The Rose Bowl moves to Texas, but the CFP bears a familiar look

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2018, file photo, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney talk before the Sugar Bowl semifinal playoff game for the NCAA college football national championship in New Orleans. Swinney and the Tigers play in their third national championship game in four seasons next Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, against top-ranked Alabama.  (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2018, file photo, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney talk before the Sugar Bowl semifinal playoff game for the NCAA college football national championship in New Orleans. Swinney and the Tigers play in their third national championship game in four seasons next Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, against top-ranked Alabama. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Credit: Gerald Herbert

Credit: Gerald Herbert

The biggest shock of Championship Saturday came not from any game — not from Najee Harris scoring five touchdowns against Florida or Trey Sermon of Ohio State and Sprayberry High rushing for 331 yards against Northwestern — but from the Granddaddy of Them All. Among those who track sports for a living, it’s an article of faith that the Rose Bowl never budges on anything. For the longest time, we had our little joke: “College football is the only sport being run by a parade.”

The parade is the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, which controls the Rose Bowl. As much of college football sought a playoff, the Rose refused to move far from its longstanding dates (Jan. 1, or, if Jan. 1 is a Sunday, Jan. 2) or its preferred start time (1:30 p.m. PST). The exceptions came in those BCS days when the Rose became the championship game. Ohio State’s overtime victory over Miami was held on Jan. 3, 2003; the greatest college game ever, Vince Young against USC, was staged on Jan. 4, 2006.

ExploreCollege Football Playoff selections: Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State

Check its history — the Rose has been an annual event since 1916 — and you’ll see almost no variation. (Though the Jan. 1, 1942, game was played in Durham, N.C. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, Californians were terrified that Japanese subs were about to launch attacks against the Golden State.) The Rose wants what it wants, and it tends to get what it wants. Except this time.

Because of California COVID-19 restrictions, the Rose Bowl — set to hold a College Football Playoff semifinal on New Year’s Day — wouldn’t be permitted to host any sort of live audience, the participants’ families included. Because one ACC finalist was apt to be sent to Pasadena — No. 1 Alabama seemed ticketed for New Orleans — both Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney expressed a reluctance to go west. Kelly spoke of boycotting the game.

Moot point now. In our pandemic year, even the Granddaddy had to give. CFP director Bill Hancock sent this missive at 10:49 p.m. Saturday: “Given the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Southern California, the semifinal game previously scheduled to be played at the Rose Bowl Stadium will now be played at AT&T Stadium in (Arlington), Texas.”

The biggest jolt of a season that saw its most famous coach and most famous player miss key games was supplied by a simple change in logistics. The Rose Bowl went on during World Wars I and II. The Rose Bowl will not be played during this pandemic. (Nor will the parade be held.)

Regarding the teams that populate the four-time field: Back in September, it was possible to envision a shortened and delayed schedule that featured different conferences playing a differing number of games yielding all manner of shocks. Wrong again. Alabama and Clemson will each grace the event for the sixth time in seven years. Ohio State has made it for a fourth time, Notre Dame for a second.

Yeah, Texas A&M had a case, but not a compelling one. Jimbo Fisher, doing the lobbying thing, noted his team had won seven SEC games in a row andhad played nine games to Ohio State’s six. What Jimbo didn’t mention: The Aggies’ second-best win came against Auburn, which just fired its coach. (Even with a 10-game conference schedule, A&M missed Georgia.) Ohio State beat Indiana and Northwestern. Notre Dame beat Clemson and North Carolina. Oh, and Alabama managed to win 11 consecutive SEC games.

It would have been intriguing to see what the committee might have done with the Irish had they lost to Clemson by 44 points, as opposed to 24. With 8:09 left in Charlotte, Notre Dame scored a touchdown that didn’t affect the game’s outcome but that might have swayed the 13 folks sitting in Grapevine, Texas. And Notre Dame’s inclusion meant a great deal to the ACC, which for the first time has dispatched two teams to the playoff, even if one is a rental.

The surprise of Selection Sunday was that Alabama, the No. 1 seed, was sent to the, er, Arlington Rose Bowl and not the closer semi. The committee’s explanation: Though Arlington is 307 miles farther from Tuscaloosa than New Orleans, only 3,000 fans will be allowed in the Superdome; at AT&T Stadium, 16,000 will be accommodated.

The shame of Selection Sunday was the short shrift shown Cincinnati. (Try saying that three times fast with a mouthful of peanut butter.) The Bearcats went unbeaten, won the American Conference, beat three ranked opponents and finished among the nation’s top 20 in total offense and defense. They finished No. 8, one spot behind three-loss Florida. But the Power 5 didn’t band together to create playoff to satisfy outsiders. So long as the field remains at four, a non-Power 5 team will never make it. The Bearcats’ consolation prize: A New Year’s date with Georgia in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Associated Press released its preseason Top 25 on Aug. 31, back when the Big Ten and Pac-12 had opted out. The top three: Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama. Notre Dame was No. 10. Even in a season when nothing was certain – the Big Ten and Pac-12 would opt back in – there can be no real surprise at its end. For the fourth time in six years, Alabama and Clemson will play for the title. Clemson won the most recent meeting. Alabama will win this time.

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