How the College Football Playoff Committee got it wrong, but not because of Washington
In 2014 and 2015, conference championships trumped all.
In 2016? Not so much.
Earlier in 2016, head-to-head trumped all. It’s why Louisville stayed behind Clemson even after the Tigers suffered a loss and the Cardinals had started to roll again after a narrow loss to Clemson.
Sunday? Not so much.
In 2014, the College Football Playoff selection committee loved Ohio State, even though the Buckeyes had a far worse loss than TCU, the team it pushed out of the Final Four.
In 2016, well, some things never change, except this time it’s Penn State’s problem.
Ohio State is in. Again. Well-rested, too. While fellow Playoff picks Alabama, Clemson and Washington were slugging it out this weekend en route to claiming conference championships, the Buckeyes were back in Columbus, resting, relaxing, apparently bullet-proof despite the fact they lost once — to Big Ten champion Penn State.
Of course it doesn’t. In 2014, the Buckeyes got in over TCU solely because the Buckeyes won a conference championship game.
In 2016, the Buckeyes got in despite not even qualifying for a conference championship game.
No wonder Danny Kanell tweeted this earlier in the week.
I'm starting to wonder if it's the 4 biggest brands https://t.co/zw5W0f17jh
— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) December 2, 2016
Alabama has no peers on the field, but Ohio State’s brand is every bit as powerful. And for the second time in three years, the Buckeyes were the most controversial selection into the College Football Playoff.
It’s easy to say the committee got it wrong, that Penn State deserved to go.
That would be easy if the selection process were clearly defined.
It’s anything but. What matters one year doesn’t the next. What mattered one month ago didn’t necessarily matter Sunday.
Best four teams? That certainly wasn’t the criteria in 2014. TCU no doubt felt it was one of the four best in 2014.
Michigan thought it was one of the four best teams in 2016. Might be, too.
Penn State beat Ohio State and won the Big Ten Championship. It clearly thinks it’s one of the best four. James Franklin made that clear Saturday night, when he challenged the committee.
His consolation prize? The Nittany Lions moved up to No. 5, ahead of Michigan. Still, un-Happy Valley.
Kirk Herbstreit — former Buckeye turned ESPN lead analyst — argued all month for Ohio State’s strength of schedule. That’s fine. Strength of schedule is one factor. But it’s only one factor.
If you’re picking Ohio State over Penn State, you’re saying its victory over Oklahoma offsets its head-to-head loss to Penn State and a lack of a conference championship.
Kanell was right. He was the only one on ESPN’s panel who thought Ohio State didn’t deserve to go. I’ve been saying that for the past month, knowing full well there was no way to stop the branding power that is The Ohio State University.
Kanell tweeted his reasoning for wanting Alabama, Clemson, Washington and Penn State.
Championships should be won on the field. Not in a boardroom. Congrats to Bama, Wash, Clemson, and Penn St on being the 4 most deserving.
— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) December 4, 2016
All month, analysts have been suggesting that including Washington would send a dangerous message. Herbstreit went back to that Sunday, poking holes in the Huskies’ non-conference schedule.
He knows non-conference schedules are set years in advance; is he hoping you think the Huskies set theirs up in July as the safest path to Tampa in January?
College football schedules, by rule, are unbalanced. But you know what? Everybody gets the same chance to win their conference.
Ohio State blew its chance. Not that it mattered. Complain all you want about Washington, but understand that Ohio State again caught a break no other team has.
The real message that needed to be delivered Sunday was this: There are more than four deserving Playoff teams and until college football figures that out and expands to eight, we’ll be right back here next December, having the exact same conversation.
Chris Wright is Executive Editor at SaturdayDownSouth.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @FilmRoomEditor.