The College Football Playoff selection committee had to make its toughest decision yet.
Its decision was going to ignite one of the top two most prominent fan bases in the country, regardless of which side it selected. Go with Alabama despite the fact that it didn’t have a top-10 win or a conference title? Or go with Ohio State despite the fact that it had two losses and suffered what would’ve been the two largest margin of defeats by a Playoff team.
The latter made that decision for the selection committee.
Contrary to what some “prisoners of the moment” suggested Saturday night when they were drunk on Ohio State Kool-Aid, this was never about simply winning a conference championship and earning a bid.
“Alabama was clearly the No. 4 ranked team as a non-conference champion,” selection committee chair Kirby Hocutt said.
That’s what the selection committee said it boiled down to. Oh yeah, and one other massive thing.
“… more damaging was the 31-point loss to unranked Iowa,” Hocutt said.
Ah, that’s right.
While some believed OSU had built a time machine and chalked up the Iowa loss as “a mulligan,” the selection committee decided that weighed too heavily on the decision to put the Buckeyes in.
Perhaps those advocating for OSU forgot about last year, when Penn State was demolished by Michigan to suffer its second loss of the year. The Lions of course went on to beat No. 2 Ohio State, and another top-10 foe in Wisconsin en route to running the table and claiming the B1G Championship. As you’ll recall, Penn State missed the field because of that Michigan loss.
This was about precedent, and the selection committee laid down the law with its decision.
For all the talk about Alabama’s weak résumé — it was arguably the weakest of any Playoff team to date — it’s not as if the Tide spent all year getting by playing cellar dwellers. You want to talk about the entire body of work? Beating seven bowl teams and two top-25 teams (it would’ve been three had Fresno State edged Boise State in the Mountain West Championship) was not a cupcake-filled schedule.
Ohio State, on the other hand, beat just five bowl teams. Even USC had eight victories against bowl teams.
But this was about the precedent that putting in OSU would’ve created.
I’ve said all year that the selection committee values non-conference play so greatly because it’s not easy to evaluate teams during conference play. When you go out and get beat soundly at home in your lone marquee non-conference game, it hurts. It’s forgivable, but it hurts. Keep in mind that 2014 OSU was the only team to lose its toughest non-conference game and still earn a Playoff bid.
The selection committee wants to value those great non-conference showdowns because it makes their job — finding the four most-deserving Playoff teams — that much easier.
Ohio State still could’ve made the field with that loss. If OSU and Alabama are both one-loss teams under that scenario, the Buckeyes get in and it’s not even a debate.
OSU was not, however, going to make the field with a 31-point loss to Iowa. As Hocutt said, that was “more damaging.” Why? It shows the selection committee that you have the ability to look absolutely awful on a given day. The fact that it wasn’t even to a quality foe pushed that over the edge.
The selection committee has never allowed a team to make the field with a loss of 15 points or greater. Period. OSU would’ve had two such losses. In the sport that has the best, most high stakes regular season product of anybody, allowing a team to have two nightmare showings would’ve completely opened the floodgates.
If OSU had made the field this year, look at all of the barriers it would’ve broken since the Playoff system began in 2014:
- first 2-loss team (2017)
- first team with loss of 15-plus points (2017)
- first team to not win conference championship (2016)
- first team to lose marquee non-conference game (2014)
This decision didn’t come down to history, though. The fact that OSU was shut out in last year’s game didn’t seal its fate for 2017, nor did it make Alabama the obvious choice.
The selection committee valued the entire body of work. For the first 12 weeks of the season, it believed Alabama was the No. 1 team in the country and that OSU was No. 8. Against uncommon opponents, the Tide played better.
Oh, and another thing. Let’s quiet this belief that conference championships should carry the most weight. Why? Alabama and OSU had zero common opponents in 2017. Alabama lost one conference game to a top-10 Auburn team on the road and didn’t get a chance to play for its conference championship. Ohio State lost one conference game to a 7-5 Iowa team — by 31 points, guys — and it was still able to play for a conference title.
This became about what a team didn’t do more than what it did do. Alabama absolutely benefitted from that.
This was never about B1G vs. SEC or about which matchups would be the better draw. This was about which team deserved to make the field, regardless of conference affiliation. Ohio State damaged itself beyond repair by losing at Iowa by 31 points.
The selection committee got it right. And regardless of which team you root for, we should all sleep well knowing that.