AAC Football

College Football Playoff: Alabama jumps Ohio State for final slot

The speculation can officially end.

The College Football Playoff committee announced the Top 4 teams that will compete in the four-game playoff for the National Championship Sunday.

Noted in my last piece about how the final rankings could be reflected from the numerous conference championships, there were a few scenarios where the winner of a conference title game could essentially swap positions. That was the case with No.6 Georgia grinding out a 28-7 win over No.2 Auburn in the SEC title game to not only revenge the lone loss of the season for the Bulldogs, but solidify a slot in the playoff.

With No.1 Clemson and No.3 Oklahoma steamrolling to wins thier conference title games, all eyes were on No.8 Ohio State and No.4 Wisconsin. Or should I say, all eyes of the Alabama football program, who were sitting just out of the final four teams at No.5, were on the matchup.

A win by the Buckeyes would create just the argument the Crimson Tide were needing. Despite a conference title, would the committee be able to let go of the 55-24 dismantling Ohio State endured at Iowa?

As committee chairman Kirby Hocutt would later note, the committee favored the Tide’s overall body of work throughout the season.

And here we are.

Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma and Alabama will be the four teams vying for the national title. No.1 Clemson will play No.4 Alabama in a rematch of the last two national title games in the All-State Sugar Bowl while No. 2 Oklahoma will play No.3 Georgia in the Rose Bowl.

No. 5 Ohio State on the other hand, are asking themselves, “Why not us?”

The decision

Sitting at No.5, there was a good chance that Alabama could easily get into the semifinals. Looking at the logic the committee used, had Clemson or Oklahoma faltered in their conference title games, the Tide could have been a lock for a playoff spot. I say that because if Miami would have defeated Clemson, was the committee impressed by the resurgence of the Hurricanes this season enough to give them a semifinal nod? Based on the jumps in the polls, it’s tough to say.

In the committee’s first poll of the season, Miami rose to No.10 after a win over then No.13 Virginia Tech, followed by jump to No.3 after demolishing then No.3 Notre Dame. Despite a nail-biting win, the Hurricanes jumped Clemson for No.2 before falling to No.7 after the loss to Pitt. Miami ultimately finished No.10 for the committee. To say that the ‘Canes could have jumped both Bama and Ohio State is not a stretch, but highly unlikely. The same situation could be easily explained for TCU. If the No. 11 Horned Frogs defeated the Sooners, it would have had to be by an epic outcome in order to jump 11 spots in the polls.

Now to what really happened.

Since Clemson and Oklahoma both won, it was up to the Buckeyes. With a slim 27-21 win over the Badgers, Ohio State was able to create the argument. The problem is that despite not having a signature win on its schedule this season, Alabama wasn’t blown out in its only loss of the season even though it was a two-possession game. Ohio State on the other hand, wasn’t in either of its losses. While the 31-16 loss to No.3 Oklahoma may be a good loss since the Sooners not only won the Big 12, but is a semfinalist.

What hurt the Buckeyes in the falter they had at Iowa.

Riding high after upsetting then No.2 Penn State, the Hawkeyes simply dominated the contest in every facet of the game. Iowa, while a tough opponent in the Big Ten, finished with a 6-3 overall record, but went .500 (3-3) in the conference. If the Buckeyes are a Top 4 team, a blowout loss from the hands of a middle-tier Big Ten school isn’t going to cut it.

However, Hocutt provided the power of the punch as to why a team that didn’t win their own conference deserves a slot in the semifinals.

“Our rankings showed each and every week the selection committee believed Alabama was the better football team.”

–Kirby Hocutt to ESPN’s Rece Davis

Looking back at previous rankings, the Tide were No. 2 and No.1 in the first four polls before falling to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The Buckeyes highest ranking was No. 6 – after the Penn State win – before reaching No.5 prior to conference championship weekend. However, the Buckeyes did fall seven spots after the loss to Iowa.

Expansion looming?

The final four teams are set. However, the argument can and will always be made that a certain team deserves a shot at a chance to compete for the national championship. The committee decided that team was Alabama. But, what about UCF?

The Knights only did something that has never been seen in college football.

Just a year removed from going winless, UCF went 12-0 and won the American Athletic Conference. Now granted, the quality of competition is drastically lackluster compared to traditional Power 5 schedules, but going undefeated is something that deserves to be rewarded. Instead, a No.12 ranking in the final poll from the committee. UCF will battle it out to prove they belong against No.7 Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

Now look at a No.10 USC squad that has been eerie similar to Ohio State, who won the Pac 12 with a 31-28 win over No. 12 Stanford. Despite an ugly loss to rival Notre Dame (ranked No.13 in that game), there is another Top 10 conference champion left out of the discussion.

Here is my proposal to fix it.

Expand the playoff to eight teams

The committee extends the playoff to eight teams. Why eight?

An eight-team playoff allows for all Power 5 conference champions to have an automatic bid, while the remaining three teams will be filled by “wild cards” or the committee. If that were the format today, you would have USC, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia and Oklahoma in on an automatic bid. The three remaining teams could go as followed (per my analysis): UCF, Alabama and Wisconsin.

The committee would be able to tussle over the final three slots for the playoff similar to how it was handled with this year’s situation between Alabama and the Buckeyes. The committee is great, it was taken away from computers which fans but more importantly, coaches and members of the media wanted a while ago.

The argument will be made that there isn’t enough time. Although, another can be made that teams in the playoffs don’t need a month to prepare and game plan for an opponent. By stretching it to eight teams, or heck, even six teams, you allow at least two weeks in December to allow for the national championship matchup to be set. From there, you will also have the regularly extended time to game plan for that game if you happen to be a finalist.

It’s a stretch and a highly unlikely scenario due to the overall popularity of the current format, but a possibly solution to not only see better football, but more opportunities for iconic sports moments.

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Joshua Zimmer
Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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