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In Choosing Alabama Over Ohio State, the CFP Committee Absolutely Got It Right

The College Football Playoff Committee deserves respect for doing the job it was assigned to do: select the four best teams in the FBS division to compete for the national championship.

This was never supposed to be about wimping out in a cowardly display of political correctness by making sure to do the safest thing and dole out playoff spots to as many Power 5 conferences as possible to limit the hard feelings. Get as many conferences involved as you can. Keep as many powerful conference commissioners as on the chain as you can, so they can’t snarl, bark, leap and attack.

This was supposed to be — at least in part — recognizing the the importance of winning conference championships. That was part of the committee’s stated parameters at the beginning of this process, at the creation of this playoff, back in 2014. But the committee trashed that standard last year by excluding Big Ten champion Penn State to reward an Ohio State team that didn’t win its division, didn’t play in the B1G title game, and lost to Penn State in a head-to-head matchup.

That’s among the reasons why I was befuddled by some of the media reaction to Sunday’s news: after slotting Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia into the first three spots (in that order), the committee went with Alabama over Ohio State for the final playoff spot.

A couple of headlines made me check my eyes:

This from the The Athletic: “Committee devalues conference titles in anointing Alabama.”

Um, that happened last year.

True, Alabama did not win its division. True, Alabama did not play in the SEC championship game. True, Alabama was invited to compete in the national playoff.

You know … just like Ohio State in 2016.

I don’t recall any Ohio State fans shrieking about the unfairness of it all when their beloved Buckeyes were invited to the tournament last season — only to get punk-slapped 31-0 by Clemson in a semifinal rout — but perhaps I missed their pro-Penn State demonstrations among the Ohio State students and fans.

When the committee dared to downgrade the impact of winning a conference championship a year ago, there was no turning back. And at that point teams that would go on to win their conferences in future seasons had to understand something. And the new reality couldn’t have been made clearer by the choice of Ohio State over Penn State a year ago:  hey, congratulations on winning your Power 5 league, but if you think this ensures a guaranteed playoff … it doesn’t. So smack those thoughts out of your heads.

So why would any person of sound mind be shocked or foaming at the mouth in faux rage when the committee reaffirmed last year’s precedent-setting development by excluding a Power 5 champ for the second consecutive season? Were these folks in a trance last December? Were they in a stupor, or spending part of the winter vacationing in Oblivion?

For those who were too dense to grasp this the first time, another reminder was delivered — like a missile — on Sunday: the committee’s mission is to pick the best four teams. Period.

(Well, at least until further notice. The committee does reserve the right to change the guidelines and contradict everything that prior committees espoused and enacted. The committee does reserve the right to veer wildly and make up new standards at any time.)

Now, we can have a vigorous debate over who those teams should be. That’s fun. But before we start presenting cases or writing rebuttals, let’s take a minute to review the new paradigm:

1. When we the committee select four Power 5 teams to participate in the CFP tournament, your conference affiliation is irrelevant.

2. Capturing a conference championship is admirable, but we (the committee) don’ t necessarily care that you marched into the Big Ten showdown to beat a propped-up Wisconsin team that had put together a 12-0 record by smashing a schedule that presented autumn pumpkins and cream-filled holiday pies.

3.  The committee is not running a Little League baseball office; we will NOT try to please all the moms and dads and kids by handing out trophies to make everyone feel special. We pick four teams. Those four teams are the winners. That’s it. The rest of you should prepare for your bowl games.

4. The committee does not do quotas. If we (the committee) believe the nation’s four best teams in a given year reside in the Big Ten, then we the committee will select four teams from the Big Ten. If we believe three of the four best teams pay rent in the Pac 12, then we will tell them to wax their surfboards and get ready to go for some playoff football. And if we the committee deems that two of the four best teams hail from the SEC, then we will put Georgia and Alabama in the playoff to join the ACC king (Clemson) and the Big 12 scoring machine (Oklahoma). And we offer no apologies to the Big Ten (no teams) and Pac 12 (no teams).

5. And if we the committee decide to throw out everything that we just stated in the  four preceding paragraphs and do something entirely different in 2018 … then never mind.

The committee was on point Sunday.

The Alabama vs. Ohio State brouhaha is the only real controversy.

