The coffee pot was likely brewing all night long in the College Football Playoff committee’s war room.
After a thrilling Championship Weekend, the committee was tasked with choosing the four most deserving teams to represent the FBS for a chance to win the National Championship. Clemson was all but a lock after going into the weekend as the top ranked team in the nation and exiting it as ACC champions after throttling a fraudulent Miami team 38-3. The Tigers will have a chance to defend their title despite losing to Syracuse earlier this season. The Oklahoma Sooners face a similar fate after easily picking apart TCU in the first Big 12 title game since 2010, winning 41-17 over the Horned Frogs. The Sooners will enter the College Football Playoff as the number two seed. Up next is Georgia. Despite being dismantled by Auburn a few weeks ago, it’ll be the Bulldogs representing the SEC as conference champions after turning around and defeating those same Auburn Tigers this past weekend. This weekend’s SEC Championship was the first since 2013 to not feature Alabama. The Bulldogs rolled 28-7 this weekend and will be the third seed in the Playoff.
Those three teams were virtual locks by way of conference championships paired with solid strength of schedule. The final semi-final spot, however, was what likely kept the caffeine flowing for Kirby Hocutt and the selection committee.
While there were a handful of teams that wanted to make their case for the fourth spot in the playoff, it was evident the committee had narrowed that choice down to two teams: Alabama and Ohio State. Despite USC handling Stanford in the Pac 12 title game and holding claim to an 11-2 record and UCF finishing as the only undefeated FBS team in the nation and winning the AAC, it boiled down to the Crimson Tide and the Buckeyes for the final seed.
Alabama was idle this past weekend due to finishing second in the SEC West behind Auburn. The Crimson Tide lost just once this season, to the aforementioned Tigers, in the latest edition of the Iron Bowl. The loss came in the final weekend of the regular season for the Crimson Tide, who were 11-0 prior to the game. Prior to losing to Auburn, the Tide had been ranked as high as first in the nation this season.
Ohio State traveled to Indianapolis this weekend on the outside looking in, but with the hopes of a victory propelling the Buckeyes into playoff contention. The Buckeyes finished 10-2 on the season, dropping an early season affair to Oklahoma in Columbus before losing to Iowa by 31 at Kinnick Stadium, a place where seasons seemingly go to die. While it was a long shot for the Buckeyes to get back into the playoff race, they hoped that an 11 win season and a conference championship victory over undefeated Wisconsin, who occupied a spot in the final four prior to the weekend, would be enough to persuade the committee to put them in. The Buckeyes were victorious Saturday night, defeating the Badgers 27-21 in a back and forth, knock down style of football game we’ve come to expect from Big Ten foes so evenly matched.
In the end, though, the committee chose conference championship-less Alabama over two loss Ohio State for the final spot. What this did was finally set a precedent in the selection process four years into the College Football Playoff. The decision has been made by the committee that two loss conference champions will not be accepted into the final four in most years. The committee made this decision last season by excluding Penn State from the playoff despite being a more talented team that Washington. This year, Ohio State is a more talented team that Georgia, but will not get in because of that second loss. Sans hardware, the Crimson Tide will play for a chance at the National Championship because of their talent level. The committee believed that, despite not even playing in the SEC Championship, Alabama is a better team than conference winners Ohio State, USC, and UCF.
The committee is setting the standard as such: None or one loss conference championship from Power 5 (read: conferences the committee respects) as the utmost priority. If a team comes out of its Power 5 conference undefeated or with one loss, it is all but assuredly in the playoff. This year, it was an easy selection for the committee with three such teams qualifying. After that, however, the resume seems to go out the window a bit. The committee has decided to take a stand the last two seasons and choose the team they believe is most talented within the parameters of two losses or fewer instead of the team with the conference title.
If that remains the case for the foreseeable future, I have no justifiable complaint. My argument for the past three seasons was for the committee to simply set a standard. Whether they believe it to be the four best teams, the four most deserving teams, or a tiered system that places a combination of the two in some formal ranking scheme, I’m satisfied as long as the committee sticks with it’s standard. It remains to be seen if the choices made over the last two seasons will carry over into 2018 and beyond, but for now, the committee has quelled my disgruntled sentiments.
Now, that the final four have been determined, it’s time to briefly look at what’s to come. In the early playoff contest, the two seed Oklahoma will take on three seed Georgia in the Rose Bowl. The Sooners enter into the Playoff for the second time in four years, while the Bulldogs play for the National Championship for the first time since the expansion to four teams. The next game features the one seed Clemson will take on four seed Alabama for the third straight year in the playoff in the Sugar Bowl. The previous two matchups were for the National Championship, and the teams split said meetings. The two will square off in the Sugar Bowl in the New Year’s Day night cap.
As I’ll be producing a full list of bowl game projections as they are announced, I’ll remain taciturn on my thoughts on these two games for now. Know this, though. These four teams were selected for a reason this year, and we should be in for three fantastic football games in the coming weeks.
Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports