The college football regular season has finished, conference champions have been decided — sort of — and that means it is time for the College Football Playoff Committee to make a final rankings and unveil the four teams that will compete in the inaugural Playoff in January.
The committee’s decision will not be easy, as all of the top six teams in the rankings entering the weekend won their games. Alabama and Oregon appear to be locks for the Playoff right now after handling their respective conference championship games with relative ease. It would stand to reason that Alabama will be the No. 1 seed and Oregon the No. 2 seed, but the committee could flip those two — and I’ll explain why shortly.
Where it gets tricky is filling spots three and four, where there are four teams with very good cases for two spots remaining. Let’s look at the case each team will be making for its inclusion in the Playoff:
“We were No. 3 entering the week and blasted Iowa State 55-3, doing exactly what they were supposed to. We are one of the country’s hottest teams and are the co-Big 12 champions — despite losing to Baylor earlier in the season because the Big 12 said so. Head-to-head clearly hasn’t mattered up to now and we have been ahead to this point. Why should it all of a sudden make a difference when we took care of business this weekend?”
“UNDEFEATED. That’s our argument. How can you leave the nation’s lone Power 5 conference undefeated team (and the only undefeated team in FBS) out of the Playoff? It doesn’t matter about margin of victory or any of that. Undefeated is undefeated. We have to be one of the Top 4.”
“There’s no hotter team in the nation than us right now. We just destroyed at Top 15 team by a 59-0 final in the Big Ten title game. Sure there was a slip-up early against Virginia Tech, but since then we’ve been unstoppable. Cardale Jones just proved he’ll be fine filling in, so there’s no worries about whether we can still compete.”
“SETTLED ON THE FIELD. 61-58. LAST I CHECKED THIS IS AMERICA, AIN’T IT? WE BEAT TCU, WE SHOULD BE THE TRUE BIG 12 CHAMPS AND BE IN THE PLAYOFF.” (No, seriously, this is legitimately what they’re saying…)
So, there you have it. Four teams for two spots, all with valid cases for inclusion. The onus is now on the committee to make a decision. Here are the two ways I think they go, first based on how they members have voted previously, and then a wild card scenario that involves a little intuition and a bit of a conspiracy theory.
The first theory is that the Top 4 stand pat. TCU put on enough of a show that the head-to-head won’t matter enough to move Baylor into the Horned Frogs’ spot, and they stay at the three spot. The committee used last week to drop FSU to fourth to set up the Sugar Bowl matchup between the Noles and Alabama, because that’s going to make tons of money. Oregon and TCU are a good regional fit in the Rose Bowl as well. Nothing changes and it’s all boring and somewhat anti-climactic.
Now, for the fun scenario that will bring out all the tin-foil hats:
On College Gameday this morning, committee chairman Jeff Long stated that head-to-head had not come into play…yet. He left a little wiggle room there, but by moving TCU above Florida State it becomes nearly impossible to put Baylor in the Playoff ahead of TCU, without somehow knocking out undefeated Florida State. Because of that, I could very well see both Big 12 teams being left out all together.
The Big 12 is causing problems by not naming “One True Champion” despite that being the conferences slogan all season. Seriously, it’s the key point of that super weird coach-morph commercial. By not doing that, they’re putting the onus on the committee — which has said it will weigh conference champions — to make the decision for them. Baylor has the head-to-head win — narrowly at home — and TCU has the better loss and non-conference schedule. It’s splitting hairs, so why not leave both out, and put four conference champions in, who all have valid arguments to be in, instead of having to explain why you put one team above the other. That’s a very real possibility for the committee, and I think it’s what happens because it take some pressure off of them, it’s not all that hard to justify doing, and it will put the four most profitable teams in the Playoff.
Here’s an easy way for them to explain it. Ohio State was ahead of Baylor entering Saturday and was more impressive against a fairly equal opponent in the rankings (11 Wisconsin, 9 Kansas State). Now that the full resume is in front of them head-to-head gets weighed into the equation, and they feel Baylor should be ahead of TCU, but still behind Florida State and Ohio State.
In this scenario Baylor and TCU sit at five and six behind Florida State and Ohio State in some order. Dropping TCU three spots seems impossible after the beatdown it put on Iowa State, but the committee’s made some head-scratching moves this season anyway, so who cares.
Now — and this is what I referenced previously — they could go one of two ways here, and both will get them to what they want. First, is to simply plop Ohio State down into the No. 3 spot ahead of Florida State. Reasonable? Eh, sure why not. The other option is to move Oregon to No. 1, Alabama to No. 2, FSU to No. 3, and Ohio State up to No. 4. The key in this scenario is to create a traditional Rose Bowl game between the Pac-12 champ Oregon and Big Ten champ Ohio State — who they know will both travel very well to Pasadena — and then the dream Sugar Bowl matchup between Alabama and Florida State.
The Playoff is a business. They want to make as much money as possible, while still crowning a “true champion.” No matter who they choose and who they leave out, two fan bases will be upset because, as I showed above, they all have pretty solid cases for inclusion. Why wouldn’t the committee choose the four teams with the largest fan bases, and make sure the bowl games have the most logical regional fits?
We’ll all find out this afternoon what the verdict is, but don’t be surprised to see the cash cows make it in.