Oct. 15, 2016
Did the CFP Committee Back Themselves in a Corner?
The year? 2011. LSU had one of the toughest schedules thrown at them from top to bottom, in-conference and out-of-conference. They started off with National Championship runner-up Oregon in Dallas. Later a tough road game in Morgantown to face West Virginia. So you had two BCS Conference teams (albeit one was the Big East, which was a mess at that point). The Tigers had to play Auburn and Florida (both home games) and an incredibly tough road game in Tuscaloosa against one of the toughest Alabama defenses in history (which was saying something). Then LSU faced off Georgia who won 9 in a row that season in the SEC Championship. And they beat them all.
So, who was it they faced in the national championship? A conference champion in the Big Ten? Nope. A PAC-12 champ? Nope. The ACC Champ? Negative. The Big 12 Champ? Nada.
Unless you're an Alabama fan, people were up in arms over the move by the "computers" of the BCS putting in Alabama, who had lost to LSU a month before, therefore not getting to the SEC Championship (by the account of being in the same division as LSU). But given how the BCS computers said "the strength of schedule" ranked ahead of everybody else and how the polls had Alabama ahead of Big 12 Champ Oklahoma State (who had lost a heartbreaker near the end of the season at Iowa State), many had screamed foul.
Yes, Alabama won, but many said outside of Tuscaloosa it was an undeserving shot and the Tide had already took one crack at LSU and it should have been Oklahoma State, who had steamrolled in the Big 12 or PAC-12 champion Stanford who went 11-1 in 2011. But the ones who argued for Alabama said they were really the best team in the nation outside of LSU while Oklahoma State lost to a subpar Iowa State squad. I could see both ways. And honestly, I thought Oklahoma State should have gotten a crack at LSU (yes, me, an Alabama fan thinking a Big 12 school of all schools deserved a shot more than Alabama........crazy huh?)
So the NCAA decided to make it "fair." Get a committee to select 4 teams, so team #3 and #4 wouldn't get screwed out of a shot at a national title and that conference champions, who actually play a 13th game as opposed to a non-conference champion that played 12, would get the nod. And the College Football Playoff was born. It would start in 2014.
What the committee did "in conjunction with ESPN" was they would start making these decisions a little past the halfway point in the season and then announce it every Tuesday. And then one of the members of the committee would speak about the decisions. And every week, especially in 2014, it seemed you had 3 schools from the SEC (Ole Miss, Auburn, and Mississippi State) up in the top 4 while a 4th team (Alabama) was the 5th. People were already screaming foul on the idea. However, given how those four teams would play each other and beat each other up, you knew at least two of them would fall and fast. Obviously that happened as Auburn and Ole Miss waned down the stretch and Alabama took out Mississippi State late and the Bulldogs then fell to Ole Miss.
So that was cleaned up. So the rankings heading into championship week looked like this:
Alabama (11-1, vs. #14 Missouri in SEC Championship)
Oregon (11-1, vs. #8 Arizona in SEC Championship)
TCU (10-1, vs. Iowa State)
Florida State (12-0, vs. #11 Georgia Tech in ACC Championship)
Baylor (10-1, vs. #9 Kansas State)
Ohio State (11-1 vs. #13 Wisconsin in Big Ten Championship)
So, the top 6 won their games. Save for Florida State, every one won their game convincingly. Alabama thumped Missouri. Oregon exacted their lone loss of the season to Arizona by spanking them. TCU smashed Iowa State. Baylor took care of Kansas State, and Ohio State obliterated Wisconsin. So, done deal, right? Florida State had a tough time with Georgia Tech, but still won. So, maybe TCU stays in top 4 while Ohio State or Baylor possibly edges out Florida State for a spot? Or everything stays as is?
Ohio State jumps from #6 to #4, Florida State from #4 to #3 and TCU drops 3 and Baylor holds at #5.
