FORGET A PLAYOFF, WORRY ABOUT LAYOFF

Now that we are finished with the insanity of college football, we can finally focus on something else: the lunacy of college football.

Allowing a computer to pick your title contenders is weird enough. But sitting around for a month before you play the actual game is certifiably, undeniably and wholeheartedly, and I say this kindly, insane.

Hello? Has anyone noticed anything strange about this weekend? There is no college championship. And next weekend? And the following weekend? Still no college championship.

In fact, the actual championship game will not be played until Thursday, Jan. 3.

If this were lovemaking, it would be the longest cold shower in history.

Miami (Fla.) is the No. 1 team in the nation, right? The Hurricanes haven’t played since Dec. 1. By championship night, they’ll be wearing name tags.

Still, they’re downright sweaty compared to their opponent, Nebraska, whose last action came Nov. 23. For all we know, its corn went back into its husk.

Remember that expression, “The waiting is the hardest part”?

It’s even worse when you nod off.

Playing in the Siesta Bowl

“The way I remember the bowls, they were like playing the first game of the season,” says Bryant Westbrook, a Lions cornerback who attended Texas and played in the Fiesta and Sugar. “All that time off, you get bored, complacent, you lose your timing.

“That’s why you see so many big plays in bowls. A lot of it is one team still hasn’t gotten itself fully together.”

What other sport would tolerate such an invention? It’s like having to sleep over in the “Tonight Show” green room. Can you imagine the last regular-season baseball game in October and the World Series in January?

To make matters worse, during the four- or five-week layoff, the NCAA strictly limits practices.

“Not only that,” recalls Bo Schembechler, who saw his share of practus interruptus during 20 years of bowls at Michigan, “but when you do practice, you have to move around final exams. You rarely have two practices in a row.

“And then there’s Christmas. Families. Everybody gains five pounds.”

Hmm. The Jenny Craig Bowl, anyone?

No way to pick a champ

Now, the reason this ridiculous system exists is simple: College football’s present is still dressed by its past.

Bowls were never meant to determine a national champion. They were supposed to be a reward for a team’s hard-earned season. They made money for the school, the conference and the host city — plus, they gave the TV networks something to show on New Year’s Day.

Everyone got a nice tan and went home.

Most bowls were, in essence, glorified exhibitions. Nobody worried about rust. Then the mythical national championship became a hot issue. Writers and coaches voted a winner — even though the top two teams rarely played in the same bowl.

Today, with the advent of the Bowl Championship Series, No. 1 can actually play No. 2. Not that anyone can agree on who No. 2 is.

But in all this time, with all these changes, nobody has addressed the lag time issue. People scream about “playoff,” but never a layoff.”

“It was bad,” Westbrook recalls. “We lost our rhythm. Until we got to the bowl city, it was like we weren’t even concentrating.”

Dumb. What they should do is finish what they start. The college season concludes by the first weekend in December? Immediately start a three-week playoff with eight teams invited. You use four bowls for the first weekend’s playoffs, two bowls for the second, and the final bowl on New Year’s Day to determine the champion.

Then, everyone takes a shower, and plops back onto the couch to watch a month’s worth of NFL playoffs.

This makes sense. Which means it will never happen.

But it should. Critics talk about sending the hottest team to the title game. But by Jan. 3, “hot” is a distant memory. So are some of your coaches’ names.

And here they sit, Miami and Nebraska, in the dead zone now, a suspended countdown, a yellow flag, a rocket on a launching pad, engines off.

Five weeks between games? That old expression is true, but in college football, it comes with a caveat.

The waiting is the dumbest part.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Mitch will do four holiday book signings of “Tuesdays With Morrie” to benefit the Sept. 11 victims. They will be at the Barnes & Noble in Shelby Township (7:30 p.m. Friday), in Ann Arbor (1 p.m. Saturday), in Northville (7:30 p.m. Tuesday) and in Troy (7:30 p.m. Wednesday).

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