This is the space where a hot plug was supposed to live.
Since the college football playoff committee released its first ranking on Nov. 2, we’ve been sharpening our knives, waiting to climb to the top of a grandstand and defend the last injured party – Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, heck, even Our. -Lady has managed to gain some sympathy from the masses lined up against the status quo of the playoffs. Sunday was to be the tipping point, when all this outrage, frustration and questioning reached its peak.
Instead, we only have one gripe left: the whole thing was a bit boring.
Once again, the committee got it right. Alabama, Michigan, Georgia and Cincinnati will play for the national championship, and that’s exactly how it should be.
There may be a bit of controversy surrounding the Bulldogs, which were demolished by Alabama in the SEC Championship game. There’s little clamor for a playoff rematch – even Georgia fans may be reluctant to return to these rough waters – and perhaps the country would be better served by giving a team like Baylor or Utah a chance. , just to make things interesting. But to do so would be the most glaring departure from the core principles of the committee in its history. Georgia, regardless of the end of their SEC season, have earned their place.
We could celebrate the inclusion of Cincinnati, a defining moment for the Group of 5. Indeed, it’s a remarkable turning point after the Bearcats were relegated to eighth in last year’s final committee standings, years after the 2017 UCF Knights advocated for a nationally relevant Cinderella.
But it’s not as if the committee has taken a bold stand. No voter stood atop a table in a conference hall in Texas and called for the inclusion of the Bearcats. Instead, Cincinnati simply survived their competition, beating their last three opponents – all eligible at bowling – by 71 combined points, while others stumbled to the finish line. The committee didn’t need to weigh the Bearcats’ schedule against a two-loss Alabama or a one-loss Oklahoma state. The Bearcats are the default, in many ways adding more fuel to the fire for those who assume their AAC program was the ultimate benefit. If Cincinnati is serious about changing the dynamics and dealing a blow to the little guy, it will have to happen in the Cotton Bowl against the reigning national champions.
That Alabama remains the brightest star in the playoffs is no surprise. Despite all the criticism after the Iron Bowl that this Tide team could sneak into the playoffs based more on reputation than results, there were no such concerns on Sunday. Alabama unquestionably belongs. What is perhaps a more worthy caveat is that Tide’s most common playoff cohorts – Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma – are all missing from this year’s festivities. The biggest frustration with the current format was always less the number of teams involved and more seeing the same four teams over and over again.
And when it comes to surprises, this year’s playoffs really did measure up. No, we’re not shocked to see Michigan here, not after a successful season, a triumphant moment in which Jim Harbaugh killed the Ohio State dragon and a dominant performance against Iowa in the Championship game. Big Ten. Michigan has a real shot at winning it all – although that’s still an amazing sentence to type. A year ago, the other three participants in this season’s playoffs were a 28-1 combined against all other competitions. Their exceptionalism was established. But the Wolverines were different. They entered 2021 after losing six of their last eight, with their coach’s job hanging by a thread. Heck, Michigan needed overtime to beat Rutgers last year! Now the Wolverines are title contenders. This is definitely new in a system that has gone through seven years of status quo.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is reacting to his team’s participation in the college football playoffs and considering the game against Georgia.
Looking back, there were countless ways the last committee meeting could have gone haywire. What if Oklahoma State doesn’t bow on goal again and again on Saturday? What if Baylor didn’t inexplicably lose to TCU last month, the same week the Horned Frogs fired their longtime coach and installed a new starting QB? What if Pitt didn’t suffer arguably the season’s most crushing loss to West Michigan in September, or if Tank Bigsby didn’t go out of bounds as Auburn struggles to miss time against Alabama in the ‘Iron Bowl or if Utah goes with Cam Rising at quarterback to open the season or if Tulsa doesn’t last four straight plays on the 1-yard line against Cincinnati?
What if, what if, what if.
In any of these scenarios, the committee might have been compelled to analyze similar issues, assess Notre Dame’s role as an independent, determine the true value of a Group of 5 calendar, to decide whether Georgia won a playoff redemption chance, making some really tough choices that were sure to anger much of the college football world. These are all fun assumptions that could have added some real drama to Sunday’s debates. Instead, the result was nearly approved as Michigan scored their first touchdown against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship game.
Despite all the national outcry over Cincinnati’s initial ranking leading to yet another snub or Notre Dame’s weak schedule and the lack of a conference game adding to a playoff bid or a potential Perfect Storm of two-game losing contenders in the end, neither of those possibilities has come true, and the committee can step down after another year of giving people exactly what they wanted.
The four best records? The top four teams? The four most deserving? The Venn diagram was an almost perfect circle.
It’s amazing, really, how much the current process has resolved itself in eight years. There was the 2014 12 Big 12 tie-breaking miasma, which the committee skillfully avoided by handing the No. 4 seed to Ohio State against Baylor and TCU. The Buckeyes won the national championship, an afterthought endorsement from the wisdom of the committee. There was a berth for the Alabama playoffs in 2017 after losing in the Iron Bowl and missing an SEC West title. Tide also won it all, with Tua Tagovailoa leading a remarkable second-half comeback in the league game. (Sorry for another reminder, Georgia fans.) Other than that, the playoff roadmap has been a funnel for hot shots – starting with a wide bunk, complaints from all sides and ending at the narrowest point, the result quite clear.
If there is a real push for a change in the system – eight or 12 team expansion or some other twist – it won’t be due to glaring oversight. For all the November indignation, December has always had an elegant solution.
And yet, expansion still seems inevitable, and this year’s field might offer the best explanation. The SEC has two teams in the mix. The Group of 5 cracked the code. Even though one member of the last four had failed, it was Notre-Dame, an independent, who was waiting backstage.
In other words, three of the Power 5 leagues have been shut out altogether. The Big 12, the ACC, and (this is a copy and paste situation) the Pac-12 will be watching the playoffs from their respective couches, and at some point, that’ll be all the motivation they need to endorse a new one. plan. The expansion would certainly have created a bit more intrigue on Sunday.
The reality today, however, is that the committee is right. Again. It’s easy when the answers are already filled out before the test is handed in.