Five questions

What happens now with Alabama?

Picture a young child gazing through the window of a candy store, unable to do anything but peer in and fantasize about all the goodies inside. That’s the position the Crimson Tide is now in when it comes to the College Football Playoffs. It wasn’t so much that Alabama lost to Auburn on Saturday, it was how. Nick Saban’s team looked poorly coached, ill-prepared, rattled, was mistake-prone and did not look the part of one of the four best teams in the sport. Fact is, Alabama looked quite ordinary – a camouflaged reality that may have been the case all year. A mediocre schedule got the Crimson Tide to this point (combined record of the 10 FBS teams Alabama beat is 64-55) and this team really hasn’t passed the eye test since its opening game. Crazy things can happen when the conference championship games take place this Saturday, and the Tide will need that to be the case to avoid being excluded from the playoffs. Right now, they don’t belong.

 

What is the college football selection committee secretly hoping will happen this coming weekend?

Wisconsin wins the Big Ten championship, Oklahoma wins the Big 12 championship and Clemson wins the ACC championship. They would be added to the SEC champion (either Georgia or Auburn) to make a nice, tidy, controversy-free final four. But what fun would that be? So root for Ohio State, TCU, Miami and chaos. All we know for certain right now is that the SEC champion is in.

 

Why is the Doak Walker Award selection committee embarrassed by its list of three finalists honoring the nation’s best running back?

It should really be the Joke Walker Award this year. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, who failed to top 100 rushing yards in six of his team’s nine conference games, made the final three (along with Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Stanford’s Bryce Love). But San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, the nation’s leading rusher – and a 2,000-yard rusher – did not make the cut. Perry has 2,027 yards and a 7.4-yard average for a 10-2 team. Barkley has 1,134 yards and a 5.7-yard average – and a whole bunch of false hype over his season. Love (1,848 yards, 8.6-yard average) and Taylor (1,806 yards, 7.0-yard average) are certainly deserving. But so is Penny. Twenty-five other FBS running backs currently have more rushing yards this year than Barkley.

 

Is it time for college football to implement stronger penalties for crude touchdown celebrations?

How proud were the family and teammates of Ole Miss WR D.K Metcalf after he caught a 63-yard touchdown pass against Mississippi State on Thanksgiving Day and celebrated in the end zone by getting on all fours and lifting his leg, imitating a dog urinating on national TV? USF QB Quinton Flowers managed to top that crude display – and overshadow his remarkable 605-yard game against UCF – when he pretended to masturbate in the end zone after scoring a touchdown, also on national TV. Flowers issued a statement and quasi-apology on Twitter afterward saying he hoped his actions weren’t misinterpreted. One question: How were they supposed to be interpreted?

Sorry for going old school on this, but both players should have been ejected immediately. We love a good touchdown celebration as much as anyone. But we don’t need to see disgusting displays by the likes of Metcalf (congrats Odell Beckham Jr. for your role-model behavior on that one) or Flowers — or even the crotch-grabbing antics of Baker Mayfield.

 

How about Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford as national Coach of the Year?

The former Cal coach – he actually did a solid job with the Bears during his 11 years, going 82-57 – inherited a Fresno State program that was 1-11 last year and 0-8 in the Mountain West. Now the Bulldogs have a rematch with Boise State in the MWC championship game after dispatching the nationally-ranked Broncos 28-17 on Saturday in a schedule quirk that has the schools meeting in consecutive weeks. Fresno is 9-3 this year (7-1 MWC) and the victory over Boise was its first over a ranked team since 2004. Another victory this weekend makes Fresno a conference champion, completing a worst to first turnaround in just one year. Pretty remarkable.

 

On the rise

New Mexico State (5-6)

Saturday’s 17-10 victory over Idaho has the Aggies – and respected defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani – within a victory of being bowl eligible (they finish with 4-7 South Alabama). Some perspective: New Mexico State has not gone bowling since the 1960 Sun Bowl. Yes, 1960.

Auburn (10-2)

Right now, this is the best team in the country. The victory over Alabama was the second over a No. 1-ranked team in three games. That just doesn’t happen.

Boston College (7-5)

Impressive turnaround for the Eagles and star freshman RB A.J. Dillon, with BC closing to win five of its final six to overcome a 2-4 start. Dillon had 193 yards and three TDs in the 42-14 romp at Syracuse. By the way, he also has more rushing yards this year (1,432) than Saquon Barkley.

 

On the decline

Navy (6-5)

A season filled with so much promise after a 5-0 start has the Midshipmen staggering into their Dec. 9 showdown with Army with five losses in six games.

