This You Gotta See: Bears-Seahawks, Zach LaVine’s return and the College Football Playoff
Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, Cincinnati and … that’s it? Only four teams in this “tournament”? Yep, and that’s plenty.
Oh, you want an expanded College Football Playoff, do you?
Look, I get it. More just seems better.
But really? Non-playoff bowl games haven’t lost enough luster? The Rose Bowl used to be the greatest spectacle in college football, national-title implications or not. Now it’s superpower Ohio State against Pac-12 champ Utah and, you know, not all that big a deal.
Several teams each season used to be able to approximate the experience that now is reserved for playoff winners only. Baylor in 2011 is a perfect example of this: A long-moribund program won 10 games — and quarterback Robert Griffin III took the Heisman Trophy — and you won’t find a Bears fan who will tell you anything since has touched those four magical months.
Ask Purdue fans about the 2000 Boilermakers going to the Rose Bowl with Drew Brees. Or Northwestern fans about the 1995 “Purple to Pasadena” journey. Or Wisconsin fans about the 1993 Badgers — a team I covered — rising from nothingness to win the Rose Bowl.
And the regular season hasn’t been watered down enough? Huge Saturday games — rivalry games, full of pomp and pageantry — are what distinguish college football from the NFL.
Let’s say we had an eight-team playoff right now. Do we need No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Mississippi? They already did it once, on Oct. 2, with the Crimson Tide winning by three touchdowns. Do we need No. 4 Cincinnati vs. No. 5 Notre Dame? They already did it once, on that very same day, with the Bearcats winning by 11 in South Bend.
Three of 14 semifinal games in the playoff era have been decided by single digits. Three.
More? Four is plenty. And here’s what’s happening:
Bills at Patriots (noon, Ch. 2)
If the Bills — one game behind their nemeses — are going to reclaim AFC East big-boy status, they absolutely have to have this one. Fearless prediction: Pats QB Mac Jones attempts more than three passes this time.
Bears at Seahawks (3 p.m., Fox-32)
Matt Nagy isn’t the only coach who’s up against it. Anybody else have an appetite for Pete Carroll joining Tony La Russa in Chicago’s 70-and-over club?
Steelers at Chiefs (3:25 p.m., Ch. 2)
Just in case a game involving playoff-caliber teams is more your speed, the Chiefs are gunning for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the Steelers are still — OK, barely — in the wild-card mix.
Pacers at Bulls (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
Man, it’s good to have Zach LaVine back. He’s like a Christmas present that drills step-back threes, has a 46-inch vertical and is almost awesome enough to make you forget all about that Jimmy Butler toy you lost.
Bulls at Hawks (6:30 p.m., NBCSCH)
With coach Billy Donovan in COVID-19 protocol, assistant Chris Fleming takes the reins for the first of a back-to-back against Atlanta. Not to tell him how to do his job, but he probably should just hand the whiteboard to DeMar DeRozan for the fourth quarter.
Dolphins at Saints (7:15 p.m., ESPN)
These teams might be a run-of-the-mill 7-7, but the Fins have won six straight and the Saints are coming off a shutout of Tom Brady. The sneakiest-good essentially meaningless game of the season?
Blue Jackets at Blackhawks (7:30 p.m., NBCSCH)
The Hawks take the ice for the first time in 10 days — hopefully, enough time to devise a strategy that doesn’t involve losing in overtime.
CBB: DePaul at Butler (4 p.m., FS1)
Let’s try this Big East-opener thing yet again, shall we? It was pretty sweet of the league to change its game-cancellation policy, wiping a pair of forfeit losses from the Blue Demons’ record.
Blackhawks at Jets (6:30 p.m., NBCSCH)
Last time the Hawks went to Winnipeg, they gave up two goals in the first three minutes, generated hardly any quality shots all game, lost 5-1 to fall to 1-9-2 on the season and — oh, yeah — got their coach fired. Other than that, it really was a lovely little trip.
Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs. Oklahoma (8:15 p.m., ESPN)
“Big Game” Bob Stoops is right where he belongs — back on the Sooners sideline for the first time in five years. Alas, it’s for one game only. Boomer, bummer.
Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Cincinnati (2:30 p.m., ESPN)
Bearcats fans are super sensitive about Cincinnati not getting the respect it deserves, but let’s just tell it like it is: Skyline Chili is an abomination.
Orange Bowl: Michigan vs. Georgia (6:30 p.m., ESPN)
Not to be negative about the Wolverines’ chances, but all they could muster in the schools’ last meeting was seven measly points. It’s tempting to blame Jim Harbaugh, although, in his defense, it was 1965 and he was 1.
Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma State (noon, ESPN)
What an exciting way for Marcus Freeman to make his debut as Irish coach. He better win, too, or else we might have to endure the sight of a Gatorade dump on Mike Gundy’s mullet.
Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Utah (4 p.m., ESPN)
The Utes had not one but two blowout victories against Oregon, the very squad that won at Ohio Stadium in September. Yada, yada, Buckeyes by 14.
Blues at Wild (6 p.m., TNT)
Not many sports scenes can top the NHL’s annual Winter Classic, which finally makes its way to Target Field. Special bonus: Viewers don’t even have to watch the Twins.