Editor’s Note: This column marks the end of this feature’s fourth season. In that time, it has grown to define this site and be its most successful, um, “brand.” The sincerest of thanks you to all our readers especially those in Washoe and Clark counties. We see you.

Hi Kyle,

Well, another CFB season has come and gone; in with a whimper and out with a cry into the void. I feel like this season, maybe more than any in recent memory, was like the latest installment of The Expendables. Sure, the familiar faces and tropes are there, and action abounds; explosions, flying bodies, vague love interest—anything you could ask for to sublimate your private life of hell—and yet, the sum of it is unsatisfying.

To make it official, since you’ve seen it on our text thread and via my Twitter for months, I no longer have any faith in the CFB playoff system. Not that I did much in the first place. I knew from day one that it was a marketing ploy and a ratings grab for ESPN which so desperately needs ratings for such ginned up events to attempt the illusion of having a big draw. But now I think it is evil in its purest form like satellite TV or finding raisins in your cinnamon bun. As I’ve pointed out in season’s past, a four-team playoff is not a playoff but a mere semi-final and final. Actual playoffs take a whole basket full of squads, with varying records and from different regions, and mix them up with one another. Upsets abound. Heartbreak washes over the kingdom of fandom and one emerges, slowly, surely and gracefully—as well as improbably—to the top.

Perhaps football, college football anyway, is not built for such a process. If we’re to abandon the last pretense that these athletes are students, then maybe a full 6-week playoff could be worked out. Shorten the out-of-conference schedule at the front end of the season, start it the weekend after Thanksgiving with 32 teams (16 games Wednesday through Saturday) and run it straight weekend-over-weekend through New Year’s. Have the Rose Bowl be the all-time decider venue. There. Done.

But that’s not going to happen. Not by a longshot.

This year even the strong power conferences go home empty-handed. Oh, but to yearn for the glory days and sublime simplicity of the Big 10/Pac 10 in the Rose Bowl New Year’s Day. Right now, the PAC-12 has four programs: USC, U-Dub, Wazzu and one of the Arizonas which should be featured in a playoff-type system…best case one will end up with a lump of coal that is the Holiday Bowl in their stocking. The Big 10, unless Wisconsin comes through, will get shut out with a quartet of deserving programs which hunted one another down all season long: the aforementioned Badgers, plus Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. Won’t see any of them in the conversation.

Schools like Notre Dame, TCU, a perfect UCF, a one-loss Memphis and even a surging Boise State all deserve to be in some kind of post-season tilt for meaning, and yet—they get nothing.

We get nothing.

Instead, I guess I’ll just take my DeLorean and set it to 88 mph and back to 1991 and unearth all my Miami Starter jackets and hats (with the tags still on ‘em) as well as pray to the ghost of Fresh Kid Ice that the U’s endangered crane mascot sharts all over Bama and Clemson and Oklahoma en route to hoisting the big silver vulva trophy sometime in January when I’m busy looking for Caesars’ rooms to dip on Skiplagged for the long weekend opener of March Madness. Not that I like the ‘Canes, but I just can’t stand the selection committee’s tunnel vision when it comes to what they feel are programs of merit.

It’s a fatally flawed system, yes. One good byproduct of failing systems is they often turn our attentions closer to home, to causes near us that we can affect or at least inform. That’s why the four college games I attended this season were at Art Spanos Stadium, home of the 1-9 Cal Poly Mustangs who for whatever reason still haven’t seen fit to fire baggy-khaki’d gum snapper HC Tim Walsh after his talented if not undersized future engineers and farmers were rolled up like JV during the annual scrimmage with the varsity week after week.

Kyle, before I pass this final baton, I wanted to point out the best single performance of the season I witnessed was that of Sac State’s junior transfer (UNLV) QB Kevin Thomson. Thompson had a few huge outings including 402 total yards total offense against Southern Utah in the Hornets’ Big Sky Conference opener. After missing three games this season with a leg injury, Thompson returned for the final game against Cal Poly and promptly dropped a 76-yard dime in the arms wideout Jaelin Ratliff during the game’s opening drive. It was the most skillful and majestic play the likes of which I’d yet to see all season, the kind that brings one back to a sport so full of malfeasance, corruption and the worst of a system that exploits free labor to do the bidding of corporations.

