Update: As predicted, the committee has chosen Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington. I understand. I also disagree.
In Year 1, the College Football Playoff committee had to decide between the Big 12 champions – there were two, if you’ll recall, so designated by the conference itself – and wound up choosing neither. By virtue of its 59-0 victory in the Big Ten title tilt, Ohio State jumped both TCU and Baylor. Given that the Buckeyes went on to win the national championship, it was hard to argue that justice hadn’t been served.
In Year 2, picking the final four was simple – champions of the SEC, the ACC, the Big 12 (only one this time!) and Big Ten. All had one loss. Stanford, the Pac-12 winner, had two. Easy peasey.
In Year 3, not so easy.
There was no great way around this tangle. If the committee omitted Ohio State, which owns three victories over top 10 opposition but not the Big Ten title, it would skip over what appears – applying the ol’ eyeball test here – the nation’s second-best team. If it omitted Penn State, it would leave out the champion of the nation’s best conference, not to mention the only team to beat Ohio State. If it omitted Washington, it would shun a one-loss champion of a Power Five league that, unlike TCU and Baylor in 2014, played and won an actual league title tilt.
The committee has said from the first that it values conference titles, which Ohio State lacks. It has also said that it places a premium on scheduling, which is where Washington falls short. If penalize Penn State for having two losses to the Huskies’ one, we must ask how many losses the Nittany Lions would have had they, like U-Dub, faced Idaho and Portland State. (As opposed to Pittsburgh, which beat both Penn State and Clemson.) We must ask if two-loss Oklahoma would have been unbeaten Oklahoma had it played those non-league games, as opposed to facing Houston and Ohio State.
As for Michigan: I have no sympathy. The Wolverines lost at Iowa, and then they lost what was a de facto elimination game at Ohio State. They might have been the better team for most of the latter game, but they didn’t win. Results matter.
My four would be Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Penn State. If you’re saying, “Didn’t the Huskies beat Stanford, Utah and Colorado, all of whom are in the CFP’s penultimate Top 25?” Well, yes. But the highest-ranked team the Huskies defeated – No. 9 Colorado – was slotted below four Big Ten teams, two of which Penn State beat. (Washington also lost at home to USC.)
This isn’t perfect. With a four-team playoff, one of the Power Five would always be left out. My four would omit two. But mine came down to this: I’d feel terrible if Ohio State and Penn State were skipped; I’d feel less terrible if Washington was.
Now, do I think that’s what will be revealed come noon? No, I don’t. I expect this final four to replicate last week’s standings: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington. I reserve the right to disagree respectfully. (I know people on the committee, and they aren’t fanciful folks.)
For two years, the committee members had a rather smooth glide. This season was where the going got rough. You knew it was coming. Here it is.