Minnesota (5-7)

Plenty of lakes in Minnesota for coach P.J. Fleck to practice rowing a little better this offseason. Gophers’ dreary 31-0 home loss to Wisconsin was their seventh in nine games after a 3-0 start.

Colorado (5-7)

With bowl eligibility on the line, Buffaloes were non-competitive 34-13 losers to mediocre Utah, capping a free fall from winning the Pac-12 South a year ago to finishing last in the division this season.

 

Who’s hot

K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford

Four touchdown passes by the promising sophomore – two in the fourth quarter to cap a rally from a 20-17 deficit – lifted Stanford to 38-20 victory over Notre Dame. Then came the better news: With Washington State’s loss, the Cardinal earned a spot in the Pac-12 title game opposite USC.

Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

Filling in for the injured J.T. Barrett in the third quarter, the redshirt freshman rallied the Buckeyes from a 20-14 deficit to a 31-20 victory over Michigan by going 6-of-7 passing for 94 yards. His 22-yard run set up a one-yard TD run by J.K. Dobbins that gave the Buckeyes the lead for good at 21-20.

Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

Passed for 448 yards and five TDs in a wild 48-45 victory over Arkansas, setting an SEC record for touchdown passes in a season with 43. It was the Tigers’ sixth straight win too.

 

Who’s not

Luke Falk, QB, Washington State

Three interceptions, a lost fumble, five sacks … and a humbling 41-14 loss to Washington in a game the Cougars needed to win to capture the Pac-12 North title.

Virginia running backs

The final tally during a 10-0 loss to rival Virginia Tech: five net yards on 20 carries. Leading rusher Jordan Ellis had 10 carries for nine yards. Good grief.

Oklahoma’s captains

They carried Baker Mayfield’s jersey to the midfield coin toss against West Virginia because their star QB was stripped of his captaincy and made to sit the opening series following his crotch-grabbing, expletive-filled antics a week ago. Hey fellas: He acted like a jerk. He didn’t die on a battlefield.

 

Playing it forward

The top games of the coming week

Auburn (10-2) vs. Georgia (11-1), SEC championship game

Wisconsin (12-0) vs. Ohio State (10-2), Big Ten championship game

Oklahoma (11-1) vs. TCU (10-2), Big 12 championship game

Miami (10-1) vs. Clemson (11-1), ACC championship game

USC (10-2) vs. Stanford (9-3), Pac-12 championship game

UCF (11-0) vs. Memphis (10-1), AAC championship game

 

Story Lines

1. Players are warned all of the time about their selfish acts negatively impacting their team, but Connecticut’s Hergy Mayala apparently had to learn that lesson the hard way. After catching a two-yard touchdown pass with no time left to get the Huskies within 21-20 of Cincinnati, Mayala was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting a defender on the ground after the catch. UConn coach Randy Edsall, with nothing to lose, had already made the decision to go for two points and the win. But Mayala’s me-first outburst removed that as an option. And when Michael Tarbull missed what wound up being a 37-yard extra point because of the penalty, the Huskies had a one-point loss. Must have been fun for Mayala to face his teammates after that one.

2. It’s amusing – and just a little bit sad – to see programs espouse progress at the end of a lost year, trying to convince the masses that things are better than they were when they’re actually stuck in neutral or worse. Take Rutgers, which finished 4-8 but is pointing to the “progress” of doubling its win total from a year ago while winning three Big Ten games. The reality: The four teams Rutgers beat (Morgan State, Purdue, Maryland and Illinois) were a combined 13-34. And the Scarlet Knights finished the year by losing three straight by a combined 116-13. The much ballyhooed addition of Jerry Kill as offensive coordinator resulted in a total offense ranking of 128 out of 129 schools (ahead of only 0-12 UTEP) and a passing game that was 124th nationally. Maybe next year there will be even more “progress” with a non-conference schedule of Texas State (2-10), Kansas (1-11) and Buffalo (6-6) and another crossover division game with 2-10 Illinois.

3. Miami’s stunning 24-14 loss to Pittsburgh may sting the Hurricanes but ultimately may not hurt them if they beat Clemson in the ACC title game. With the way Mark Richt’s team plays up and down to the level of their opponents, it almost seemed as if Miami was begging to get beat this year. But who expected the loss to come at the hands of a Pitt team that was 4-7 at the time with a true freshman (Kenny Pickett) making his first career start at quarterback? Pickett hardly looked rattled by the moment, running for two touchdowns and throwing for another. That essentially turned Miami’s gaudy turnover chain into a choker.

 

Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014. The snarkiness is all Jersey.