If you look at Coastal Carolina’s season, it’s almost hard to believe that it was 2020. The Chanticleers’ run was remarkable, starting with a 15-point win on the road against a Big 12 school (Kansas, but still), and then a rampage through the Sun Belt Conference, with only one postponement — and you could imagine the Troy game having been rescheduled because of a freak ice storm or something preventing travel.
The one bit of weirdness that jumps out from a list of Coastal’s games this year is the hastily arranged matchup at the start of December against then-unbeaten BYU. It wound up being the Chanticleers’ biggest game ever, a victory sealed with a last-second tackle two yards from the end zone, proving that Coastal Carolina football was every bit as for real as its 2016 College World Series-winning baseball team.
Coastal was 11-0, heading for the Sun Belt title game, a rematch with Louisiana. Back in October, the Chanticleers went to Lafayette and beat the Ragin’ Cajuns, 30-27, on a last-second field goal — the only loss of the year for a Louisiana team that beat Big 12-leading Iowa State.
The Cyclones are No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings despite two losses, while the Chanticleers are somehow 12th despite taking on all comers and beating every last one. But now COVID-19 has done what no team in college football could do, caught up to Coastal Carolina and denied it a chance to win the Sun Belt title.
The cancellation of the Sun Belt title stinks for Coastal Carolina, stinks for Louisiana — itself No. 19 in the CFP rankings — and stinks for a sport whose saving grace, in a disgusting year of ignoring science and getting its players sick to plow on with a cash grab, has been the unpredictable rise of teams like the Chanticleers, the Ragin’ Cajuns, and even Iowa State, Indiana, and Cincinnati to national prominence.
There wasn’t any choice but to call off the game, and the CFP committee was never going to put Coastal in the Playoff anyway, but the Chanticleers’ shot at playing in a New Year’s Six bowl does take a hit from this, and that’s a shame.
It’s always been a cruel joke that in a sport with five supposed power conferences, the College Football Playoff only has four spots. It guarantees the winner of at least one of the big leagues being shut out of the title picture, and offers no hope whatsoever for Coastal or anyone else from outside the elite group to compete and prove themselves against the sport’s elite.
The Chanticleers go 11-0? That’s nice. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you can go to the Peach Bowl… but, oh, no conference title game, too bad, because there’s also 8-0 Cincinnati ahead of you in the pecking order. Iowa State wins the Big 12? Sorry, Notre Dame and Clemson are occupying two spots in the top four. USC is undefeated? Tough luck, Trojans, you’re only 5-0 and play in the Pac-12, unlike Ohio State, which has gone… uh… 5-0 in the mighty (awful) Big Ten. Undefeated San Jose State? Undefeated Buffalo? Sorry, never heard of ya.
The whole point of the College Football Playoff was to end debates once and for all and award a clear-cut national champion. But you can’t do that when you don’t let all the best-performing teams compete. With the cancellation of the Sun Belt title game, there’s another opportunity lost for Coastal Carolina to show its stuff. But to take it back to the old days, when champions were decided by debate, the sentiment of hungover New Year’s revelers, and unverifiable claims, it’s only fair to go with the evidence that we have.
The Chanticleers have played 11 games and won every single one. Nobody else in the country has done that. So, call Coastal Carolina what it is, the best team in the country and the champion of 2020. You can’t prove that wrong.