Fans of those schools and the Big 12 were in OUTRAGE. Admittedly, I agreed with them then. How can you just automatically drop TCU and Baylor like that? Well, the committee spoke and I am paraphrasing:
"Well, Ohio State played a 13-game schedule with their conference championship while TCU and Baylor played 12. Also, we looked the fact that Ohio State is the undisputed conference champion while the Big 12 deemed both Baylor and TCU were co-champions."
In other words, the committee looked at conference championships and that extra game as the deciding factors of the final four playoff teams. Or so we thought. So let's move on to 2015.
Even leading up to the championship week, the playoff seemed pretty evident of the 4 teams. If Clemson & Alabama won their respective conferences over North Carolina and Florida, respectively, everything was going to be fine. The PAC-12 was out of consideration because teams had 2-3 losses out west. Oklahoma dominated the Big 12 en route to an 11-1 season and many considered them the hottest team. And the winner of #4 Iowa (12-0), and #5 Michigan State (11-1) would net the final spot. Well, Clemson & Bama held serve. Oklahoma sat home and Michigan State edged out Iowa. So, people knew life was good in terms of the committee in who was going. It would be questions of #3 and #4.
Michigan State, who had dodged major bullets all season of beating weaker teams by the skin of their teeth (to lowly Purdue and MAC foe Central Michigan while being unimpressive the whole time and having a miracle win against Michigan) ended up jumping AHEAD of Oklahoma to take #3. Teh response was similar to last year of a Big Ten school jumping ahead of a Big 12 school:
"Michigan State played a 13th game while Oklahoma sat home; and Michigan State's overall resume looks better (by beating 3 top 10 teams at the time-Oregon, Ohio State, Iowa and a 12th ranked Michigan team)"
For the record, I like Michigan State and dislike Oklahoma, but let's face it, Oklahoma played better than Michigan State in 2015.
Anyway, with ALL of that being said, for the two years with the Playoff, we have started to notice a trend: Conference champions make it. 13th games decide spots (meaning the Big 12 is screwed until 2017 when they have their *ahem* championship game). And head-to-head matters.
So fast-forward to this year. Now granted, there has been chaos to it with the Big Ten.
Ohio State loses to Penn State, which is their lone loss a month ago. Penn State lost to Michigan, almost 2 months ago badly. And Penn State lost an early tilt with in-state rival Pittsburgh. So Penn State has 2 losses to Ohio State's one. So where is the ranking? Penn State at #7 Ohio State at #2. Michigan in between at #5. But Penn State is the division champion while Michigan and Ohio State, who are in the same division, isn't. And the committee said "it wasn't even close between Ohio State and Penn State."
ARE YOU KIDDING ME??????
Look, I don't doubt Ohio State is one of the top 4 teams in the nation and that's not really up for debate. But Penn State since that game has pretty much destroyed everything in their path, including easily handling an Iowa team who one week later beat Michigan (yes, I get Michigan thumped Penn State, but I'd like to see that game re-played, though you can't). But right now Penn State is probably the BEST team in the Big Ten and have the head-to-head win over Ohio State.
Playoff committee backers and I bet the committee themselves will explain that Ohio State's record and resume trumps ahead of Penn State (should the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten and lose a chance of a playoff) despite the head-to-head. But I will point out two things:
1. Alabama and Oregon finished higher ranked than Florida State in 2014, but Florida State went 13-0 while Alabama and Oregon both were 12-1.
2. While it wasn't the "playoff" itself, Stanford was actually ranked #5 at 11-2 while Ohio State went 11-1. Yes, I get the resume of Stanford was a bit better (4-0 against top 25 teams as opposed to Ohio State's 1-1 record against top 25) and that might have decided a bit, but it isn't like Ohio State played powerhouses top to bottom while Penn State played cupcakes. Ohio State faced off against 4 top 25 teams, going 4-0, while Penn State, should they win, go 3-0. And before Ohio State fans, go, "well Penn State lost to Pitt!" Remember, you lost to Virginia Tech, a 6-6 Virginia Tech team who beat you at home by 14 in 2014. So to me, the resumes are similar. And should Penn State wallop Wisconsin and win by 20-30, there has to be some talk about "how close" this should be.