Of course Alabama was going to be in there. This is a made-up controversy at best.

If people can untie themselves and free their minds from outdated thinking — BUT OHIO STATE WON THE BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP!!! — it becomes a helluva lot easier to understand why Alabama was the correct choice.

You don’t disqualify a proven Alabama team that had dominated all season, going 11-0, just because it lost its final regular-season game to its blood rival, Auburn, the No. 6 team in the ranking, in a hostile road environment.

And you sure as hell don’t disqualify Alabama from a playoff spot to reward an Ohio State side that lost two games. None of the teams that competed in the first three CFP playoffs had two losses during the regular season.

And these weren’t just any losses. These weren’t heartbreakers that ended with an Ohio State opponent kicking a winning field goal or scoring the decisive touchdown with the clock running out.

Ohio State was blasted by Oklahoma by 15 points at home.

And Ohio State could have easily survived that second-week setback by winning out. There is no shame in losing to OU, even by 15 points.

But on Nov. 4 Ohio State went to Iowa City and got humiliated in a 55-24 loss to the average Iowa Hawkeyes.

Grated, Ohio State recovered and played well the rest of the way and had a couple of very nice wins, especially Penn State. But that doesn’t erase the two losses by a combined 46 points. There is no amnesty granted for horrible losses that occurred earlier in the schedule. Those performances count. They don’t get stricken from the record just because Ohio State exposed Wisconsin for what Wisconsin was this season: overrated.

Alabama’s lone defeat of the season — a 12-point loss at Auburn — was hardly disqualifying.

If Alabama had lost by 31 points at, say, Texas A&M … THAT would be disqualifying.

You can’t reward contending teams that absorb an embarrassing 31-point beatdown. You can’t reward a two-loss Ohio State team by dumping one-loss Bama because of one bad day on the road against hot-hot-hot Auburn.

There’s been a lot of parsing of the schedules, with folks trying to prove that Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide played a much weaker schedule than Ohio State, and didn’t have as many quality wins as Ohio State.

I’ll have to brush that aside, sorry.

Even with one loss, Alabama was dominant this season.

How can I say that?

Pretty easily. I say that with no hesitance.

Alabama was the No. 1 ranked team in the nation in the first 13 AP polls, and the first 13 Coaches’ polls. Before Sunday’s unveiling of the four playoff teams, Alabama had been No. 1 in the land for 13 of 14 weeks, and never fell lower than No. 5 — which is where the Tide landed after losing at Auburn. In the College Football Playoff rankings, the committee had Alabama first or second in each of the first four weeks … and dropped Alabama to 5th after the defeat at Auburn.

At no point this season was Ohio State ranked ahead of Alabama … and that applies to the (now) 15 weekly AP poll, the 15 weekly Coaches’ poll, and the six weekly Playoff Committee rankings.

So why would anyone expect Ohio State to be placed above Alabama?

Over the first 13 weeks of the AP poll, Alabama received an amazing 86.5 percent of all first-place votes cast. Even after losing to Auburn and getting moved down to 5th after the 14th week of polling, Alabama had received 80.3 percent of all first-place votes cast for the season.

This season Alabama received 686 first-place votes in the AP polling done from late August until early December. And do you know how many total first-place votes went to Ohio State this season?

The answer: FOUR … hey, that’s only 682 fewer than Alabama.

And Ohio State didn’t receive a first-place vote after Sept. 5.

We now have 15 weeks of polling in the hopper, and Alabama was ranked first 13 times, fifth one time, and came in fourth Sunday.

Using the AP poll only, Alabama has been a top-five team for 15 consecutive weeks.

Ohio State was a top-five team only four times in 15 weeks of polling. Ohio State was ranked 8th or worst in nine of 15 weeks. Alabama’s worst poll stop was 5th. Ohio State was 10th or 11th a combined four times.

And let’s look at the weekly College Football Playoff rankings, with each team’s ranking in order:

Ohio State: 6th … 13th … 9th … 9th … 8th … 5th

Alabama:    2nd … 2nd … 1st … 1st … 5th … 4th

So we have three different voting bodies — the AP, the coaches, and the CFP committee — putting Alabama above Ohio State in every single poll conducted to this point. That would 36 different polls (15 by the AP,  and 15 by the coaches, and six by the CFP committee.)

