Let’s get this out of the way right off the top. The College Football Playoff selection committee got it right.
All four teams. Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia were easy choices; Power Five conference champions with one loss apiece.
Alabama was logical, too. They lost one game, on the road, at Auburn, and they looked like a top-four team all season. The selection committee made it clear that conference championships are important, but they are not the sole criteria for selection, so get over it Buckeyes fans.
Ohio State (11-2) lost two games, including a 31-point loss to unranked Iowa (7-5) and a two-score loss at home to Oklahoma. That closes its case despite that Big Ten title game win.
Pac-12 champion USC (11-2) lost two games in a deep but heavyweight-lacking Pac-12. Case closed.
Wisconsin (12-1) lost to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Case closed, although not as tidily when you consider Clemson’s god-awful loss at Syracuse (4-8) and Oklahoma’s loss to mediocre Iowa State (7-5). Ultimately, the fact that Clemson and Oklahoma won their conference title games tipped the scales over the one-loss Badgers.
College football analysts have often cited the need for an eight-team playoff to solve some of the committee’s problems, most notably, the fact that it has five major conferences and four playoff slots available.
The 2017 college football season offered a relatively weak case for that format, but let’s speculate on what that eight-man playoff would look like anyway — even though this current agreement doesn’t expire until after the 2023 season (with the championship game played in 2024).
Ohio State (11-2): The Buckeyes would be our first choice into the next four. They have wins over No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 9 Penn State and No. 16 Michigan State, and they won their conference title game.
Wisconsin (12-1): The Badgers are a tough call despite their one loss. They didn’t make their schedule, but it was one that dodged Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State in the regular season. Their only win over a team that is currently ranked is over No. 21 Northwestern, and they lost to the one ranked team that mattered.
USC (11-2): The Trojans’ only wins over currently ranked teams are those two wins against No. 13 Stanford. They lost at No. 18 Washington State and at No. 14 Notre Dame. This is where we’d like the committee to adopt a new rule when it goes to eight teams. We’d like each of the Power Five conference champions to earn an automatic bid, just like the men’s basketball tournament. That still leaves three at-large slots and it would put the Trojans in the mix.
Miami (10-2): The Hurricanes own wins over No. 22 Virginia Tech and No. 14 Notre Dame, but a troubling loss at Pitt (5-7) that preceded their blowout loss to No. 1 Clemson in the ACC title game. Miami heads into the Orange Bowl on a two-game losing streak.
Penn State (10-2): The Nittany Lions beat No. 20 Northwestern, but they lost to No. 5 Ohio State and No. 18 Michigan State, they didn’t win their division, and they didn’t make the conference title game as a result. Close, but no cigar.
Auburn (10-3): The Tigers scored impressive wins over No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 Alabama, No. 17 LSU and No. 23 Mississippi State, while dropping an early-season game to No. 1 Clemson and the SEC title game to Georgia. There is a strong argument for a three-loss team to make the final eight here.
Washington (10-2): The Huskies lost to No. 13 Stanford and beat No. 18 Washington State. A loss at Arizona State and their failure to make the Pac-12 title game in a down year for the conference elites eliminates the Huskies from contention.
TCU (10-3): The Horned Frogs own wins over No. 19 Oklahoma State, but a pair of losses to No. 2 Oklahoma and a loss at mediocre Iowa State hurts. They made the Big 12 title game, but they were not competitive in their losses to the Sooners and the conference was either the fourth or fifth strongest of the Power Five. TCU stays home.
Notre Dame (9-3): The Fighting Irish jumped into the playoff mix with an impressive win over No. 8 USC. Notre Dame played a tough schedule that also included a win over No. 16 Michigan State, but they lost to Georgia, lost to Miami and lost their season finale at Stanford. Losing two of their last three games didn’t help the Irish’s optics, even if you take the entire body of work into account.
Central Florida (12-0): The Knights beat No. 20 Memphis twice, but the American Athletic Conference does not impress. Maybe we can have this conversation when the playoff field expands to 16 teams, but playing a major conference schedule matters. Keep walking.
OUR NEXT FOUR
Ohio State: First team in.
USC: Pac-12 title earns Trojans a bid.
Wisconsin: The Badgers lost only one game, and it came by six points to Ohio State.
Auburn: Four wins over ranked teams (two in the top four) and two losses to teams in the top four tips the scales for the three-loss Tigers.
FIRST TEAM OUT
Miami: The ACC is good and the Hurricanes have a strong argument. Commence the argument for a 12- or 16-team playoff.