Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa for tonight’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Whoever thought we would end up in a place like this? But that final week of the season really threw a monkey wrench into everyone’s predictions. We still feel like we have an outstanding matchup tonight for No. 1.
It’s the Colorado Buffaloes against the Oklahoma State Cowboys …
Could this actually happen?
First off, consider that ANYTHING could happen when you are dealing with human beings on the football playoff selection committee.
Also, the latest CFP standings that were presented on Tuesday night? Study them if you will, but understand that nothing is locked in. The order in the final standings can — and probably will — change.
So much of this is fluid. So much of this is potentially confounding. After all, how can a head-to-head result seemingly not have any influence in one scenario, yet be the determining factor in another scenario?
Let’s tease you with a few headlines.
* Alabama and Ohio State are in — period.
* Clemson gets in by winning the ACC championship.
* Washington could actually be vulnerable, even if it wins the Pac-12 championship.
* Michigan, believe it or not, hasn’t been eliminated.
* The Big Ten Conference champion — either Penn State or Wisconsin — hopes the trophy will count for something.
* Colorado’s chances look bleak, even if it routs Washington for the Pac-12 title.
* Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are playing for the Big 12 title, but it’s a commentary on the relevance of the conference that the result might not even be noticed.
Let’s break down the College Football Playoff calculus heading into the final, fateful week of the season.
Alabama is a lock: The Crimson Tide (12-0) look like one of the best teams in recent memory, maybe the best squad of the Nick Saban era. Even if Alabama should somehow lose against the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship Game, the Crimson Tide will be in the CFP semifinals as the No. 1 seed. Florida, by the way, is 114th nationally in total offense. How could this upset even happen? Maybe if the Gators get an early safety and hang on for a 2-0 triumph?
Ohio State is a lock: Ah, the controversy of the week… but not really. How can the Buckeyes (11-1) get into the field without even playing for the Big Ten championship? Because they clearly one of the nation’s four best teams. Last week, CFP selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said the resumes of Ohio State and Penn State weren’t close — and now the Buckeyes have a win against Michigan. So even though Penn State beat Ohio State 24-21 on Oct. 22, even thought Penn State could win the Big Ten championship while Urban Meyer falls asleep on his couch, the Buckeyes have the proper variables.
If Clemson and Washington win: If the Tigers move to 12-1 by defeating Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, they will make the CFP semifinals. If the Huskies moved to 12-1 by defeating Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship game, they should stay ahead of any two-loss team and reach the CFP semifinals.
But I’m holding out a slight sliver of doubt. The resume of a 12-1 Washington will not be much different than the resume of an 11-2 Penn State/Wisconsin Big Ten champion. Would the committee slam the Pac-12 in order to accommodate the Big Ten champion? Washington’s non-conference schedule (Rutgers, Idaho, Portland State) doesn’t help its cause.
If Clemson loses and Washington wins: It would seem like it’s Alabama, Ohio State, Washington (maybe) and the Big Ten champion, either Penn State or Wisconsin. But here’s where Michigan comes back into play. The Wolverines will be 10-2, compared to 11-2 for either Penn State or Wisconsin. The Wolverines beat Penn State 49-10 and Wisconsin 14-7, while also defeating Colorado 45-28.
You could make a case for Michigan being selected (and perhaps getting a rematch with Ohio State). But you must ask this question: Would the committee select two Big Ten teams … and leave out the league champion? That seems like a stretch.
If Washington loses and Clemson wins: That puts Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson into the semifinals. The scenario leaves us to consider 11-2 Colorado, the Pac-12 champions, a wonderful comeback story… but not wonderful enough.
Colorado doesn’t have the resume of the Big Ten teams, and it lost at Michigan, 45-28. So we’re back to the choice of Michigan or the Big Ten champion (Penn State or Wisconsin).
Enjoy the Rose Bowl, Buffs.
If BOTH Clemson and Washington lose: Here’s where things could get really interesting.
It’s Alabama and Ohio State — definitely.
Colorado? As stated before, Colorado’s path is squarely blocked by the Big Ten. The Big Ten champion (Penn State or Wisconsin) would get the first look and probably so would Michigan (which has the head-to-head win against Colorado).
So are we looking at the possibility of Alabama and … three Big Ten teams? Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and the Big Ten champion?
You can’t rule it out… but you must also consider the Big 12 champion, either 10-2 Oklahoma or 10-2 Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma will be rewarded for playing Ohio State (although it lost by three touchdowns at home). Oklahoma State actually would have a better case with three wins against top 25 teams (including non-conference Pittsburgh). It also has a hideous final-play defeat against Central Michigan, although we know now an officiating error allowed that final play (a Hail Mary/lateral winning touchdown for CMU). The play never should have happened and Oklahoma State should have won the game.
Would the committee take that into account (it has previously said it acknowledges only an Oklahoma State on-paper defeat — period)?
In conclusion: There’s a lot to consider here. If the expected results come in, maybe there’s not much fuss.
But you never know.
It’s worth remembering that the CFP selection committee protocol clearly states that the non-champion of a conference can be selected into the semifinals if it is “unequivocally’’ one of the four best teams.
The worth of conference championships and head-to-head results? They can be used as “tiebreakers between teams that look similar.’’
There you go.
Let the games begin.
Let’s see where we stand on Sunday.