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Did participants in epic Rose Bowl deserve spot in CFP?

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Sometimes adjectives are often overused when describing sporting events. Epic; classic; legendary; incredible.

All of those and more describe to the 2017 Rose Bowl. The words seem insufficient to define Monday’s back-and-forth between Penn State and Southern California, which the Trojans won 52-49 on Matt Boermeester’s 46-yard field goal as time expired.

Are there better words to paint a picture of a game that featured Penn State coming from 13 points down to take a 15-point lead early in the second half? How about USC roaring back from that deficit to score 17 unanswered fourth quarter points to steal the win?

It would take thousands of words to describe all of the twists, turns, scrambles and runs. The game was that good.

The quality of play between two top caliber teams no doubt caused some to wonder if either of these teams belonged in the College Football Playoffs. I am one of those and must and must answer in the affirmative.

Both teams defeated their conference’s representative in the playoffs. Penn State gave Ohio State their only regular season loss, 24-21 in State College on October 23.

USC went to Seattle and gave Washington their only regular season loss, 26-13 on November 13.

The Nittany Lions had a better case than the Trojans. By beating Ohio State, they prevented the Buckeyes from even competing in the Big 10 Championship Game, which Penn State won over Wisconsin. Penn State finished 11-2, while Ohio State was 11-1.

Despite beating Washington, the Trojans did not qualify for the Pac 12 Championship Game. They were 9-3 on the season, including a 52-6 beating from Alabama. After a switch to Sam Darnold at quarterback, USC won their last nine games.

For all of the criticism of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), this year proves that the process of determining a college football champion is still a work in progress. The noise level and Twitter commentary would have been reduced had Ohio State not looked as bad as they did against Clemson on Saturday. 31-0?

Give Clemson credit for most of that, but a strong case can be made that on the day the four playoff contenders were announced, Penn State was a better football team than the Buckeyes. Plus, they defeated Ohio State head-to-head. Plus, they were the champions of their conference.

Again, USC could not make the case for inclusion that Penn State could, but it is fair to say that on the day the CFP four were chosen, they were the best football team in the Pac 12.

Didn’t we get rid of the BCS and the system before that because polls and computers were deciding who would have the chance to win the title? Well, in the case of these two teams, Penn State lost out because of polls and computers.

Sure, Penn State lost on Monday, but they lost to a team with which they were evenly matched. They may have fared no better than Ohio State did against Clemson. However, I believe they would have given the Tigers a much better game.

Hopefully, the NCAA will tweak the system and mandate the four representatives in the College Football Playoffs must be, at minimum, conference champions. That is why little controversy surrounded Pac-12 Champion Washington.

In the end, Alabama and Clemson, clearly the two best teams in the country, will be in Tampa next Monday for the championship game.

We can only hope that game is half as good as the Rose Bowl featuring two championship level teams.


Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at [email protected]

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