Dec 9, 2019

Championship weekend clarifies football's final four

Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

After three-plus months of chaos, championship weekend brought clarity to the top of college football, and delivered two semifinal matchups that are, at least stylistically, about as good as it gets.

The playoffs: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (+9.5): The Tigers and Sooners have the top two offenses in the country. No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson (-2.5): The Buckeyes and Tigers have the top two defenses in the country.

The debate: With no other one-loss teams in the top 10, this year's picks feel immune to controversy. In fact, the only thing truly worth debating is whether the committee got the No. 1 seed right, which matters more than usual because of the clear drop-off from the top three teams to No. 4 Oklahoma.

  • LSU reclaimed the top spot after steamrolling Georgia in the SEC title game, 37-10. They emerged undefeated from the country's toughest division and beat five AP top-10 teams, tied for the most ever in the AP Poll era (1936-present).
  • Ohio State overcame a slow start to beat Wisconsin, 34-21, in the Big Ten title game. While LSU has a more impressive resume, basically every well-known computer ranking favors the Buckeyes (top team in SP+, Sagarin ratings, Massey ratings, Colley matrix, etc.)

What to watch:

  • The year of the transfer: In addition to being the top three Heisman contenders, LSU's Joe Burrow, Ohio State's Justin Fields and Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts are also all transfers, with Burrow having transferred from Ohio State. Pretty nuts storyline if he beats them in the title game.
  • The next two No. 1's: In the Ohio State-Clemson game, we could see the potential top pick in the 2020 draft (Buckeyes DE Chase Young) trying to chase down the potential top pick in the 2021 draft (Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence).
  • The curse of the top seed: The Sooners may be underdogs, but the No. 4 seed has more titles in the past five years (two) than the No. 1 seeds (0).
  • Prepare for points: All four playoff teams rank in the top seven in the country in scoring offense.

Go deeper: 42 protesters charged over Harvard-Yale football game sit-in

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Stanford wins women's soccer title

Photo: Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

After 90 minutes of regulation and two overtime periods went scoreless, Stanford beat North Carolina on penalty kicks (5-4) to win the D-I Women's Soccer National Championship yesterday, the program's second title in three years.

Highlight: Kiara Pickett tucked the ball into the lower left corner for the game-winning penalty kick. What a moment.

Go deeperArrowDec 9, 2019

Schedule: Full college football bowl game slate

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The argument against bowl games is that they are relatively meaningless exhibition games designed to make money — mostly for Disney, which not only broadcasts but actually owns many of them.

Yes, but: "There's something nostalgic and fun about sitting down around the holidays and binge-watching football games between obscure teams you wouldn't have watched otherwise," writes FiveThirtyEight's Neil Paine.

Go deeperArrowDec 9, 2019

A look back at the biggest sports moments of the 2010s

The 2010s were the decade when analytics went mainstream, forever changing how sports like basketball (three-point explosion), football (passing revolution) and baseball (launch angles, defensive shifts) are played.

The big picture: It was the decade of conference realignment, as universities played musical chairs in the name of TV revenue; and it was the decade of player empowerment, as athletes raised their voices in the name of social change.

Go deeperArrowJan 2, 2020