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  • Are there any major college football programs who wouldn't endure a humiliating upset to win a national title the next year? Plus, an attempt to determine the Game of Thrones equivalent of the SEC and the rest of this week's mailbag.
By Andy Staples
April 10, 2019

The other major revenue sport in college athletics crowned a champion this week, and you have questions...

From @SnootyBoston: Virginia suffered the worst embarrassment in 2018 to win the title in 2019. What’s the college football equivalent, and what traditional powers in title droughts (Notre Dame, Michigan, USC, Miami, etc.) would willingly accept this outcome?

The college football equivalent of Virginia’s first-round loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament would be a team bringing a No. 1 ranking into a game against an FCS opponent the Saturday before Thanksgiving and losing by three touchdowns. Remember when Florida lost to Georgia Southern in 2013? Now imagine that instead of team headed to a 4–8 record, the Gators were ranked No. 1 in the country and looking ahead to a matchup with Florida State, which actually was No. 1 at the time and wound up winning the national title that year.

Put another way, it would be like Alabama in 2017 losing to Mercer the week before the Iron Bowl. That’s the exact equivalent, and it’s only possible for an SEC or ACC team because those are the only leagues that play those kinds of games in November. The odds against something like that happening are astronomical, which is why those programs keep scheduling those games to give themselves a breather before rivalry matchups.

As for which programs would suffer the indignity of that kind of loss if it meant a national title the following season, they all would. After the 2017 season, Clemson lost 24–6 in the Sugar Bowl to Alabama. The Tigers then came back and went 15–0 and won the national title in the 2018 season. Everyone at Clemson happily would have taken a three-touchdown loss to The Citadel on Nov. 18, 2017 if it meant going undefeated in 2018. Yes, that loss would have knocked Clemson out of the playoff picture in 2017. Yes, it would have been completely embarrassing, and the Tigers would have been the butt of jokes for a year—just as Virginia basketball players were. But it would have been that much sweeter to bounce back with an undefeated year and a national title.

The programs @SnootyBoston mentioned in the question would gladly trade a humiliating loss one year for a national title the next. Any program in college football would. Even the best ones.

From Ashley: Is Oregon a legitimate playoff contender with Justin Herbert back at QB?

As much as anyone in the Pac-12 can be. Herbert’s return gave the Ducks a huge boost. They’re building something very interesting under coach Mario Cristobal, but it still may be a few years before Cristobal gets the Ducks exactly where he wants them on the line of scrimmage. Having Herbert back accelerates the process because he doesn’t need a supremely dominant line in front of him to be successful.

Still, that offensive line will be very important. Sophomore left tackle Penei Sewell is the most important Oregon player not named Herbert. If he stays healthy and Herbert stays healthy, the Ducks should score enough to hang in every game they play.

Unlike some of its Pac-12 brethren (cough, cough, Washington and Washington State), Oregon does play a nonconference game that—if the Ducks win—could be very helpful in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Oregon faces Auburn in the season opener at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Unlike most of the people who hold my job, I’m not down on Auburn this season. Yes, the Tigers had their offensive issues last season, but they may bring back the best defensive line in college football. Tackle Derrick Brown and edge rushers Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson should make opposing quarterbacks miserable. If Sewell and Herbert can handle that group, they can handle anything they’ll see in the Pac-12.

From Rob: Based on absolutely nothing, which region of Westeros would have the best college football programs?

You didn’t think I’d go through an entire mailbag in this of all weeks without taking one Game of Thrones question, did you? Rob asks a fascinating question, so let’s break it down.

Casterly Rock: The teams out west have been soft ever since coach Tywin Lannister moved east to become Hand of the King. Also, Lannisters may always pay their debts, but they don’t pay their recruits.

The North: The Starks and their bannermen seem like the types who would honor gentlemen’s agreements in recruiting. (Much like the pre-Urban Meyer Big Ten.) That’s no way to win a Seven Kingdoms Title.

The Iron Islands: The best mid-major going, but susceptible to crushing defeat off the blue turf of the sea.

Dorne: Too reliant on trick plays. Also very boring when not running trick plays.

The Riverlands: They don’t play defense, and if the Tullys and Freys aren’t good, the whole region suffers.

King’s Landing: Welcome to the SEC of Westeros, where it just means more. One day, you’re playing for titles. The next, you’re being paraded through the streets naked and being pelted with rotten fruit. Then, somehow, you’re in charge again. And yes, I think I’ve just described Gus Malzahn’s time at Auburn.

The Vale: One family dominates the surrounding region. And if you step out of line, Dabo Arryn will have Ser Trevor throw you through the Moon Door.

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