So what is it really? The committee has always said that conference championships isn't the ultimate factor, but the first two years that has been the case. So now that Ohio State is in the thick of it and not even playing in a conference championship, the rules set up by the committee have changed. It is no longer head-to-head. It is no longer conference championships. Because evidently, Washington was just a hair ahead by the committee over 2-loss Michigan. And it was still up for great debate by the committee after the announcement was made. I think pretty much after the Huskies dominated Colorado (where as Michigan pulled away late against the Buffaloes) it does distance Washington and Michigan (I hope). So why is it different this year was my question?
And then it makes sense: Money
Let's face it, Ohio State, alongside Alabama, Michigan, and now USC (since some "experts" at ESPN say they are back) are the faces of the Mt. Rushmore of college football right now. They get ratings on TV and the fans travel all over the country very well. IF the roles were reversed in 2014 and it was TCU or Baylor winning a conference championship game while Ohio State had no 13th game, would the Frogs jump 3 spots ahead of Ohio State? No. Why? Ohio State=Money. TCU, not as much. Baylor? Not as much.
The same thing can be said for the Washington/Michigan debate. Michigan fans travel well and they are Michigan. Nothing against Washington and I think the fans are great AND I thought they were better, but if the roles were reversed and Washington had been the third place team while Michigan was heading into the conference, "it wouldn't be close."
But what about Michigan State last year? Oklahoma has a better fan base and has better ratings (as did Ohio State), but the Committee used that method of "13th game" method then. And the Spartans beat Ohio State and won the conference so that just made too much sense for Michigan State to be ahead of Ohio State. Which brings me back to ratings............
Had Michigan State been #4 and Oklahoma #3, you would have had a possible epic disaster on your hands in the semis and then quite possibly the championship. Again, I am a Michigan State fan, but I know well enough nationally that outside of two great fan bases in Clemson and Michigan State, there wouldn't have been a huge ratings spike. If anything, it would have fallen flat for ratings had it been Clemson vs. Michigan State. On the flip-side, Oklahoma & Alabama, while the ratings would be good and you'd have a storyline of Big Shot Bob Stoops running his mouth again about the SEC and Saban, that could have been your big national championship right there. It wouldn't have mattered who would have won between the Tigers and Spartans, the ratings would have been worse for the national championship.
So what did the committee do? A ratings jolt: place the Big Ten vs. SEC again, keeping that war going as well as adding the storyline of Saban vs. former assistant Dantonio. Clemson & Oklahoma had the storyline of the rematch from last year as well as the undefeated team going against the "hottest team."
And of course, Alabama crushed Michigan State and Clemson upended Oklahoma. Then it was Dabo against his old alma mater. And ratings were saved. The game itself was great and it did propel Clemson on that top level and set up a great season in 2016.
So now, what do we have that is still alive? Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Washington, Michigan, and the Big Ten winner. Win or lose against Florida, Alabama is in from all likelihoods. Ohio State is probably in. And Clemson, if they win, is in. So you got three ratings money-makers. Washington SHOULD be in too. But what will come out of it? Will the committee select Washington at #4, possibly thinking Alabama would do the same to the Huskies as they did the Spartans last year while Ohio State and Clemson (assuming they win) go to war to see which one gives Alabama the biggest fit in the championship? It is possible that if everybody holds serve, that the rankings stay the same. And Penn State or Wisconsin is screwed because "they didn't have a better resume" than Ohio State.
So tomorrow will be intriguing on how the committee selects the 4 teams, notably if 2 are from the Big Ten or if one is in the Big Ten as it wasn't the champion. Will they continue the trend of keeping the conference champions and Ohio State gets screwed? Or does Ohio State stay in at #2 and screws out either Washington or the Big Ten winner in the process because the committee knows it will make more money? That will be the question. Either way, the committee backed themselves in a corner of how they handle things, and it might get ugly for them after Sunday afternoon.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat