Several times on the High Motor podcast over the last four months, we’ve asked, “What do you need for a college football season?” How many games? Which teams and/or conferences must play for the 2020 college football season to feel like a college football season? Obviously, it won’t feel like a normal college football season, but what is the minimum viable product for the 2020 college football season to be considered a college football season?
We still have enough for a college football season, in my opinion.
It sucks losing Rashod Bateman, Micah Parsons, Caleb Farley, Greg Rousseau, Rondale Moore and presumably dozens of other 2021 NFL Draft picks. It sucks losing the Ohio State-Oregon game. It sucks losing Notre Dame-Wisconsin, Texas-LSU, North Dakota State-Oregon, and dozens of other notable non-conference games. It sucks losing potential FBS-FCS “upsets.” It sucks not having packed stadiums, student sections, tailgating lots, and everything else that makes college football the best and most unique sport in the world.
And, most importantly, it’ll suck when dozens—or potentially hundreds–of FCS and FBS players and coaches are forced to miss games after testing positive for COVID-19.
However, in my opinion, we’re still above the threshold for the 2020 college football season being a college football season. We can still go to market with a minimum viable product that includes, as of now, 129 FBS teams playing hundreds of games over four months.
But even with a minimum viable product, we don’t know how to talk about the 2020 college football season…and we’ll never know how to talk about the 2020 college football season.
And that makes us uncomfortable.
As much we love “what ifs” and as much as differing opinions fuel social media, ultimately we don’t like things we don’t know how to talk about. We don’t like not having an opinion, nor do we like saying the three words that haunt talking heads like Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, Clay Travis and others who force themselves to spew an opinion on everything: I don’t know.
We hate saying, “I don’t know.”
We don’t like talking about Colorado’s undeserved 1990 national championship. We like yelling about the five-down Missouri game (and, to a less egregious extent, the questionable final AP vote) but don’t like the “yeah, but” champion. NBA fans don’t know how to talk about the 1989 NBA Finals after Magic Johnson’s hamstring injury led to a Pistons’ sweep. Same goes for NFL fans evaluating the Steelers’ Super XL run after Carson Palmer’s ACL injury in the Wild Card Game.
Colorado won the national championship. The Pistons won the NBA Finals, and the Steelers won the Super Bowl. Those are in the history books. None have an asterisk, though all are debatable.
Undeserved and debatable outcomes make our blood boil.
Now, if a full 2020 college football season ends with Clemson winning their third national championship in the last five years, will it be an undeserved or unclear national championship?
It’s impossible to say right now, and your burden of proof is, fair or not, higher because Clemson is in the middle of a dynasty. Same goes for Alabama. And arguably Oklahoma, Ohio State, and a few other high-profile programs capable of competing for and winning a national championship in most normal and/or pandemic years.
What if Michigan wins the national championship?
What if the Wolverines’ roster remains intact throughout an undefeated regular season and they win the national championship after several rival players opt out of the season or miss significant time with COVID-19? Or what if they win the national championship without several rival players opting out or missing time?
That will make us uncomfortable.
Same if Oregon wins the national championship. “Well, all it took was a global pandemic for the Pac-12 to do something.”
What if Trevor Lawrence opts out? What if Justin Fields opts out? Or a program’s entire offensive line misses a month after positive tests? Or a team’s starting linebacker group? Their top two cornerbacks? What if Trey Sermon runs for 200 yards in a close win over a Penn State team missing Micah Parsons? You know the narrative. And, frankly, it’d be a fair narrative. Same if a key player or head coach tests positive before the national championship.
In the FCS, what if North Dakota State is riddled with positive tests or is forced to cancel their season? The Bison are in the middle of the best dynasty in American football history. They’ve won eight of the last nine national championships and are heavy favorites to win a ninth this year. What if they don’t win a ninth (for whatever reason) and a team like South Dakota State wins their first-ever national championship?
South Dakota State, obviously, would be national champions. They’d get the rings, banner, fundraising boost and everything else that comes with a national championship, but they’d forever be the pandemic champions.
And that would make FCS fans very, very uncomfortable.
We already don’t know how to talk about the 2020 college football season. And we’ve only had five high-profile opt-outs, some non-conference cancellations, and one irrelevant FBS team cancel their season.
If there’s a full 2020 college football season with a full playoff and a declared national champion, that’s great. It means, most importantly, there haven’t been outbreaks in team facilities and players aren’t dying. That’s the big win. But it also means the national champion will always be the “Well, that was the pandemic year” champion.
The unknown of what a normal 2020 college football season would’ve delivered makes us uncomfortable.