Hard truths: CFP National Championship produces exciting game, harsh reality

Hard truths: CFP National Championship produces exciting game, harsh reality
Don't worry about Alabama. They'll be just fine.Photo via: Wiki Commons.

I watched Georgia wear down and wallop Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship – that’s the full legal name of the title game – and thought, this is starting to feel like watching a Seinfeld rerun for the thousandth time. An SEC team winning the title game isn’t exactly a Festivus miracle.

The game should have a new name: “The SEC Invitational.” Or, “Who Gets to Play Alabama This Year?”

There’s no question that the Southeastern Conference dominates college football. And that’s exactly what is making the college game a predictable and, with each passing year (Bama quarterback Bryce Young threw 57 passes against the Bulldogs) a one-conference race to the top.

The current College Football Playoff system began in 2014, so there’ve been eight championship games. The SEC has sent a representative team every year except once, the first CFP title showdown when Ohio State faced Oregon. Since then, the championship game has been like an AM oldies station, all SEC all the time. Plus four appearances by Clemson and cameos by Ohio State (two) and Oregon (one). LSU from the SEC won the championship in 2019.

What Power 5 conferences? The Pac-12 hasn’t produced a serious contender for the title since Oregon was favored by 7 points, and got drubbed by Ohio State, 42-20. A Big 12 team has never appeared in a CFP championship game. And the Big 12’s chances aren’t improving with Texas and Oklahoma one foot out the door. The Big Ten really is the Big One – Ohio State. Same for the ACC where Clemson stands alone.

Eight championship games, with 16 opportunities to play, and the SEC owns nine of the slots, with Alabama practically the home team. Don’t worry about last night’s defeat, Alabama will be back. And back and back.

Alabama has played in the title game six times in eight years. You can’t say it’s unfair because there are 125 Division 1 college football programs and they all start the season at Square One. But really, Alabama starts its season first down on the opponent’s 5-yard line.

Alabama doesn’t have just one first-round draft pick of 5-star high school recruits. Bama, like all D1 schools, can offer 85 full ride scholarships. That means Alabama has 85 first-round selections. How many blue chip recruits are going to say no to Nick Saban, the most celebrated coach in college football history, when he makes the Alabama pitch to a teenager?

“You want to play in the NFL? Alabama has more players in the NFL than any other college and it’s not even close. Every one of our games is on national TV. We have a beautiful stadium, the finest facilities in college sports and we play in a warm climate. Six of our players will be drafted in the first-round this year. We’ve had four Heisman Trophy winners in the past 12 years, including the last two. We sent 14 players to the NFL last year. And our sophomore quarterback this year made nearly $1 million in endorsements before he ever took a snap for us. So what do you say, kid? I happen to have a pen with me.”

It’s just a coincidence, but Bama has 53 players currently on an NFL roster, and an NFL game day roster has 53 players. What if all the Crimson Tide guys were on the same team? Would that team make the playoffs? Make a run for the Super Bowl? It’s an intriguing hypothetical.

At quarterback, starters Jalen Hurts (Eagles) and Mac Jones (Patriots) led their teams into the playoffs this year. A third, Tua Tagovailoa (Miami), just missed the post-season.

At running back, Bama has produced playoff-bound bruisers Derrick Henry and Najee Harris.

Alabama has speed to burn at wide receiver: Amari Cooper, Julio Jones, Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith.

Last year a total of 64 Crimson Tide alums got into an NFL regular-season game. Actually Bama has 82 players in the NFL if you include offseason rosters. That includes: 11 linebackers, 10 receivers, 10 defensive linemen, 10 defensive backs, four quarterbacks, and even a long snapper and kicker.

I’d put the Vegas line at ex-Alabama (-8) over the Houston Texans.

By the way, the 2024 College Football Playoff Championship game will be played at NRG Stadium in Houston. Who do you think will be Alabama’s opponent?

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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