Can the college football season really be over already? Well, not completely over, there is still the bowl season and the championship playoff. After twelve regular season games and the conference championship games the playoff committee members have finalized their decision on the four playoff teams. And, of course, they got it wrong. In fairness, there was no way for them to NOT get it wrong.
When all of the dust had settled, the committee had to pick four teams out of five power conference champions AND at least one “at large” candidate with a viable resume. The conference champions were Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Washington and Penn State. Most logical people also felt that Ohio State had made a sufficient claim to an “at large” spot in the playoff. Some even felt Michigan had made a case but I disagree. The Wolverines had two losses and did not even win their division in the Big 10.
While Oklahoma was playing great football down the stretch the fact that they lost two games and the Big 12 has no conference championship game made it next to impossible for the Sooners to make the playoff. The Big 12 must reinstate their championship game if they want their teams to have a decent shot at the playoff year in and year out if the system remains a four-team playoff.
Alabama removed all doubt about their spot in the playoff when they became the ONLY undefeated power five conference team. There is no sensible argument for leaving the Tide out. Alabama remains the favorite to win the national championship.
Clemson also left zero doubt with a one-loss ACC championship run. The Tigers defeated both Louisville and FSU during the regular season. The only knock on Clemson was that they allowed too many teams to hang around well into the fourth quarter which finally caught up to them against Pittsburgh. It turns out that Pitt played a big part in this season’s playoff race.
After Alabama and Clemson things start to get a little more murky. The committee went with Washington and Ohio State to round out he four playoff teams. The most notable exclusion is Penn State who not only won what was considered the best conference in the country this year but ALSO beat Ohio State head to head. It is worth noting that in 2006 while at Florida Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer stated emphatically that if you did not even win your conference you shouldn’t be playing for the national championship. Apparently, he has changed that perspective over the last ten years. That said, I don’t think that Ohio State should be the team left out. The Buckeyes played Oklahoma out of conference and had one of the toughest schedules in the country this year which hasn’t really been the case for the Ohio State in recent seasons. They should be rewarded for going through that schedule nearly unscathed. Meanwhile, Penn State also stepped out of conference with a tough game against the above-mentioned Pitt. That game turned out to be what kept Penn State out of the playoff.
It is Washington that I question as a playoff team. As much as the polls tried to make you believe that the Pac 12 was a strong conference this season there were only two real contenders in the conference. Washington and USC. The Trojans had three losses and Washington lost to USC soundly. The Huskies played Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State out of conference. By including Washington and leaving Penn State out the committee stated emphatically that there is no penalty for weak non-conference scheduling. In fact, there is reward. If Penn State had schedule say Furman instead on Pitt, the Nittany Lions would be in the playoff instead of either Ohio State or Washington.
There is a simple solution to this problem and everyone knows what it is. The solution is eight playoff teams instead of four. In my opinion the eight teams should be made up of the five champions of the power conference regardless of their record plus three “at large” bids. Yes, there would still be some argument over number eight vs number nine but you wouldn’t have a system that is doomed to fail simply because you are choosing four teams from a league that has five power conferences. This season proved that this four-team format and committee is not much better than old BCS system if it is better at all.