Color me confused. I thought conference championships were important in deciding who made it to the College Football Playoff. At least that’s what the Committee told us (in no uncertain terms) when TCU was left out in the cold in 2014. The Horned Frogs were ranked No. 3 by the Committee through Week 15, then won their regular-season finale over Iowa State 55-3 but slid all the way to No. 6 in the rankings the following week. The Big 12 did not play a conference championship game, so the 11-1 Frogs could not benefit from a 13th game statement, and remained at No. 6 and out of the playoff in the Committee’s final rankings.
So in 2016 the Big 12 announced it was going to add a Conference Championship game in 2017 (which they did), a decision that was applauded by then College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock. “The Big 12 will benefit from its champion having played another game against a quality opponent,” said Hancock at the Big 12 media day. He then went on to say that the committee wants “An emphasis on winning conference championships.” The message was loud and clear – you want in? Win a conference championship game.
So what’s different now? Actually nothing according to the guidelines the Committee members are supposed to follow when choosing the “Four.” They just chose not to abide by their own criteria on Sunday, leaving Big 10 champ Ohio State on the sidelines while Nick Saban and crew once again had the crimson carpet rolled out for them, despite the Tide not even qualifying for the SEC’s final game.
Confusing you say? You bet, so let’s dive a little deeper into this mess and see if we can sort it out.
On the College Football Playoff website in 2016, under the heading of “How To Select the Four Best Teams,” it stated “The Following Criteria Must Be Considered” and were listed in this order: Championships won; Strength of schedule; Head-to-head competition; Comparative outcomes of common opponents.
Now this year it’s been tweaked to the reduced heading of “Four Teams,” with a new description. More wordy for sure, but it still has “conference championships” listed first on the list of check points (you may want to rephrase that to read “listed in no particular order” in the future boys).
So what if we give the Committee the benefit of the doubt, and say the order they list their own criteria in, on their own website, doesn’t matter, and all elements of decision making are considered equal. Or even better, let’s flip the list for them and compare Ohio State and Alabama using the their website’s own words, in reverse order, and maybe then we’ll see how they came to their decision.
1) Comparative outcomes of common opponents: Simple, nobody played both the Crimson Tide and the Buckeyes.
2) Head-to-head: Simple again, didn’t happen.
3) Strength of Schedule: Now this I’ve seen vary depending who you want to follow. Jeff Sagarin and his computers have Ohio State’s schedule ranked higher, as does TeamRankings.com. ESPN has ‘Bama ranked ahead of the Buckeyes, but then they also have Oklahoma ranked only #7 in their power rankings, so I take their metrics with a grain of salt (even if they are the all-mighty when it comes to blasting their sermon to the public).
How about we check out the quality wins for each squad, and maybe that will point the arrow back to Alabama and negate that pesky conference championship that the Buckeyes have in their pocket. After all, doesn’t ‘Bama play in the almighty SEC? This will surely give us a clearer picture of how the Crimson Tide is “in” once again.
But alas, after looking at the Committee’s very own current list of ranked teams, the picture only becomes less clear. Alabama can only boast wins over #17 LSU and #23 Mississippi State, while Ohio State took down #6 Wisconsin, #9 Penn State and #16 Michigan State. Yep, that’s three Buckeye wins over opponents ranked higher than anyone the Crimson Tide defeated.
4) Championships Won: We know the answer to this one.
As far as I can figure out, the only way that Alabama could have possibly been the Committee’s choice, was if it just collectively decided Alabama was a much better team than Ohio State, basically throwing its own rules out the window and simply making a gut decision. But then what exactly did Committee chair Kirby Hocutt mean when just last week he told a national television audience that “there’s close separation” between No. 5 Alabama and No. 8 Ohio State?
Fast forward to Sunday (a mere 5 days later) when he crowed that Alabama was “unequivocally” the better team in the minds of the Committee.
So what happened in the last week to cause such a dramatic separation? Ohio State beat a top 4, 12-0 Wisconsin Badger team while Alabama sat at home. Huh? So the question begs to be asked, Kirby where you just flat out lying last week or are you just full of sh*t? Probably both, but I digress.
Bottom line is if conference championships don’t matter, why have conferences? Why not just play whomever and at the end of the year have the Committee throw their darts at the board and give us 4 teams for a playoff? Why meet every week in your secret Gaylord Texan suite with your over-hyped little rankings? Why give us a list of criteria that mean nothing and gives teams and their fans no direction whatsoever? Just go ahead and pick your teams with no explanation, and when December rolls around you won’t have to try to explain the unexplainable – and I won’t have to look at Kirby Hocutt’s smug mug each and every week any more.
Want to know the most ridiculous (sad? outrageous?) part of this whole dog and pony show? If Auburn and Wisconsin had just sat pat (as ‘Bama did), basically had said “We’ll pass on the Championship game, we’re good as is,” they’d both be in the playoffs (having been ranked #2 and #4 respectively last week). But by being good enough to qualify for their conferences’ ultimate game, unlike Saban and his crimson crew, they were punished and sent packing along with Ohio State. Ridiculous ain’t it?