Our founding fathers didn’t get it right the first time, so why should we expect any better from the inaugural College Football Playoff?
Before the Constitution there was the trial and error of the Articles of Confederation. That’s why the Constitution speaks of forming a “more perfect union.” The first one needed some tweaking. Right idea, wrong execution.
Minus the powdered wigs and quill pens, the same can be said of the initial College Football Playoff, college football’s foray into a more democratic, four-team method of crowning a national champion.
The idea is a tremendous one, a vast improvement on the computer-fueled chaos of the detestable Bowl Championship Series. The execution by the 13-member selection committee last Sunday that left us with Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State as college football’s first Final Four — and TCU and Baylor with their noses pressed against the playoff glass — was less than perfect, or logical.
There is a line in the College Football Playoff media guide section titled “How to Select the Four Best Teams” that rags on its predecessor, the oft-criticized BCS. “Nuanced mathematical formulas ignore some teams who ‘deserve’ to be selected.” That’s true, but at least the computers are consistent. They don’t change the weight of factors at the very end.
It turns out a well-meaning, well-informed collection of human beings can ignore deserving teams, too.
The problem with selecting 12-1 Ohio State, which will face No. 1 seed Alabama (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 in the second of the two semifinals, isn’t that the Buckeyes aren’t a deserving team. The problem was when and how they were determined to be more deserving than 11-1 TCU.
The committee was supposed to base its selections on lasting impressions of a 12-game season, not the last impression left on Championship Saturday, when conference title games were played.
What was supposed to be the college football equivalent of a seasonlong advanced placement test got turned into a beauty contest at the end.
Playing with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, Ohio State looked dazzling against an opponent with name recognition and a Heisman Trophy finalist (Melvin Gordon).
The Buckeyes winked at the committee with their 59-0 dismantling of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game Dec. 6, and the committee invited them over to the VIP table.
Entering Dec. 6, one-loss TCU was ranked third in the College Football Playoff rankings, ahead of defending national champion and undefeated Florida State, which had endured a number of close calls.
The committee deemed Ohio State was the fifth-best team in the country, and Baylor, which defeated TCU, 61-58, in a game that looked like it belonged in March Madness, was the sixth-best.
The final rankings that set the field for the playoff were: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State, Baylor, and TCU. The Horned Frogs dropped three spots after beating Iowa State, 55-3, to close their season.
Baylor defeated CFP No. 9 Kansas State, 38-27, to claim the Big 12 “co-championship” with TCU.
(If you have to ask why the Big 12 has 10 teams and the Big Ten has 14 teams then I’m going to turn this college football car around right now.)
Unbeknownst to most college football fans, the committee apparently viewed Wisconsin as the Alabama of the Midwest.
Nothing tangibly changed about Ohio State’s résumé by eviscerating Wisconsin, which lost to Louisiana State, the fifth-best team in the SEC West (a.k.a. college football’s Group of Death), on a neutral field in its opener, and at Northwestern.
Ohio State’s best win of the season remained a 49-37 victory at Michigan State on Nov. 8, and of all the one-loss teams, the Buckeyes still had the worst loss, a 35-21 defeat at home to an eminently mediocre Virginia Tech squad.
They also played in the weakest of the Power 5 conferences, according to RealTimeRPI.com’s rankings.
Buckeye boosters will point to Ohio State’s nonconference schedule strength, but opponents such as Navy, Kent State, and Cincinnati hardly constitute back-breaking work for the Buckeyes.
You would think the committee would also take into account how teams competing for the playoff match up. That’s why it’s peculiar that so much weight was ostensibly given to a blowout of Wisconsin.
The Badgers are more afraid of air travel than John Madden. Wisconsin is strictly ground and pound. They rank 117th out of 125 full-member Football Bowl Subdivision schools in passing yards per game and have 14 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions this season.
The three quarterbacks in the College Football Playoff that Ohio State could play are Blake Sims, who set the Alabama record for passing yards this season, 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of Florida State, and 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota of Oregon. They combined for 88 TD passes.
As James Madison, nicknamed “Father of the Constitution,” once wrote: “. . . the problem to be solved is not what form of Government is perfect, but which of the forms is least imperfect.”
Eventually, the playoff should expand to six teams with the third-ranked team playing the sixth-ranked team and the fourth-ranked team playing the fifth-ranked team for the final two spots.
Someone is always going to have a gripe about being left out, but if you take the top five teams in the country and a plus-one, those complaints ring much hollower than the ones that TCU and Baylor have right now.
Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen any time soon. The College Football Playoff in its current format is locked in through the 2025 season.
Barring a format change, the College Football Playoff selection committee is simply going to have to do a better job of not being mesmerized by the last shiny object that catches its eyes.
The College Football Playoff is the sport’s more perfect union, but it could be even more perfect.