We also have the Sagarin ratings which puts Alabama at No. 1 in the nation.

We have the ESPN College Football Power Index, which rates Alabama No. 1 in the nation.

So for the love of Woody Hayes, why would any reality-attached person come to the conclusion that Ohio State is superior to Alabama in 2017?

It makes no sense.

(Side note: Among the two-loss teams, I’m not sure why USC would be behind Ohio State for consideration.)

If you’re Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, would you rather play Ohio State or Alabama in the semifinal? If you’re honest, you know the answer to that. Dabo would have been pleased to have Ohio State at No. 4, and Alabama out. Because now Clemson must tangle with Alabama, again, on New Year’s Day.

The second silly headline I saw Sunday came from The Big Lead site:

“Alabama over Ohio State in the Playoff Over Ohio State: The Day College Football Died.”

Good grief.

The opposite is true, actually.

With two Power 5 conferences getting “snubbed” for a playoff spot this time around, the commissioners will be boiling. The movement to come up with a better system than the BCS — the CFP format that’s now in its fourth season — started in 2011. The BCS title game matched two SEC teams, Alabama and LSU. And Alabama made it to the 2011 BCS championship contest despite failing to win the SEC West or the overall conference title.

That all-SEC matchup to end the 2011 season left the other four Power conference commissioners fuming and cursing and vowing to make sweeping changes to prevent the SEC from hogging both spots in a BCS championship game.

That’s when the power brokers came up with the four-team playoff concept.

And if the commissioners outside the SEC are burning with temper again — after two of the four 2017 playoff bids went to Alabama and Georgia — then this will inspire the desire and demand to expand the current format and make it a six-team (with two first-round byes) or eight-team CFP tournament.

College Football died?

No, College Football almost certainly come up with a larger tournament, and perhaps double the number of teams that are included to compete for a national championship.

And that will be great for business. And interest. And the media hot-take industry.

And more fans — with more playoff spots at stake — will join in, and get involved in the national college football debate.

Instead of arguing about the choice of four teams in a playoff, we’ll be debating and hollering over the eight teams that should make it.

Yep. Business will be booming.

College Football’s popularity will grow.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Trade Matt Carpenter? Great Idea … If You Hate High OBP and Power

  • keith walker

    you are correct Big dog instead of all this angst they need to expand the field and that will take care of much of this silly talk. buckeye faithful are up in arms but who cares? they got their heads HANDED to them by IA, got beat handily at home by OK and that disqualified them PERIOD. Bama lost a touch rivalry game on the road. Not even close. but you could see everyone being happy, mostly if you went to 6 or 8. which will have more backing since the Pac 12 and B1G were shut out.

  • rightthinker4

    Too bad Wisconsin didn’t beat Ohio State, just to see if the committee would have put Alabama in over an undefeated, Power 5 conference champion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy Alabama is in. Alabama is better than both Wisconsin or Ohio State, and the idea is to get the best four teams in the tournament. The committee did that this year!

    • If Wisconsin had beaten OSU they would have been in over Alabama. It wouldn’t have mattered that they may indeed be weaker than ‘Bama if they had run the table.

      But in order to beat OSU they would have had to be a better team than they showed Saturday night. Hornibrook didn’t look good on a majority of his passes. I am going to assume that had Wisconsin beat OSU they would have looked good doing it. Instead, they lost close, showed a lot of savvy, but their offense wasn’t that good.

  • Mark Steinmann

    Just once, I want someone in the media (ESPN will never do it), to call out the SEC, and particularly Alabama, for their scheduling. Playing 8 conference games is ridiculous when most other conferences play 9. And I don’t want to hear “oh it’s so tough in the SEC, another conference game would be too much”. Give me a break. Half the teams in the conference were dog crap this year. And Alabama in particular NEVER plays non conference road games (true road games, on campus), 2 in the last decade to be precise. They play some challenging non conference games, but they are always in Arlington or Atlanta. They never do a home & away series like so many other schools. And the best thing, for them at least, is they get away with it. This was the perfect time for the committee to get up and call them out on it, but of course they didn’t and they got into the CFP. Any other team with that resume doesn’t sniff the playoff.

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