After months of speculation, endless nitpicking, a lot of former players and coaches yelling at each other on TV (and some occasional actual, informative debate…just kidding it was almost all yelling), in the span of 36 hours, it was all decided.
Okay, it wasn’t actually decided, we still have 3 more meaningful College Football games before we can give the trophy to Saban and Bama, but at least we know how we will decide it next month.
In case you are, for some reason reading this and you haven’t heard already, first, hi mom, and second, the playoff will consist of Alabama in the 1 seed, taking on Washington at 4, and Clemson facing Ohio State.
Here’s the thing: It was an exceptionally hard year to come up with a definitive four, what with there being only 2 undefeated teams, and a power 5 caste system that renders a perfect Western Michigan season irrelevant (a rant for another day), and a Big10 t that led to the likely 3rd and 4th best teams in the conference playing for the title. The Big12 was out, making things a little bit simpler, but the totality of circumstances made it so that no matter what, there wasn’t going to be a clear cut 4 that everyone was happy with.
So, what we got was an ignored conference championship game, and a team that didn’t even win their division slotting in at 3 because, frankly, they are probably the second-best team in the nation.
I’m uncomfortable with Ohio State being in the playoff. The college football landscape is better when at least a couple of the conference championship games serve as de facto play in games, but that just isn’t going to happen on a consistent basis, and this year it didn’t make sense (and would have made less sense with Colorado, Virginia Tech or Florida wins, although none of the 3 were close to actually happening).
What we have is an imperfect system that could benefit from a few small tweaks, since 5 major conferences deciding a 4 team playoff makes absolutely no sense. Those tweaks weren’t going to happen this year, and what we ended up with is, probably, the best 4 teams.
The major problem I have is with the order.
Alabama is the clear 1 seed. Undefeated. A power house. They are all you could ask for and at this point, I would probably put my money on them, even over the field, to win the National Championship. That, the committee got right, and it should have informed the rest of the seeding, but it didn’t.
Clemson at 2 is fine. I think that their resume is more or less identical to that of Washington, but I won’t waste words arguing about it. Clemson was highly touted coming into the year, and Washington wasn’t. College football is ultimately a sport that judges teams before a single snap is played, and then waits for preconceived notions to be proven wrong above all else. I HATE that about the sport, and it drives me insane, but it is, like the tweaks that could be made to the system, not going to change this year, and therefore not worth railing about.
The real issue comes with the 3 and 4 seed designation. Recall that, as of this writing, there is a clear cut #1 team in the Nation. Alabama is historically good, and the 4 seed is going to have to face them first. Clemson is very good, but they are not nearly as scary as Alabama, which means that the distinction between the 3 and the 4 seed is uncommonly meaningful. Obviously not as meaningful as the 4 and 5 seeds, since 4 gets you in, and you will likely have to take on the Crimson to win it all anyways, but any coach with a brain would take the prospect of taking on Alabama in the final over a first round matchup.
The problem I have, then, is that Washington was given the task of taking on Alabama in round 1, and Ohio State was spared the matchup.
Make no mistake, there are 2 things that we know about Ohio State. One is that they are very good, perhaps the second-best team in the nation. Watching them on the field would suggest this, although I would laugh at the notion that you could definitively distinguish between them and Clemson, Washington, or even the Michigan team that took them to OT based on the “eye test.”
The second thing we know is that they are hear at the mercy of the committee. They are a charity case. Ohio State, for as good as they were, despite wins over Oklahoma and Michigan, sat home on Championship weekend. They got in because the Committee TOOK MERCY on them, and overlooked the fact that Penn State, not Ohio State, was the Big10 West Champion, and that Ohio State missed the post-season in their own conference.
If they are going to get in because they got a confluence of factors (Penn State having 2 losses, having beaten another good option in Michigan and the Big12 being down), and because the committee did them a favor, essentially because they thought that they were good, I can actually live with that, but they should be given the toughest road possible. They should not have gotten an advantage over a team that had the same number of losses and won their Conference. They should have had to play Bama.
I suppose there is room for an eye test factor to differentiate between teams with similar resumes, but that’s the problem. Even if you give Ohio State the definitive eye test advantage (and I would once again say that the only reason you would do this is because Washington plays later in the day on the West Coast and you didn’t have their games circled on the calendar going into the season), they DON’T HAVE SIMILAR RESUMES.
Both Washington and Ohio State have 1 loss. They both had dominant wins over the majority of their schedule, but the similarities end there.
The first difference is obvious in that, while they don’t have a pronoun that they insist upon having as part of the school’s title (The Ohio State University does), Washington has a conference championship. tOSU does not. I’ll take the trophy over the ‘the.’ The second difference is in the first thing that Washington has an advantage in the first thing that you see on a resume: the wins column. No matter how you cut it, Washington has two distinct, quantitative advantages over OSU right away.
Forget the fact that they only had 2 wins by less than 2 scores (both were by 7) and Ohio State had 4, or that they are just as impressive if you actually stay up to watch them, Washington has MORE WINS and a conference championship. To have them ranked below Ohio State is ridiculous.
At the end of the day, my outrage here is actually pretty low. Both are likely to lose to Bama (although I think that OSU gets a tangible benefit here, because they beat Clemson and get to the final, no small consolation prize). If this were the 4-5 gap, though, it would be off the charts. The problem is that next year it could be that 4-5 gap. That’s why this matters. It is a reinforcement of the attitude we are going to assume we were right about where every team stacks up until it’s proven otherwise.
This year we got lucky. Penn State and Oklahoma had 2 losses, so we ended up with a pretty clear picture of the top 4. Even with that, though, the Committee made an arbitrary distinction, almost certainly dooming a team that had a better season in the first round, and reinforcing one precedent: there is no precedent. They make it up as they go along.