Guerry Clegg commentary: Unpredictability makes college football captivating

January 7, 2014 

Some afterthoughts to the greatest college football season since … last year:

• I've long felt there's no such thing, in many seasons, as a definitively best team or best player. Last year might have been one of those exceptions in both cases with Alabama and Johnny Manziel. But this year, that certainly was the case. It wasn't even absolute that Florida State was the better team Monday night.

The Seminoles clearly deserved to win the game and the national championship. But just one play out of several big ones could have created a different outcome.

There's irony in that Auburn's most heartbreaking loss in years came in the same manner as its two most thrilling victories. There was the improbable two-minute drive, the missed field goal coming back to haunt them, and the 100-yard return.

But the unpredictability is one thing that makes college football so captivating.

• Gus Malzahn's explosive offense and smart play-calling overshadow his greatest coaching gift -- his ability to lead and motivate. Not talking about pregame and halftime speeches. Rather, Malzahn's motivation began the first day he met with the Tigers. He has a special ability to make players believe in themselves and each other. To label him a great coach would be premature, because greatness has to be earned over time. But he has the potential.

• It's also premature pronounce that the rest of college football has closed the gap on the SEC. If there were an eight-team playoff selected by an impartial panel after the bowl games, the SEC still would have had at least three, maybe four of the teams -- Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina and possibly Missouri. How many other conferences could legitimately say their fourth-best team could have a shot at the national championship.

Georgia almost certainly would have been in the top four in the SEC if not for all of the injuries. The SEC was 7-3 in bowl games, with one of those losses by a team without its record-setting quarterback (Aaron Murray) and its top running back on the sidelines during key stretches.

And this is in a supposed "down" year for the conference.

It's not likely to change any time soon. Nine SEC teams' recruiting classes are ranked in the top 14 nationally by Rivals.com.

• That said …

The gap has been overstated. While the SEC is clearly the strongest conference, the other major conferences have produced competitive teams. The fact that Texas A&M were 1-3 in Big 12 championship games and already are competitive with the SEC in just two years proves the gap never was as wide as many believed.

I've heard speculation that Florida State would not have gone through the SEC undefeated. I'm not so sure about that. Let's assume they would have been in the East Division. I don't think they lose a division game, except maybe at South Carolina. Whether they would have lost a non-division game would depend largely on the schedule.

But the real challenge would be having to play, say, at Ole Miss after back-to-back games against Georgia and South Carolina.

• AJ McCarron took much of the blame for Alabama's loss to Oklahoma. That's admirable, and he did make some key mistakes. But it's hard for a quarterback play flawless when he's constantly pressured and hit. Just ask Murray.

• Final thought: Say whatever you want about the kid's cockiness. Manziel is still the most entertaining player in college football since Cam Newton. It might take a little tweaking of an offense -- and considerable maturity from the player himself -- but he's going to be successful in the NFL.

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