Up Next

Pots And Pans

Pundits will rain praise and criticism on winners and losers in college playoffs

No matter who wins, there will be never-ending talk on why

The winners of today’s Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will play for the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 8 in Atlanta. Before then, what I think of as the Speculation Bowl will occur: The sports chattering class will take to keyboards and microphones to declaim what various outcomes will mean.

And then, after the championship game, the chattering class will chatter anew, even if much of their new chattering runs counter to their old chattering.

As always, the head coaches and the starting quarterbacks have the most to win or lose in today’s college football playoff games and the national championship game that will follow.

If Oklahoma (Lincoln Riley) or Georgia (Kirby Smart) wins today in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and goes on to win the national championship, the sports pundits will move that team’s coach up in the ranks of college football’s top coaches.

If Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield plays well in victory, many will say his performance bodes well for the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner’s NFL career. But if Mayfield plays poorly, his performance will be presented as a kind of unmasking: He will be assailed as a quarterback whose college running and passing prowess won’t translate into NFL success.

If Jake Fromm, Georgia’s freshman drop-back passer, can lead his Bulldogs to victory today and in the national championship game, he could be at the beginning of a sterling career in Athens. But if he plays poorly today or in the championship game, the drumbeat for incoming freshman Justin Fields, the nation’s top high school dual-threat quarterback, will grow louder.

If Clemson’s coach Dabo Swinney and quarterback Kelly Bryant, the reigning national champions, can win Monday night over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and go on to win the 2018 national championship, some will say Swinney has displaced Bama’s Nick Saban as college football’s pre-eminent coach. And Bryant will be hailed as a worthy successor to Deshaun Watson, the magic man and former Clemson quarterback who led his team to the national championship.

But if Alabama and Saban win Monday night’s game in New Orleans and later the national championship, Saban’s crown as the college game’s top coach will rest more securely upon his head, at least, that’s what some will write or say.

A national championship for Jalen Hurts could put the dual-threat sophomore quarterback on the way to an outstanding career for the Crimson Tide: Last season, he took his team to the national championship game and played competently against a victorious Clemson. Of course, if Hurts and Bama again fall short, the young man with the golden locks will be deemed a little too this or not enough that to be just right for the starting quarterback’s job.

Such comments and observations will be rooted in the notion that grips today’s pundits: What has been happening will continue to happen.

But sports, like our lives, is governed by the unforeseen, breaks good and bad, the whims of the sports gods.

Nevertheless, in sports and in more important pastimes such as national politics, the willingness of pundits to rush to tell the public that what has happened will continue to happen and what it means is compelling, even if future events prove the pundits wrong again and again. And why not? Punditry is often where the money is in today’s journalism: an era where careful and cogent examinations of past events have been supplanted by glib predictions of the future.

A new year begins. New sports champions will be crowned. Expect the sports pundits to make predictions. Expect them to be right. Expect them to be wrong. Expect that the sports pundits’ predictions won’t matter.

Expect the pundits to be entertaining, but not as entertaining or as memorable as the sports themselves.

That’s why the athletes play the games.

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.