Monthly Archives: December 2017

College Football Playoffs – Thoughts and Reaction

So the College Football Playoffs are set; the committee released the final top 4 this afternoon and they are: 1) Clemson 2) Oklahoma 3) Georgia and 4) Alabama. The first 3 were widely expected as the only question going into the afternoon revolved around the 4th and final spot. Most framed the debate as Ohio State (a 2 loss conference champion) vs Alabama (a 1 loss non champion). USC, also a 2 loss conference champion was thought not to be in the debate, as the Trojans were down at #10 going into the last weekend.
On the morning ESPN show previewing the committee’s final decision, the 3 unbiased analysts, consisting of former players from Alabama, LSU and Georgia, unanimously supported the SEC’s Alabama as the 4th team in. Booger McFarland, who played at LSU, recommended the committee not pay attention to any ‘data’ but use the ‘eye test’ – and that Alabama was clearly the better team for the season as a whole. The committee did select Alabama for the 4th slot. What criteria the committee uses exactly is still unclear after 4 years of playoffs, but the committee spokesman did call out Ohio State’s bad loss – the 30+ point defeat to an Iowa team that finished 7-5 – as a big factor in their final decision.

So was the ESPN SEC crew correct? Should Alabama have been in the playoffs over Ohio State? Is the SEC strong enough to deserve 2 teams in the playoffs? Whats worse – to not defeat a single top 15 team? or to have not one but two blowout losses?

Quite frankly, its not an easy call. Alabama did not look like a top 4 team in its most recent games at Mississippi State and at Auburn. Only once before this year did a team make the playoff without a top 15 win (and that time it also was Alabama). Meanwhile, Ohio State had 3 wins over top 15 teams… but are these really top 15 teams? There are 5 Big Ten teams in the top 20 – Northwestern, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. These 5 teams played a total of 2 ranked teams this year – and were blown out at home in both. Northwestern did not play a ranked team, had a loss anyway; a 24 point drubbing at the hands of 6-6 (3-5 in the ACC) Duke.

In other words, both these teams have a lot of flaws and resume holes. So why didn’t USC at least get a closer look? They were conference champions and every non-conference game was against a team with a pulse. USC idd not have a cupcake before their season finale and played 9 straight conference games. True, they were blown out – but by a good team on the road (not a good team at home, Ohio State by OU or a bad team on the road like Ohio State by Iowa). Their other loss was in ┬áthe tough environment of the Friday night road game, and loss to a much better team than Clemson’s Friday night loss.

But when push comes to shove at the very end, when you’re trying to separate teams that all have significant accomplishments but noticeable flaws, for me it came down to who would win. If Ohio State, Alabama and USC played each other, who would win those games? Who has a better chance to beat #1 seed Clemson? For the latter question, I would answer Alabama has the best chance of the 3 to beat Clemson and actually USC would be next and Ohio State would have the least chance to win. I’ll admit last year’s game between the Buckeyes and the Tigers is still in my brain, but after watching Ohio State against a playoff team at home (OU) this season, I don’t have much faith the outcome would be different enough to get a win.

This does mean that the SEC gets two teams in the playoff, in a year when the conference was not at the level it was when it was wining all those national titles. When the 4th place team out of 14 loses at home to Troy, its not a dominant conference top to bottom.

The committee could have made this easy.. just say conference championships aren’t just a factor they carry the majority of the weight. A non champion must be an amazingly dominant team that a weird fluke kept them out of the conference title game. Alabama is good but would not have met this criteria and the playoff would be 4 conference champions. The committee has in back to back years now, picked a non champion. Will this lead to more changes in the guidance to the committee or the structure of the playoffs?