On Sunday, Baylor and TCU were left out of the college football playoff party. Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State were let beyond the velvet rope. When the bracket was announced, controversy erupted, and Baylor and TCU fans led the way in wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The resulting outrage shouldn’t have been a surprise. Just like people love the “human element” deciding things in sports—until the human element affects their team—college football fans were all about the new playoff system. Until their team was on the outside looking in.
Anyone who thought the playoff would end all of the debate and solve all of college football’s ills conveniently forgot one thing. If only four teams get in, someone has got to be number five.
No matter what, someone was going to be mad. Playoff committee members Tyrone Willingham, Condoleezza Rice, and Oliver Luck are all very intelligent people. But they and the other members were going to look dumb to someone no matter how it turned out.
Here’s the thing about college football: If you watch enough of it, you know which teams truly have the look of a national champion. And that list is usually only two or three teams long. Believe it or not, that’s the case again this year.
Alabama has a championship look. The Tide took a close SEC Championship Game and spent the fourth quarter ruthlessly destroying Missouri. They did the same thing to Auburn the week before. Alabama has the eye of the tiger, and after those results against Missouri and Auburn, they took the heart, soul, and will of the Tigers, too.
Now that their offensive and defensive lines have stabilized, the Oregon Ducks have a championship look about them, too. But to me, that’s it. After Alabama and Oregon, there’s a gap. And then there’s everybody else. Just like in most years.
All Florida State does is win. Twenty-nine straight times, as a matter of fact. I realize that. But they keep playing in traffic every single week. Worse, their quarterback has become one of the most loathsome figures in sports today. You know how I can tell Jameis Winston finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting? They only invited three finalists to New York this weekend.
Ohio State? Yes, they’ve won 11 straight, and they are clearly the class of the Big 10. But their loss to Virginia Tech at home proved worse as the Hokies kept underwhelming everyone the rest of the season. And right now, they’re down to their third-string QB. Still, I think the Buckeyes are playoff-worthy. The committee got that right (after all, someone’s gotta be the fourth team in). But that doesn’t mean I think they’re championship-worthy.
Outside of the Tide and the Ducks, I don’t think anyone else is championship-worthy. If Baylor or TCU had fully taken care of their business, I’d feel differently. But they didn’t. TCU lost to Baylor, and looked listless in Lawrence in a comeback win over sad-sack Kansas. Baylor celebrated their win over TCU by losing to West Virginia the very next week. Those results made me skeptical about Baylor and TCU’s worthiness of making the playoff four.
(Of course, the Big 12 didn’t help matters much by not having a championship game. That conference was one of the clear losers during the great realignment shifts a few years ago, and now they are paying the price.)
I didn’t need a committee to come to those conclusions. And I still don’t think there’s a need for committee anyway. Granted, I watch a little more college football than the average bear, but they didn’t tell me anything my eyes didn’t already see, and nothing that the computers probably wouldn’t have come up with themselves.
Also, there was little need to have the committee meet every single week. And going forward, I would much rather only see the committee’s top eight teams. I don’t really care who they have at No. 24; that team probably won’t be in the championship conversation when it counts. [Ed: But the more teams you rank and the more rankings you release, the more eyeballs you generate for the weekly ranking shows.]
And I think we’re all better off ending the push to expand the playoff to eight or (Heaven forbid) 16 teams. There’s no need. The playoff should only include the very best teams that have the very best chance to win the title. Everything else is just filler. Heck, this year, I think Florida State and Ohio State are filler. [Ed: I kind of like six, because then Nos. 1 and 2 get rewarded for their superior seasons with a bye. But I agree that the almighty dollar means we'll be expanding the playoffs soon enough.]
Even though it’s a brand new era in college football, the regular season ends with the same old controversy. Baylor, TCU, and the Big 12 have no one to blame but themselves for their roles. But the beauty is that there are still games to be played, and there is still a champion to be crowned. And even though they are superfluous and prone to human idiosyncrasies, the College Football Playoff Committee still got it right.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!