Projecting the Playoff field: Does Alabama or Ohio State make the cut?
I’m not sure if you heard, but apparently there’s some discussion going on about which team will earn the fourth and final Playoff spot.
Oh, who am I kidding. Of course you heard. And of course, you only clicked on this article because you wanted to see one thing.
“Did this idiot put Alabama or Ohio State in the last spot?”
I promise I’ll address that. If I actually wrote that headline and didn’t weigh in on that matter, I’d be a bigger letdown than the second Anchorman movie (aw-ful).
First, however, let’s take care of a little housekeeping. There were 3 other teams who all but locked up Playoff bids on Saturday. All of them happened to be conference champions.
Here’s how I think the first three seeds will look:
Clemson’s candidacy as the No. 1 overall team is obvious. Contrary to what too many people tweeted about how bad Syracuse is, it doesn’t change the fact that the Tigers now have 4 wins vs. top-25 teams, including 9 wins against bowl teams. Trouncing Miami in the ACC Championship made the defending champs a sure-fire 1-seed. Whichever team draws Clemson won’t have any fun with that.
Why Georgia ahead of Oklahoma? It actually doesn’t really matter. But just for the sake of argument, I think the selection committee values Georgia’s overall résumé more. I’ve felt all year that it doesn’t value the Big 12, which was what made it so difficult for the Sooners to rise in the rankings. The fact that Georgia just took down No. 2 Auburn in such convincing fashion makes that a little easier to justify. Again, not that it really matters.
What does matter is what the selection committee decides to do with that final spot.
Alabama or Ohio State? Nick Saban or Urban Meyer? SEC or B1G?
The first of those 3 is all this really comes down to. This isn’t about history. The fact that Alabama went to consecutive national championships has nothing to do with this, nor does the fact that OSU got destroyed by Clemson in last year’s semifinal showdown.
This is about what each team did to earn that final spot in 2017. Some believe simply winning a conference championship is enough to earn a bid. Others believe that evaluating Playoff spots based on conference championships doesn’t make a lot of sense when not everyone faces the same competition. I fall into the latter category.
As in, Ohio State’s B1G Championship win didn’t convince me that it deserved a spot. Even if the Buckeyes won 59-0, I still wouldn’t have been sold on them. Why? This is about the entire body of work.
It’s true that Ohio State technically has better wins than Alabama. The Buckeyes have 3 wins vs. Top-25 teams (current), including 2 vs. the top 10. Alabama, after Fresno State falls out of the top 25, will have 2 wins vs. Top-25 teams and 0 vs. the top 10. If both teams had the same amount of losses, this is an open-and-shut case. It’s OSU, and frankly, it’s not that close.
But that’s not the case. Not only did OSU lose by 15 points at home in its marquee non-conference game, it also fell by 31 points at 7-win Iowa. You know, in case you didn’t hear. That, in my opinion, is too much to overcome. I’ve been saying for weeks that the Buckeyes didn’t deserve consideration for suffering their second loss in such horrific fashion.
I don’t think the selection committee wants to set the precedent that a 2-loss team can make the Playoff despite:
- A) Losing their marquee non-conference game convincingly
- B) Getting dominated by a mediocre team
- C) Losing not 1, but 2 games by 15-plus points (no Playoff team made the field with 1 such loss)
There’s also the fact that while OSU’s Top-25 résumé is better than Alabama’s, there’s a different area that the Tide have the advantage in:
WINS vs. BOWL TEAMS (min. 6 wins)
- USC — 8
- Alabama — 7
- OSU — 5
This what the selection committee looks at for that “strength of schedule” metric, which gives USC a nice advantage.
USC for a playoff spot pic.twitter.com/nViRTjaKqu
— Tyler Saundry (@tsaundry13) December 3, 2017
That matters, too. Is it the only factor? No, but neither is Top-25 wins, especially for teams with different loss totals.
OK, so in case you can’t tell, I’m actually supporting the belief that Alabama deserves the final spot. I don’t think the selection committee, which put OSU at No. 8 and didn’t think a lot of Wisconsin’s strength of schedule, is going to suddenly forget about the Iowa loss. That was obviously after OSU used up its mulligan when it was waxed by Oklahoma.
I think the same group that had Alabama at No. 1 heading into the final week of the regular season — the selection committee wasn’t sold on all of the unbeatens — sees enough in the Tide’s résumé to give it that final spot.
So here’s what my full Playoff projection looks like:
Something tells me not everyone will feel this way at high noon on Sunday.