There's a philosophy that exists in the sports world, maybe more so than anywhere else, that the brand supersedes all else even when the use of that brand flies in the face of the most basic logic and human reasoning.
It has been this way for quite some time. It's why we have an NBA team named the Utah Jazz. Or the Los Angeles Lakers. There is no jazz in Utah. There are no lakes in L.A. The Lakers came from Minnesota. The Jazz came from New Orleans. No one bothered to change the names, and now they are entrenched brands that no one truly even questions any more.
The Big 12 conference still has just 10 teams. The Big 10 now has 14 teams. (To be fair, if the Big 12 changed its name to the Big 10 and the Big 10 changed to the Big 14 it would cause mass confusion among college football fans. Plus the playoff committee might not be able to figure out who they're conspiring against.)
ABC used to air Thursday night football games under its Monday Night Football brand in the 70's and 80's. As recently as 2014 the NFL Network aired a game called “Thursday Night Football: Saturday Edition.”
Not to be outdone by these wizards of national marketing, we here at your humble local newspaper have adopted this philosophy. Hence, today's column is named “Football Friday (on Thursday).”
This will be the final Football Friday picks column of the year, an annual occasion that brings on great sadness at the Leader sports department. (To join me in this sadness feel free to hum the “Chariots of Fire” music as you read the rest of this column.)
On with the picks.
Clay Central vs. Pleasant Grove
It's the 5A state championship game, (tonight at 7 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn) and once again Central finds itself peaking at the right time.
This year's run to the title game carries a lot of similarities to last year's run. Consider the following:
In both years the Vols lost back to back games to Jasper and Mortimer Jordan in the middle of the season.
In both years they beat a team named “Madison” in the playoffs. (Madison Academy last year, Madison County this year).
In both years they beat the team that was ranked No. 1 entering the playoffs. (Etowah last year, Jasper this year)
And in both years they avenged their regular season loss to Mortimer Jordan in the state semifinals to advance to the title game.
And the similarities continue with the title game matchup, as Central head coach Danny Horn noted earlier this week.
“They're about like another Vigor that we played last year,” Horn said. “They're so similar. They're big, they're fast, they're athletic.”
Horn specifically noted the receiving corps for Pleasant Grove that could prove to be a major matchup problem for the Central secondary.
Quarterback Zyquez Perryman has passed for over 3,000 yards and 37 touchdowns, and he has three receivers who have caught at least eight touchdowns this season. Xavier Hill (who wears number 11) is the main receiving threat. The senior has offers from Iowa, Nebraska and West Virginia, among others, and has hauled in 18 touchdowns passes this year.
You know what Central brings to the table, with 2,000-yard rusher Quentin Knight and a solid passing game led by quarterback Boyd Ogles. Knight and Ogles both played critical roles in last year's championship win over Vigor, and Central will need both of them to have a big night tonight.
That's because I think the final score of this game could end up in the 40's again, like last year's game did. And if you had told me that going into last year's game I would have said Central would not have been able to keep pace.
But Danny Horn is coaching in his 10th state championship game. He's won seven of the previous nine. Pleasant Grove coach Darrell LeBeaux is coaching in his 27th game, period.
Horn's experience mattered last year when the extra point situation got a little wonky. Horn didn't panic, didn't chase points too early in the game and picked the perfect strategic moment to go for two in a game his team won by one point.
That type of composure will be invaluable, especially if this game stays close.
And because of that advantage I think Horn and the Vols will be all smiles when this one is over tonight.
Central 42, Pleasant Grove 40
Georgia vs. LSU
Under Kirby Smart, in postseason games that have mattered, Georgia has always showed up ready to play, often as an underdog. In 2017 Georgia gave Auburn (in the SEC championship game), Oklahoma and Alabama (in the playoff) all they could handle. In 2018 Georgia again scared the Dickens out of Nick Saban and the Tide.
Showing up ready to play has not been the issue for Georgia the last two years. Finishing games against Alabama has.
Georgia doesn't have to deal with Alabama this year, and after LSU embarrassed the Dawgs last year in Baton Rouge, you could make a case that Georgia will be even more confident and fired up for this game.
But as a long-suffering Georgia fan, the fact that Georgia hasn't yet laid a postseason egg under Smart (not counting the Sugar Bowl last year) just means that they are due to do exactly that.
I think LSU pounces on the Dawgs early, and Georgia's pathetic offense won't be able to score enough points to play catch-up.
LSU 32, Georgia 17
The rest of the playoff
I think Oregon beats Utah to eliminate the Utes.
I think Ohio State and Clemson both win relatively easily.
And Oklahoma knocks off Baylor to claim the four spot.
Your 2019 college football playoff will be: 1. LSU vs. 4. Oklahoma and 2. Ohio St. vs. 3. Clemson