What in the world of ESPN happened? Heads are going to roll at the sports network. How could it have happened that the College Football Playoff Selection Committee picked only one Southeast Conference team to make the four-team playoff for the national title? Surely there must have been a mistake. And horror of horrors, the committee let a Big-12 team, Oklahoma, make the cut. Well, at least they were able to keep out the Pac-12.
OK. The Old Coach is being a bit harsh on the selection committee and the current playoff system. The four teams selected, OU, LSU, Ohio State, and Clemson, are probably the best teams to vie for this year’s national championship. Easy pickins. They were the only teams who were undefeated or only had one loss, unless you count Memphis, Boise State, or Appalachian State. It might be of interest to note that during the regular season, Memphis defeated two ranked opponents (No. 21 Cincinnati and No. 23 Navy), while Clemson only defeated one (No. 24 Virginia). I say probably, because there is really no way of knowing if Pac-12 champion Oregon could beat any of the Final Four. Of course, Georgia and Baylor, both conference runner-ups, wouldn’t stand a chance. Nor would Memphis.
Or would they?
We just saw from the Maryland High School State Championships that a No. 6 seed, Middletown, defeated a No. 5 seed, Potomac, to win the state 2A title. Of the eight finalists in the four Maryland classifications, there were two No. 2 seeds, two No. 4 seeds, a No. 5, a No. 6, a No. 3 and only one No. 1 seed that made it. That indicates how sometimes comparing records from different state regions is like comparing apples and oranges. With the 32-team format developed by the Maryland State Playoff Committee, the finalists had to win their way to the finals, unlike the Division I CFP where four teams are placed in the semifinals by an arbitrary decision by a committee of people, some of whom have a vested interest in the selection.
Hats off to Middletown for recovering from some early-season losses and making it through the five-week playoff gauntlet of one-and-done pressure to reach the final. The Knights were battle-tested with regular-season county opponents like Linganore, Oakdale, and Walkersville (later in the playoffs also), before beating last year’s 2A state champion, Elkton, in the semis. Coach Colin Delauter, just in his mid- 20s, has his first state title under his belt (the Knights’ fourth).
The Catoctin Cougars, led by 29-year head coach Doug Williams, had a dream season on the way to the school’s second state championship. The team broke many school records on the way to an 8–1 regular season. The challenge came in the playoffs, where they had to beat Fort Hill, of Cumberland, and Dunbar, of Baltimore, two teams that had won the previous 10 1A championships, to claim the title. The Cougars won both games in convincing fashion.
Although the Linganore Lancers had fought their way through the playoffs to reach the 3A final, they were unable to beat the No. 4 seed Damascus Hornets from just down I-270. That didn’t take away from the outstanding year Linganore had and the fine job that coach Rick Conner did in getting his team to the final for the third straight year.
Every year, the Old Coach is impressed with the quality of high school athletics in Frederick County. There is a rich tradition of excellence in every sport. With three teams representing our county in three different football classifications, it has become the rumor that we must be feeding our athletes some special diet here in the Monocacy Valley.
The Old Coach knows, however, that it’s a combination of great coaching, an abundance of talent, player coachability, tradition, discipline, and school and community support that make our high school programs such a success. One just has to look at the fans who travel to playoff sites, wherever they are held throughout the state, to root on our athletes. Or just go to any event at one of our 10 public high schools to see the stands filled with students, alumni, parents and neighbors.
“Coach’s Corner” had lobbied for the expanded Maryland high school football playoffs for many years. The new format proved to be a great success. Maybe someday, we’ll get to see a similar expansion take place in determining the CFP national championship. You might just see a No. 6 seed win a title.