It was a beautiful throw and catch, to the point that Cal Poly’s secondary especially seemed to be content to just simply watch it all unfold.

Throughout the game, Thompson audibled from the line, marshalled his team down the field and broke a big play. By the time the Mustangs scored, they were in a 49-point hole and Thompson was on the bench studying something that looked strangely similar to a math textbook.

For all the Kevin Thompsons out there playing good and unheralded NCAA football because you love it, because you still can for however long you can, I see you. Don’t let your light go out.

AJ,

It’s too bad that we have to look to the little guys—the Kevin Thompsons and circa-2016 Western Michigan Broncos (the last team I loved in CFB)—to find something we really like about this game. The whole affair can be pretty loveless if your team isn’t one of the 6 or so to be in title contention or challenging for a league crown. Something about a succession of cracker-ass coaches leading Nike programs stacked with guys willing to kill themselves to get to the league is tough when you think too hard about it.

I think you hit on something with the sport’s inclusivity problem. I’ve been watching the Maui Invitational college basketball tournament with my dad the last two nights—a handful of possible March contenders dancing with Chaminade in a half-filled DII arena. I’m looking forward to the PK80 Invitational in Portland through turkey weekend. Between the two, viewers will probably see at least half of the 2018 Sweet Sixteen, playing on the West Coast and hailing from all over the country. Basketball teams, with their ability to play on back-to-back nights for four straight days, have a built-in advantage over football teams, who are forced to rest for a week in between games, which are the equivalent of car crashes.

The nature of the sport allows for a longer, more robust, more inclusive tournament no matter how you cut the cake. But, as you pointed out, college football doesn’t have to cede this ground. The playoff is a failed experiment, and I hated the BCS and would’ve hated whatever the era was before that. The playoff has de-emphasized winning the respective leagues except in service of playoff rankings. No longer does an Ohio State fanbase care about beating Michigan for the Big Ten East lead—the drive is to remain in playoff contention.

There used to be a time when it was your duty to beat on your regional brothers, and let the chips fall where they may regarding the national title. Now everything focuses on an event only four teams will qualify for, with every other bowl game basically being a consolation prize. We need a system that re-emphasizes league titles for their own merits (baseball has mastered this with the Wild Card incentivizing not just sneaking into the playoffs, but instead winning a division), and, as I’ve pointed out before, better West Coast squads. Until and unless that happens, get ready for somebody from Coca Cola and NASCAR country to raise the trophy.

Alright AJ, we’re here at the end of things. Who ya got?

Kyle,

Stumbling toward the window with a record creeping toward .600, a hard pack of Camel Lights and sloshing a Captain ‘n Coke yelling to whomever will listen that “someone stole my phone” because the best offense is being offensive.

San Diego State -15.5 vs. New Mexico

The Aztecs have strangely lost both their games at home this season, but at 9-2 they’re also a top 25 program, legit. In the last four, they’re 4-0 ATS. Look for a strong finish at “Stadium” to shake off your tryptophan hangover on Friday.

UCLA -7.5 vs. Cal

One more time Kyle, one more time for UCLA to burn me. (Bettors, note, with my UCLA track record maybe hedge against me.) Funny in the season that cost Jim Mora his job, he never lost at home. The Bruins seniors will be sent off Friday evening without the coach who recruited them on the sidelines. UCLA, 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the Pac-12 Conference will face a Golden Bears (5-6, 2-6) squad with a nearly identical record but the difference is UCLA is needing a reset while Cal is looking for a victory to push recruiting momentum under first-year HC Justin Wilcox. The Bruins are more talented at nearly every skill position, healthy for perhaps the first time this season and this is their bowl game (though they could sneak into a third-tier mid-December tilt with a win Friday) as they attempt to go undefeated at the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2005.

Utah State +2 @ Air Force

Utah State is bowl-bound and the Big Blue has yet to disappoint me on the gridiron or the hardcourt this year. Look for a two-score win vs. the Falcons Saturday.

