Not that long ago the dawn of September would have had Answer Man anticipating the thrills and chills of another college football season.

These days, it’s more of a countdown to the inevitable time, four and a half months hence, when Clemson or Alabama – likely both – will play again for a national championship.

This is great if you are are a fan of the Tigers or Crimson Tide. Otherwise, it’s pretty monotonous.

And for those who are avid fans of other teams, you’re just deluding yourself if you harbor national title hopes for your team, sort of like the irrationality of Pirates fans dreaming of winning the World Series, or even losing after getting back to one.

Here is the stark reality of college football. Clemson and Alabama have played for the title in three of the past four seasons, with Clemson winning a 44-16 runaway to claim the title following the 2018 season.

The one time in the past four seasons that these two teams didn’t meet in the finals, it was because they played a semifinal game, won by Alabama. Of course Alabama went on to win that national championship game, albeit in surprisingly difficult fashion over fellow SEC team Georgia.

Not only have the Clemson and Alabama programs distanced themselves from the competition, the playoff system in general has managed to turn college’s bowl season into an afterthought.

Sure, fans still get marginally excited if their team goes to one of the thousand or so bowl games. But the general sporting public largely yawns, even for some of the traditional biggies. 

They’re just preliminary bouts; the under-card to the main event that is the title game.

This could be more acceptable if there was greater uncertainty as to which teams would make that title game.

But as the 2019 season has gotten underway in earnest this weekend, experts who book bets are split between those expecting Clemson to win it all, again, and those expecting Alabama to return to the throne it has occupied so many times in recent history. Note a lack of sentiment backed by cash for any other program.

Scholarship limits were supposed to equalize the field, beginning in 1973 when the first limit – 105 – was put into place to free money to meet the demands of Title IX. Since then the number has been dropped, most recently to 85 in 1992.

The thinking had been that limiting scholarships would keep the big-name schools from stockpiling talent that might not start for them, just to keep those players away from the competition.

The evidence shows it hasn’t worked and isn’t working, at least not in the cases of Clemson and Alabama. They still rake in top recruiting classes, and seem to have capable backups should star players get hurt, transfer, or both.

An oft-heard solution is to reduce further the scholarship number to something like 70, which is laughable in view of the failure to date of such measures. Answer Man is thinking Clemson and Alabama have enough winning image they could get stars to walk on just for the chance to wear the uniforms and likely play for a national title.

Meanwhile, the NFL has kept some mystery in the title picture, even though New England has won three of the past five Super Bowls.

The Patriots beat three different teams in their wins – Atlanta, Seattle and the Los Angeles Rams – and lost to yet another team – Philadelphia – in a Super Bowl appearance during that stretch. New England didn’t even make Super Bowl L, which followed the 2015 season.

It’s not exactly parity, but it’s better than what college football offers.

And now Answer Man cracks open the mail bag he has filled with questions he’s taken the liberty to ask.

Q: What’s your read on the Indianapolis Colts fans who booed Andrew Luck when news of his retirement leaked out? Sign me, Boo-Boo Bear from Jellystone Park.

A: Hey Boo-Boo, fans are the tip of the spear in an increasingly rude society, so the home folks turning on Luck because he’d decided he’d had enough of football isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that some sports commentators sided with the fans. Mostly those media guys knocking Luck are the usual suspects, eager to be controversial and embellish their brand. 

Let’s give Luck credit for walking away instead of taking millions for carrying a clipboard on the sidelines.

Q: Were you surprised to hear that ex-Pirate Sean Rodriguez beat the Bucs with a walkoff homer Monday, then used his postgame interviews to rip the Phillies fans as entitled? Sign me, Hans Biter from Bitterville.

A: Hans, those Philadelphia sports fans are a tough lot who have booed Santa Claus. 

So Rodriguez, who was ticked at having been booed in prior games for having one hit and 11 strikeouts in his 20 previous at-bats, thought he’d snipe back. The only problem was, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler sided with the fans and by Wednesday Rodriguez was forced to admit he had chosen his words poorly.

Q: Did you see only one of those chump analysts at picked the Steelers to win the Super Bowl? Sign me, Noir N. Aurum from Galt’s Gulch.

A: Give them a break, Noir. After all, the Steelers haven’t won a Super Bowl since February 2009. Interestingly, seven of the crew picked New Orleans to win it all, five took Kansas City and only three tabbed New England, which is the same number that picked the Cleveland Browns to win, at last, a Lombardi Trophy. We’re living in a world in which more experts like the Browns than the Steelers as potential Super Bowl winners.


Sam Ross Jr. is a freelance journalist who writes a weekly column for The Tribune-Democrat. 


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