Eric Bieniemy be a target here; what about a phone call to Steve Wilks, the 49ers DC, and see if he can bring Brian Griese, the 49ers QB coach, as OC? — since the QB1 is already in place.

29. New England (4-12). The Athletic is reporting there is a clear division between Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick. I have come to the conclusion that a) Coach Hoodie is down to his final game with the Pats and b) I hope he is strong enough to walk off into the sunset and not coach anyone else ever. (Unless he wanted to come be DC in Auburn, then that could work.)

30. Washington (4-12). Ron Rivera has to be on his riverboat out of town right? New owner itching to overhaul everything inside the building and out. This one could be coveted because of that fact and, well, NFL HC jobs are coveted no matter what because a) they pay very well and b) there are only 32 of them.

31. Arizona (4-12). We have discussed this before: First-year Cardinals coach — no one knows his name — has his crew playing hard. That's enough for a roster that is trash. Right now.

32. Carolina (2-14). The job is open. Would anyone kick the tires on Kirby Smart? If so could it be a regional team like Carolina? Not saying he'd want it — heck, it likely would be a pay cut — but if you owned an NFL team would you call Kirby's agent?

Big day in Orlando

Here's Paschall's account of the Vols' destruction of Iowa on Monday afternoon. Rules being rules and all, regardless of the numbers on the calendar.

Here's Hargis with some proper high hopes for a Tennessee crew that likely will get some make-it-to-Atlanta buzz next season with a slew of returning pieces and Georgia playing arguably the toughest schedule in the country.

(Remember, next year the SEC is without divisions and the top two teams go to the ATL for the title game in what will become as meaningful as the Bad Boys Mowers Bowl because both of the teams in the SEC title game will have punched a top-12 ticket come the first week in December.)

Tennessee played great, but more importantly, they competed.

Which means they were coached great, too.

I know there are a whole lot of folks who think bowl games are meaningless.

And they have a strong talking point in the number of players who have opted out.

But delivering a big-time throttling — like UT, Ole Miss and Georgia did — or even mustering close-game wins — looking at you, Mizzou and GT — over favored foes or rallying for two-score holes to win late — hi, Brian Kelly — matters.

It will matter in next week's too early rankings.

It matters to the fans who schedule their trips or their viewing parties around expectations of the best.

And it really matters in the manner in which it shows the players care about their coaches and the program. And how the coaches care about the preparation and the details.

Motivation was never going to be a factor last night for Alabama or Michigan or Texas or Washington. Those teams had history to play for.

But the two biggest jobs of college football head coaches these days are, in order, a) recruiting over the tips of your skis and making your roster as talented as you can, and b) motivating your team to play hard and for each other.

In that regard, well, the biggest mismatch on the field between Georgia and FSU was not between the lines. Yes, FSU had a slew of opt-outs and star QB Jordan Travis was in a cast injured. But Georgia had 15 opt-outs two and one of the programs best three players over the last half century was injured too.

No, the biggest mismatch was the job Kirby Smart did convincing the kids on the field to play as hard as they did for themselves, their program and their teammates compared to the excuse-filled bowl prep that Mike Norvell allowed his Seminoles to explore.

This and that

— How about the betting certainty that was the dichotomy of Iowa and LSU. LSU went over in 12 of its 13 games this season, including Monday's come-from-behind bowl win over Wisconsin. Iowa's total went under in 12 of 14 games this season. A $110 bet on each of those would have generated a profit of $2,100.

— The Bowl scores will be available early afternoon today. Been a flu-riddled break at our house, friends.

— Here's a great story from TFP business ace Mike Pare that after all this time, the Lookouts folks are "closing" in on how much the gub'ment is going to have to fork over to buy them their new stadium.

— Interesting look at the year in movies here, which had some unexpected highs — Who really expected "Barbie" to be that? — and some truly predictable doldrums during the months-long writers strike.

Today's questions

True or false, it's Tuesday, morning, Ern.

True or false, you went out for New Year's Eve.

True or false, New Year's Eve as a party event is overrated.

True or false, Monday was the best back-to-back college football games you have ever seen.

True or false, UT will be preseason top-10 next year.

True or false, you knew that Deion Sanders was the SI Sportsman of the year.

True or false, that completely guts any of the remaining prestige of the SI Sportsman of the year award.

True or false, the 1 seeds will advance to the Super Bowl.

You know the drill, answer some T or Fs, leave some T or Fs.

As for today, Jan. 2, let's review.

Not much. The all-time great Chargers-Dolphins game was played on this day in 1982.

Cuba Gooding Jr. is 56 today. His Rushmore is three clear ones — "Jerry Maguire," "Boyz in the Hood" and "As Good as it Gets" — and a lot of meh.

Rushmore of actors that use the Jr. tag. Go.

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