Selecting the College Football Playoff field not as simple as it seems
Between Tuesday night and Friday afternoon, the prediction of a scenario involving the results that actually played out Friday and Saturday would have drawn a yawn. Why would the College Football Playoff selection committee even bother showing up to its meeting room at the Gaylord Texan hotel given these scores? The committee wouldn’t even have to touch the top four it released Tuesday (1. Alabama 2. Ohio State 3. Clemson 4. Washington). Everyone could vote as soon as the games ended Saturday night and catch an early flight home.
After Saturday night? It doesn’t feel so certain at all. Perhaps we’re scarred from 2014, when the committee ranked TCU No. 3 in its penultimate ranking and then dropped the Horned Frogs to No. 6 after they won by 52 points. Perhaps we couldn’t completely trust the committee after that moment. It told us what we suspected when it was determined the committee would release multiple rankings. Everything before the first Sunday in December is for entertainment purposes only, and the rules that governed those early rankings may not apply the same way to the only ranking that matters.
Based on what committee chair Kirby Hocutt said Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday’s deliberations should be easy at the top. No. 1 Alabama hammered Florida in the SEC title game and finished as the only undefeated team in the Power 5. Second-ranked Ohio State, which didn’t qualify for the Big Ten title game and finished its season 11–1, didn’t play Saturday. Third-ranked Clemson beat Virginia Tech 42–35 in the ACC title game. Fourth-ranked Washington crushed Colorado 41–10 Friday night to win the Pac-12 title. Since, according to Hocutt, there was a “razor thin” margin between Washington and No. 5 Michigan, which also didn’t play, and a slightly wider margin between Michigan and Big Ten championship participants Wisconsin (No. 6) and Penn State (No. 7), that should be it, shouldn’t it? The Final Four should be set, right?
But what if it isn’t? What if Hocutt is telling the truth about the “clean sheet of paper” the committee allegedly uses every time it begins deliberating? Can it be swayed? We go now to the Saturday night stump speech of Penn State coach James Franklin. “What I know is we just won the toughest conference in college football,” Franklin told Fox after his Nittany Lions came back from 21 points down to beat Wisconsin 38–31. “It’s on you now, committee.”
Indeed it is.
The key argument now is whether Ohio State should get in over a Penn State team that beat the Buckeyes and won the Big Ten title. The committee’s previous rankings suggest that’s what will happen.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s comments on ESPN’s College GameDay made it seem the league office had abandoned its championship game participants in favor of WOOOOOOOOO, BUCKEYES AND WOLVERINES. When the playoff was formulated, Delany wanted only conference champions allowed…