Here at last. The College Football Playoff rankings committee released its final poll on Sunday, and we now know the four teams who will vie for the national championship.
The full top 25:
Wow. As soon as the final horn sounded in Saturday night’s Big Ten championship, Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia appeared to be locks to make the Playoff. The final spot was a tossup between Ohio State and Alabama.
The Crimson Tide ultimately got the nod. Ohio State – and USC, for that matter – probably had better resumes than Alabama. But that’s the point of a committee – to allow the four best teams to compete for the national championship. Is Alabama one of the four best teams? There’s no way to know for sure. But the committee thought so. And that’s what matters.
This is only the fourth year of this Playoff system, so we’re all still learning what makes the committee tick. The past two years, in particular, have shown that it’s not all about past performance. It’s also about projecting future performance (which is different than the NCAA tournament, for instance). Ohio State has two wins – Penn State and Wisconsin – better than Alabama’s best win.
But ask yourself this: if you’re Clemson, who would you rather face, Ohio State or Alabama? Most would say Ohio State. Alabama has one loss – on the road at Auburn, which is a perfectly reasonable one. The middle of the SEC was down this year. Alabama smoked most of the teams on its schedule, and Florida State’s freefall didn’t help the Tide’s strength of record. We haven’t seen Alabama beat teams as highly-ranked as Penn State or Wisconsin, but given the chance to, the committee is essentially saying it believes the Crimson Tide would, and with more conviction. That means more to it than a piece of paper.
These teams’ losses are also significant, and that narrowed the perceived gaps between resumes in the committee’s mind. There’s a skill in beating the teams you’re supposed to beat (case in point: Wisconsin, which has no bad losses, only fell to No. 6. Many expected the Badgers to fall further). Committee chair Kirby Hocutt cited Ohio State’s uncompetitive loss to Iowa as the main reason it didn’t get in. We focus on the wins, as we should. But not all losses are created equal. A blowout at Iowa is an objectively terrible stain on the resume. A road loss at Auburn that was competitive? Not so much. Something to keep in mind for future years.
Right or wrong, it sets up for a fascinating matchup between No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Alabama. The teams have split the last two national championships; both games were awesome.
We’ll get to see it again, albeit in a semifinal instead of a final. Again: get Dabo Swinney off the record, and you could see him saying he’d rather face No. 2 Oklahoma or No. 3 Georgia instead of Alabama. Perhaps that’s the single biggest reason why the Crimson Tide deserve to be in the Playoff, even if the resume doesn’t say so.
Sunday’s rankings show was all about the final spot, but Oklahoma vs. Georgia promises to be a compelling matchup. Baker Mayfield hasn’t faced a defense as good as the Bulldogs’ all year (he beat Ohio State, which is close), and Georgia hasn’t faced a quarterback on Mayfield’s level. Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley implied earlier this year that the SEC is a bit overrated, and that his offense could explode against any team, in any conference. Here’s his shot to prove it.
We’ve waited months to find out which four teams will vie for the national championship. Now we know.
Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama are all storied programs with star-studded rosters. Snubs and gripes aside, this is going to be incredible.