There are plenty of reasons to leave Ohio State and Alabama out of the College Football Playoff.
But the rules say the selection committee has to pick four teams so one of them is most certainly getting in.
In the fourth year of the playoff, the selection committee faces its toughest choice yet. A real controversy, one with no particularly good answer. The committee will let everyone know which four teams will be playing in the New Year’s Day semifinals on Sunday. Three will be easy: Defending national champion Clemson, Southeastern Conference champion Georgia and Big 12 champ Oklahoma are getting in.
Then it’s … Alabama? Or Ohio State?
Two of college football’s blues bloods, biggest brands and historically successful teams. Also, two teams many fans love to hate. No matter the committee’s decision there will be complaints of favoritism and conspiracy theories.
Did you know Ohio State’s athletic director, Gene Smith, is on the committee? He is recused when the Buckeyes are discussed, and you can bet there will be a lot of discussion about ‘Bama and the Buckeyes.
The lobbying started immediately after the Buckeyes handed Wisconsin its first loss of the season, 27-21, in the Big Ten title game Saturday night.
Alabama coach Nick Saban was on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” making his pitch: “I think you have to look at the whole body of work. The entire season. If you look at it like that I think our team gets strong consideration and is very deserving to be in the playoff.”
At almost the same time, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was accepting a Big Ten championship trophy in Indianapolis, touting his team: “We have two wins over two top-four teams (Penn State was No. 2 when the Buckeyes beat it). We’re the conference champions. We deserve a shot.”
The case for and against each:
Alabama (11-1, CFP No. 5)
— The Crimson Tide always win the eye test. No team has a more talented and deeper roster.
— Alabama’s only loss was by 12 at Auburn (10-3), a team that even after losing the SEC title game to Georgia will probably finish in the committee’s top 10.
— Other than the Auburn game, Alabama’s only real challenge came at Mississippi State. The Tide won by eight at Texas A&M, but the Aggies’ scored in the last 20 seconds to make that look closer than it was.
— Alabama’s best victories will be against LSU (9-3) and Mississippi State (8-4). They are likely the only teams Alabama beat that will be ranked Sunday. LSU was 17 last week.
— Alabama did not win its division, let alone its conference. That was not a problem last year for Ohio State, but those 11-1 Buckeyes had victories over three top-10 teams and a three-point loss on the road to another top-10 team.
Ohio State (11-2, CFP No. 8)
— The Buckeyes do just fine with the eye test, too.
— Ohio State has victories against three teams (Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State) that are all likely to be ranked ahead of Alabama’s best victory.
— The Buckeyes are Big Ten champions and selection committee protocol directs the committee to use championships won as something of a tiebreaker if teams are similar.
— The Buckeyes not only lost twice, but both loses were by double-digits, including a 31-point drubbing at Iowa (7-5).
— Did we mention that the Buckeyes lost 55-24 to Iowa?
Strength of schedule, according to Sagarin ratings.
Alabama, 54th toughest in Division I.
Ohio State, 42nd before playing Wisconsin.
Last season Ohio State became the first team to make the playoff without winning its conference. This season the Buckeyes are trying to become the first team with two losses to get in. If Alabama gets in, it will be the first time two teams from the same conference get in. And while the SEC has typically been the best or close to the best conference in college football, this has not been a season in which it has stood clearly above the rest.
Ohio State got in last year without winning the Big Ten and the league champion, Penn State, did not. What is the committee’s appetite for leaving two Power Five conferences out of the playoff (sorry, Pac-12)? It should not matter. The committee is charged with picking the best four teams. But can’t help but wonder if it plays into the thought process.
GOING HOME A CHAMPION
All signs pointed in this direction so it was no surprise when, after Scott Frost was done leading Central Florida to the American Athletic Conference championship, he was announced as Nebraska’s next coach.
The Knights are unbeaten and likely heading to the Peach Bowl as the highest-ranked champion from outside the Power Five conferences. No doubt some fans will wonder why UCF doesn’t get a chance to play in the final four, but the schedule lacks big nonconference wins. It might not be fair, but unless the playoff expands it will always be a long shot for the teams outside the Power Five.
TCU’s lose could open up a spot in the New Year’s six for a team that has not been talked about much since the rankings started coming out. Washington was 13th last week, right behind Stanford and TCU, which both lost. Unless TCU (10-3) stays ahead or the committee reconsiders Notre Dame (9-3) the Huskies (10-2) could be headed to the Cotton Bowl.
Here’s how the New Year’s Six could shake out.
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama.
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Georgia.
Fiesta Bowl: USC vs. Ohio State.
Peach Bowl: UCF vs. Auburn.
Cotton Bowl: Washington vs. Penn State
Orange Bowl: Miami vs. Wisconsin.