We've finally made it to the end of this year's weekly College Football Playoff rankings, and it's fair to say that this year's final four might be the most controversial yet. Undefeated Atlantic Coast Conference champion Florida State got bumped entirely out of the playoff picture; and Southeastern Conference champion Alabama, which ended Georgia's tremendous 29-game win streak and three-peat bid, got stuck in the four seed.
The stakes were infinitely higher this week than any other, so let's dig right into some winners and losers from the selection committee's final rankings.
No. 3 Texas
It hasn't gotten talked about nearly enough: After the personal challenges he's dealt with — many self-inflicted — and the doubts that have been expressed about his ability to lead a program, Steve Sarkisian got Texas into the playoff, and in the toughest field ever no less. The Longhorns were rightfully rewarded for their win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but they should still feel fortunate for a pair of reasons.
One is that they got in over an undefeated Power Five conference champion. That's a completely unprecedented move — even if the scenario isn't entirely unprecedented, as we've seen backup quarterbacks appear in the playoff before. But we'll get into the FSU situation in more depth in just a moment.
The other is their seeding; we'll talk about this one later as well, but Texas could very easily have run into the juggernaut that is Michigan this round if they were the fourth seed; or, if things had gone differently in the SEC title game, they could've faced two-time defending champs Georgia. Washington is a really strong team and a deserving No. 2 seed, but they aren't quite the same caliber as the two other squads the Longhorns realistically could have seen.
No. 4 Alabama
Let's tell it like it is: Alabama got in due in large part to the fact that they are Alabama. They weren't undefeated like Florida State, and they lost at home to fellow bubble team Texas. They are almost definitely one of the four best teams in the country — but most deserving? That's much more of a debate. If they were wearing an ACC patch on their uniforms and FSU was wearing an SEC crest, with all other variables held equal, it's not likely that much of a discussion would even have transpired.
"Best" versus "most deserving" is a debate we go through every year when it comes to these rankings, but this was the clearest example we've seen yet. The committee decided to put Alabama into this year's playoff because they have the best ability to give Michigan a great game. Whether that's fair or not is up for each viewer to decide, but the fact of the matter is that the Tide could easily have missed out this year and did not — which makes them a huge winner on this list.
No. 23 Liberty
It ended up being relatively straightforward, after Tulane and Toledo both lost, but undefeated Liberty will in fact be rewarded for its strong campaign. The Flames became full Football Bowl Subdivision members for the first time back in 2019; and in just their fifth year of bowl eligibility, they're heading for the big stage to face No. 8 Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.
Southern Methodist University had a bit of a case for this spot after an impressive win over Tulane to clinch the American Athletic Conference title; but with two losses, it would have been really hard for them to jump Liberty. Coach Jamey Chadwell's first season is already a huge triumph, and it will be fascinating to see how he does against one of the best teams in the country.
No. 1 Michigan
Michigan is No. 1 for the first time in well over two decades, yet they're once again in the losers section of our breakdown. They went 13-0, won on the road against Penn State and at home against Ohio State — both without coach Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines — and are being rewarded for their efforts with having to face SEC champions Alabama, perhaps the hottest team in the country.
The committee clearly used its discretion to determine that Alabama was one of the "best" teams in the country when it slotted them over 13-0 Florida State. But suddenly, when it came time to seed the field, they decided to think about who was the most deserving. Why didn't the same logic persist into the seeding process? Texas' head-to-head win over Alabama is a huge deal and surely meant that the Longhorns should make the playoff in any scenario where the Tide were chosen, but they're almost certainly not the tougher team.
This all raises the question of just how much this format incentivizes teams to push for the top. What even is the benefit of the top seed for Michigan? Should they have lost to Maryland and finished No. 2 to "earn" a more favorable path? As was clearly evident from the reaction of Michigan's team upon hearing the news, this was a borderline-unbelievable choice by the committee, and it will be fascinating to see just how it plays out on the field.
No. 5. Florida State
I commended the committee a week ago for its handling of the Florida State situation — and I would like to rescind my positive comments. What the committee has done to the Seminoles is horrible, completely against the spirit of sports at its very core, and a real slap in the face to the institution of conferences as a whole. We've never had an undefeated Power Five champion left out of the playoff, and we never should have. Thankfully, with the playoff expanding next year, it will never happen again, but that does little to soften the blow of this disastrous determination.
As we've seen several times in the semifinals and finals of the playoff, no matter who everyone thinks is going to win or lose — even if the result isn't expected to be close — the games must be played, and unexpected results happen just about every year. The first-ever champs crowned under this format — the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes — did it with a third-string quarterback and a loss. Florida State, which did not have a loss to match Urban Meyer's squad, should have been afforded an opportunity to do the same. It probably wouldn't have gone well — but it might have, and now we'll never know.
No. 6 Georgia and No. 7 Ohio State
These decisions were pretty straightforward, but these teams have to be left feeling as if they did enough to make the playoff — in large part because they both have done the exact same thing before and made it. The 2022 Ohio State Buckeyes took down Notre Dame and went undefeated up until the Michigan game, which they lost. That team still made a semifinal as the No. 4 seed.
The 2021 Georgia Bulldogs were perfect in the regular season, came into the SEC Championship Game ranked No. 1 in the nation — and lost to an 11-1 Alabama team. That year, Kirby Smart's team not only made a playoff, they also won it all. Neither squad can really complain too much about the outcome — they had a clear path but weren't able to get the job done, and there's really nobody in the field who could be excluded in their favor.
Still, it's natural to feel disappointed to do the same thing that was rewarded in past seasons and not be given the same outcome. These are two absolutely phenomenal teams — perhaps among the country's four best — and they simply fell victim to an unprecedentedly tough field.
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