Boredom leads to lowest college football playoff ratings ever

Matthew Conway, Sports Editor

The 2019 College Football Playoff was the fifth iteration of the postseason tournament.

In the two semifinal matchups, the Alabama Crimson Tide hung on to defeat the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl by fending off a late rally while the Clemson Tigers thumped the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Cotton Bowl. This set up a national championship game which generated the lowest ratings in the history of the playoff, garnering only a 14.6 overnight rating. The Tide and Tigers played each other in the playoff for the fourth straight season.

Clemson defeated Alabama for the second time in three years. This game, however, looked drastically different than the championship of two seasons ago. In that matchup, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson capped off a come-from-behind victory with a last-second touchdown pass to WR Hunter Renfrow. Watson is now on the Houston Texans. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts, who played two seasons as the Tide’s starter and twice led them against Clemson in the CFP, is now with the University of Oklahoma. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) are the new faces at quarterback for both programs.

Heading into this year’s national championship game, college football’s major storyline was Tagovailoa’s Heisman-worthy season, which was superseded by a late charge from Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray. Murray, a dual-threat QB, accounted for 54 touchdowns while leading the Sooners to 13 wins and a Big 12 title.

Oklahoma’s defense, which surrendered an average of 454 yards and 33 points per game, was often criticized for putting the team in many disadvantageous situations in close games. The firing of defensive coordinator Mike Stoops after Week 6 did not help matters. The Sooners needed 50-point efforts from Murray and the offense on a weekly basis. Murray, a Texas A&M transfer, carried the team down the stretch. This vaulted him above Tagovailoa, who sat out in the fourth quarter of blowouts to avoid injury, in the Heisman voting.

Alabama was referred to by many throughout the season as the “best college football team of all time”. They demolished their opponents, routinely scoring in the 60s and allowing fewer than 20 points. Tagovailoa’s pinpoint accuracy, deep throws and leadership enthralled the nation. He was seen as the Heisman favorite from Week 1 (a one sided victory over Louisville) onward.

Clemson was the Cavaliers to Alabama’s Golden State Warriors. One was the perennial favorite, and the other was the close second who rarely seemed to be able to push through. Clemson also thoroughly obliterated its competition. The best defensive line in America paired with Lawrence, the No. 2 recruit in the 2018 ESPN 300, created a monster which was impossible for opponents to stop.

On the other hand, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was the team many felt did not belong in the playoff. A schedule which included wins over five ranked teams, not to mention victories over division champions Northwestern and Pittsburgh, was criticized by fans for being soft. Simply because USC and Florida State, typical powers, were not bowl-eligible or national title contenders as in a typical year, ND seemed to be at fault for this failure to schedule aggressively.

Although the Irish appeared to match up well against Clemson on the surface, with no glaring weaknesses on their offense, defense or special teams units, many holes were exposed against the Tigers. Clemson freshman QB Trevor Lawrence shredded Notre Dame’s defense for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Freshman receiver Justyn Ross went for 148 yards and two touchdowns while sophomore RB Travis Etienne tallied 109 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

Oklahoma’s defense was its usual porous self against the Tide, allowing 45 points to Tagovailoa and Co. This time, it was not bailed out by the other side of the ball. OU’s offense was shut down, by its standards, scoring 16 below its season average of 50 points per game. Murray still recorded 417 yards and three touchdowns rushing and passing to bolster his case as a first round pick in the NFL Draft.

After Oklahoma-Alabama was the only playoff matchup to be remotely competitive, cries for reform to the playoff system rang out nationwide. Fans of Georgia, Ohio State and UCF, irate that their teams were not included, pleaded that the playoff expand to eight teams to give more programs the opportunity to compete for a national title. While the CFP committee has been reluctant to change the system for now, we will have to wait and see what the next several years bring.