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Carson: The mid-major dream dies again

| Monday, November 9, 2015

We’ll have to wait another year to see if college football’s doomsday scenario ever plays itself out.

This could’ve been the year. Even with the fluky number of undefeated teams left at this stage of the season — seriously, well done to the conferences for back-loading each contender’s schedule — there still seemed to be a path possible.

But alas, the great dream died Saturday.

A lot would have had to go right for No. 13 Memphis to make the College Football Playoff, there’s no doubting that, but it seemed like it could have been in the cards.

Everything the Tigers needed for their résumé was there. Not only could the Tigers have had a big nonconference win over a Power Five school, they could have had a big nonconference win over the SEC champion, Mississippi.

And not only did the Tigers have another Power Five win (well, I don’t think you can really call Kansas a “Power Five” school, but that’s beside the point), they were on course for a slew of quality conference wins. In the resurgent American Athletic Conference, the Tigers would’ve had to run the table with Navy, Houston and Temple, all before likely having to down the Owls once more in the conference title game.

For anyone, but especially a “mid-major” team, that was a tough November slate.

But it all so gloriously fell apart Saturday.

Ole Miss, ranked 18th, had what looked like a pretty pedestrian showdown with Arkansas. Sure, anything can happen in the best conference in the universe™, but the Razorbacks have just been bad this season.

Then the Rebels gave up 45 points, allowed a fourth-and-25 conversion in overtime and lost 53-52 when Arkansas converted a 2-point try.

That alone — Memphis’ result against Navy notwithstanding — was probably enough to toll the death knell for the Tigers’ dreams.

The idea was this: An 11-2, conference-champion Ole Miss squad wouldn’t have had a case for inclusion over a 13-0 Memphis team that had defeated the Rebels. And if the Pac-12 champion also had two losses, there was at least an argument to be made that they should be amongst the four teams in the College Football Playoff.

But that died when Mississippi inexplicably lost a shootout to a team coached by Bret Bielema.

That’s bad.

Of course, the Tigers proceeded to pour gasoline all over the situation by falling behind against Navy, eventually getting blown out to the tune of a 45-20 score.

At home.

There have been a lot of instances of fun runs by small schools coming to an end in a disastrous way over the years, but this may be the biggest disaster since Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman blew 26- and 29-yard field goals at Nevada while the Broncos were still relevant in college football.

And that’s the thing — during the 2000s, there were plenty of teams who could’ve benefitted from a playoff system. Boise State was consistently putting together good teams, while TCU, Utah and Hawai’i each popped up with BCS-crashing teams.

Of course, two of those schools are now in power conferences, and the Rainbow Warriors just fired head coach Norm Chow midseason. So they’re not looking too hot right now.

But in the modern-day setup, it’s hard to find too many viable candidates for a four-team playoff that come from outside the power conferences — Notre Dame and, to a lesser extent, BYU could certainly get there as independents, but it’s compelling to put together a scenario that sees anyone currently affiliated with a smaller league getting there.

Rule out anyone who isn’t from the AAC from this discussion instantly. Just do it. There’s never going to be a deep enough field of good teams in any other “Group of Five” conference to impress the committee, which seems to value strength of schedule and quality wins pretty highly — look at how they (rightly) treated Marshall last year.

So then that takes us to a few select schools that could get the job done.

One year, one of them may just do it. Cincinnati seems like a good candidate, as are UCF and Connecticut, if the Huskies could ever get their stuff together.

But until then, we wait for our saviors to break through.

Because Memphis, you were far too beautiful to be our great hope.

Sweet dreams, Tigers.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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