And then there was one

Published 2:16 pm Sunday, January 14, 2024

J. J. McCarthy felt the sting of defeat in the 2023 College Football Playoffs when the University of Michigan lost to Texas Christian University.  In the post-game interview, McCarthy, who is the quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines, said “We will be back”.  Tonight, his promise was fulfilled, and the Wolverines stand alone as the National Champion of College Football.

It has been such a long road since the first days of this season when teams played in the last of the dog days of summer.  It is tough to watch, much less play, a game on Labor Day weekend in the heat of the deep south.

This was a year of controversy and chaos for football, the preeminent sport for most of the south and much of the nation.   Between Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) and the transfer portal, many longtime fans were confused and lost.  The loyalty of the players seemed to ebb even as the money flowed.  Even so, it is hard to dispute that it was time for the players to get a piece of the billion dollar pie thit is today’s college football.  

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Most fans celebrated wins and mourned losses as their teams played through the season.  The dominant teams of the past few years seemed to stay at the top.  My own team, Auburn, played some of their best football against the two top teams in the SEC.   They held Georgia at bay until the Tigers were worn out, and it took a miracle on 4th and 31 for our archnemesis, Alabama, to pull out a win on the last play of the game.

Such is the mystique of college football.  You can be proud of your team even as your heart breaks.  For every game lost at the last second, there is an opposing team celebrating their own unexpected win of that same game.  Waiting until next year, or even next week, with a hope and a prayer for your team is sometimes answered and sometimes not.

You cannot reflect on college football in 2023 without mentioning the tragic story of Florida State.  The Seminoles were undefeated and the champion of their Power Five conference, the ACC.  Unfortunately, their quarterback, Jordan Travis, was injured near the end of the season.  The CFP committee elected to leave FSU out of the playoffs even though they had a 13-0 record and were ACC Champs.

As things would have it, most of the playmakers for the Noles left early for the NFL, the portal, or simply opted out of the bowl game.  The remaining shell of the team was defeated 63-3 by the Georgia Bulldogs in the biggest blowout in bowl history.   A sad story that added to the chaos of the season.

Despite FSU’s unblemished record at the time, Alabama and Texas made it to the playoffs with one loss apiece.  In the first weekend of the playoffs, they both lost in two of the most exciting semifinal games in history.  Fittingly, that left the only two undefeated teams in a matchup for the championship game.

The final game was not that close.  Michigan’s offense and defense both played well, and the Washington Huskies dealt with injuries to several of their best players.  At the end, it was clear that on this night the Michigan Wolverines were the best team on the field.

Some will forever argue that Michigan is not the best team in the land.   On any other given day, Bama or Georgia might have won that game against the Wolverines.  Even FSU, if given the chance and playing with a full roster, might have made the game interesting.

Alas, that is not the way it works.  We have a system that decides the winner, and although that will change next year with 12 teams in the playoffs, the system determined a champion in the end.

After four months of screaming, yelling, and gnashing of teeth it is finally over.  For better or worse, there is only one team left standing.  They all played with heart through the grind until there was just one.  Congratulations to the only undefeated team in America and this year’s (mostly) undisputed national champions, the Michigan Wolverines.