Oregon State +23.5 @ Oregon

Oregon with QB Justin Herbert back looked like an offensive juggernaut vs. a stumbling Arizona defense and Oregon State is coming in dead-to-rights. Oregon still has to face big questions about whether HC Willie Taggart will be lured back to the SEC by Florida or Tennessee and at the same time is rooting for ASU to lose to Arizona so they can sneak into the Vegas Bowl—a game that once seemed like small consolation for a program constantly on the rise now feels like the ultimate prize. The Ducks should prevail, but OSU will keep it close for three quarters at Autzen.

Arizona State PK vs. Arizona

Arizona allowed 30.3 points per game in its first eight games but has allowed 41.7 in its past three. RichRod’s defense could be exploited once again by a stingy Sun Devil offense which has lost only nine turnovers (fourth fewest in the nation) all season. Arizona QB Khalil Tate is the talk of this game, but ASU at home will be too much for Tate and the Wildcats’ young offensive set pieces to overcome. A Sun Devils victory in the worst-named rivalry in the nation (Territorial Cup) likely puts them in the Vegas Bowl vs. Boise State.

Washington State +10.5 @ Washington

The last remaining game in the Pac-12 with national(ish) implications. Both these teams have been equal parts invincible and susceptible to getting burned by slightly lesser squads (for Wazzu it was Cal, Arizona; for Washington it was Arizona State, Stanford) which winds us up in Seattle this weekend wondering what could have been. Wazzu (5-0 ATS in their most recent tilts) could clinch a berth in the Pac-12 Championship game vs. USC with an Apple Cup victory Saturday night. If the Huskies win at home they go on to fight the Trojans, maybe (Stanford is still a threat to go.) Whether either team wins out, their prospects for sneaking into the aforementioned College Football Playoff require literally every team in the top 10 losing and voters deciding they hate the SEC and ACC. Not going to happen. For now, let’s enjoy a pair of squads that are the fastest, leanest and best in the country led by a pair of coaches not afraid to let it fly. It’s ride or die West Coast football.

AJ,

Here we go:

Western Michigan +13.5 @ Toledo

Toledo (9-2, 6-1) is facing a holy trinity of distractions on Friday—amping up for an athletic competition with no students in town, playing their final home game, and scoreboard-watching to see if they can maintain their tie-breaking advantage against fellow 6-1 MAC squad Northern Illinois, who kick off a half-hour after the Broncos and Rockets do. Western (6-5, 4-3) is facing none of that as they look to close out a slightly disappointing season on a high note. I think the Broncos—who match up well with Toledo in terms of time of possession and third down conversions, key stats at this late (and cold) date—catch the Rockets playing tight on Friday and make the last weekend of MACtion look interesting.

Miami -13.5 @ Pittsburgh

AJ, we’ve talked a lot about UCLA being your white whale—the team you can’t pick for or against without getting burnt like a match. I’m starting to go down a similar road with Miami. The ‘Canes have burnt me in consecutive weeks and they’re headed into Pittsburgh in weather that’ll be in the mid- to upper-40s at lunchtime on Friday. Still, I believe in Miami’s running game.

Editor’s note:

Alabama -4.5 @ Auburn

Probably.

Notre Dame -2.5 @ Stanford

ND is 7-4 ATS vs. Stanford, who is 4-7 ATS. ND is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 visits to Palo Alto. Even though the Irish have lost 4 straight at Stanford, I think they cover this weekend.

Last Week:

Kyle: 2 and 1

AJ: 3 and 2 (fuck you, again, UCLA!)

Overall:

Kyle: 24 for 38

AJ: 24 for 42

This week:

AJ:

San Diego State -15.5 vs. New Mexico

UCLA -7.5 vs. Cal

Utah State +2 @ Air Force

Oregon State +23.5 @ Oregon

Arizona State PK vs. Arizona

Washington State +10.5 @ Washington

Kyle:

Western Michigan +13.5 @ Toledo

Miami -13.5 @ Pittsburgh

Alabama -4.5 @ Auburn

Notre Dame -2.5 @ Stanford

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