If you don’t think the College Football Playoff is the best thing to happen to the sport since homecoming was invented, consider where we would be without it.
Namely, there would be no Ohio State vs. Alabama, Urban Meyer vs. Nick Saban, Big Ten vs. Southeastern Conference debate for the last spot in the four-team field. Which is about as good as sporting debates get.
The playoff has delivered yet again. It has delivered a budding dynasty in defending champion Clemson, which almost assuredly will be the No. 1 seed when the bracket is revealed Sunday afternoon. Go ahead and slot the Tigers for the Sugar Bowl, their third straight playoff berth.
It has delivered a boost to the beleaguered Big 12, which has missed two of the first three iterations of the playoff, but this time will almost assuredly be represented by high-octane Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Baker Mayfield. The Sooners, if they get the No. 2 seed, seem headed to the Rose Bowl semifinal.
And it has delivered the possibility of the SEC claiming half the bracket, which will absolutely infuriate a large percentage of the nation. Georgia is in, after winning the league title, and probably would face Oklahoma in Pasadena. Which would leave Alabama against Clemson for the third straight year in a playoff game.
Unless of course the selection committee chooses Ohio State. Doing so would give the Buckeyes the benefit of substantial doubt for the third time in four years, and would create major controversy. But so would snubbing Ohio State in favor of Alabama.
Controversy is unavoidable, this year and most years. And that’s fine. A debatable path to the national title has been part of the sport’s fabric forever.
The playoff committee’s charge is to select the four best teams. Inevitably, two or more of them were going to come from the same conference (ironically, they could come from an SEC that is, top to bottom, far from what it used to be). To react as if this is some grave injustice is silly and provincial.
But there will be a lot of backlash if it comes out that way. One of the main reasons we have a playoff is because everyone lost their minds when SEC powers LSU and Alabama met for the national title in the 2011 BCS championship game.
Picking the four best teams sounds so simple, yet the task becomes muddied by disparate schedules and subjective appraisal. Do football politics come into play? We’re about to find out, because excluding the Big Ten champion in favor of a second SEC team would be the ultimate political football.
These are the two most accomplished, profitable and traditional conferences, and the power struggle between them boils down to the two programs that have been their flagships in the 21st century — and much of the 20th century.
The two leaps of faith that are required to move Ohio State into the playoff are these:
1) Assuming that Wisconsin is something more than a previously untested paper tiger. The undefeated Badgers came into the weekend with the worst strength of schedule of any team in the Sagarin Top 15, having methodically plowed through a succession of weak opponents. Their road schedule was particularly soft, and they couldn’t pass their first major test outside the jump-around comfort of Camp Randall Stadium.
So, was that a huge win for Ohio State, or merely exposing Wisconsin for what it is?
2) The amnesia necessary to get over the 11-2 Buckeyes’ 31-point loss to an Iowa team that finished 7-5 and lost at home to Purdue. They have better wins than 11-1 Alabama, but nobody in the brief playoff history has made the field with anything close to that blowout defeat in Iowa City. Or with two losses, period.
Then there is this: The Big Ten has utterly flopped the past two years in the playoff. The league’s representative hasn’t score a point since Ohio State won the first playoff title three years ago. Michigan State was blown out 38-0 by Alabama two seasons ago, and Ohio State was embarrassed 31-0 last season by Clemson.
That shouldn’t be a contributing factor in the committee’s deliberations, if they’re going to view each season in a vacuum. But don’t be surprised if those past mismatches are lodged in the backs of their minds.
So it is advantage Alabama. At least on this scorecard. We’ll see if the committee agrees.
But understand this: A playoff tussle between those two teams is further proof that we are living in a golden postseason era in college football. Eventually we will get six or eight teams involved, but for now this is all good.
More college football coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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• No. 3 Oklahoma cruises to Big 12 title over TCU
• Controversial call helps USC top Stanford for Pac-12 title
• UCF holds off Memphis to capture AAC title
• Pat Forde: Why Tennessee is laughingstock of college football