By ED STORIN
What a day Thursday is for college football fans. Five games culminating in the first playoffs that will determine a true national champion. No polls that reek with coaching bias; no questionable computer ratings involved.
First it is unbeaten Florida State against Oregon in a Rose Bowl contest that pits the last two Heisman Trophy winners -- Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Both will take their considerable skills to the National Football League as first-round draft choices.
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Then the two best college coaches in the game -- Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Urban Meyer -- will match wits in the Sugar Bowl. They have combined for six national championships already and I'm betting tonight's winner gets another on Jan. 12.
However, there is still some tweaking to be done on this playoff system.
Baylor and TCU got shafted this season by the playoff selection committee, which was required to pick four teams when six were deserving. There will be an eight-team playoff in time. Probably the year after a Big Ten or Southeastern Conference school gets passed over.
One of the reasons it took so long for the NCAA brass to buy into a playoff system was the fear that it would diminish interest in the regular season and other bowl games. There is absolutely no evidence that this was the case in 2014.
However, several times during bowl games I have heard ESPN announcers mention that the players on such and such a team "don't appear to want to be in the game."
Over the last 10 days I have tuned in most of the games and, with one major exception, I don't think this has been the case. The exception was Monday afternoon when Oklahoma seemed to be going through the motions as the Sooners were routed by Clemson, 40-6.
Could it be that the undeserved high expectations for Oklahoma took their toll? Preseason rankings had OU in the playoff Final Four. Instead the Sooners finished fourth in the Big 12 behind TCU, Baylor and Kansas State.
This is not the first time that a Bob Stoops team has failed to show up for a bowl game.
Speaking of coaches, it was good to see a successful pro coach, Jim Harbaugh, return to the college ranks at Michigan.
Most of the time when a coach comes back to college from the NFL it is because he couldn't cut in with the big boys. Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier, among others, come to mind.
Harbaugh, a winner at Stanford who went on to lead San Francisco to the Super Bowl, is just what the downtrodden Michigan program needs.
What's more, he is just what the Big Ten needs (or if my math is correct the Big 14). Soon, for the first time in recent years, the conference will have four members -- Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan -- that will be on the same level as the best in the Southeastern conference.
One season-ending final thought on coaches. I wrote at the top that Saban and Meyer are the two best coaches in college football. Each has many attributes that make them successful.
This season two stand out to me.
For Saban, it was his gamble on hiring the brash and arrogant Lane Kiffin, who had been fired as head coach after five games by Southern Cal just a year ago. Making Kiffin offensive coordinator looked to me like a decision bound to fail.
Instead Kiffin has introduced a whole new offensive approach (up tempo) to Bama and Saban has bought into it. They have learned from each other. Good for them and good for Alabama.
For Meyer, it is how he handled the loss of two quarterbacks -- one in the preseason when Heisman candidate Braxton Miller was lost for the year with a severe shoulder injury and the Buckeyes were upset by Virginia Tech. The other when J.T. Barrett suffered a season ending broken ankle against Michigan and a third QB, Cardale Jones came on to lead Ohio State to a 59-0 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
Three starting quarterbacks in one season and a chance for a national title.
That just doesn't happen without phenomenal coaching.