When you create a four-team playoff to service five power conferences, somebody is always going to be left out.
That’s what we have in contemporary college football – a process that isn’t perfect, but one that’s much, much better than the old BCS system we were stuck with.
This year’s screw job goes to Ohio State, who pulled a 2016 Penn State by winning their conference but losing twice in the regular season. (Some) Penn State fans bitched and whined and complained last year but didn’t understand how their loss to Pitt kept them out of the playoff. The Buckeyes lost at home to Oklahoma this year but would have jumped Alabama if they had taken care of business in Iowa City. They dropped the ball, just like the Lions did last year, and their coach was willing to admit it:
“I was kind of hoping we had those good wins. Three against the top 16 teams in America,” (Urban) Meyer told ESPN. “But I get it.”
He added: “The bottom line is we had a tough road loss.”
That’s it. That’s the difference.
Now, it doesn’t mean that ‘Bama is any more deserving of the final spot, and I’ll get to that in a sec, but first, here’s how the committee ranked the top three:
1. Clemson: 12-1, ACC champion
key wins: vs. Auburn, at Louisville, at Virginia Tech, at NC State, at South Carolina, vs, Miami (neutral field)
key loss: at Syracuse
Last year’s champions slipped up in the Carrier Dome but rolled through most of the rest of their schedule, ripping off a bunch of quality wins. They blasted Miami in the ACC Championship Game and successfully navigated tricky road games in Blacksburg and Raleigh.
2. Oklahoma: 12-1, Big 12 champion
key wins: at Ohio State, at Oklahoma State, vs. TCU, vs. TCU (neutral field)
key losses: vs. Iowa State
The win in Columbus set the tone of the season, and even after a slip-up against an overrated Iowa State team, they successfully ran the rest of the table with wins against a disappointing TCU and Oklahoma State.
3. Georgia: 12-1, SEC champion
key wins: at Notre Dame, vs. Mississippi State, vs. South Carolina, Auburn (neutral field)
key losses: at Auburn
The Bulldogs squeaked by Notre Dame before blowing out most of the SEC East. They got clobbered by Auburn but won the return match when it counted, finishing 12-1 as SEC champions.
So that brings us to Ohio State and Alabama. Let’s start with the schedules:
OSU finished 11-2 with that killer loss to Iowa, but also bagged wins against Penn State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.
Bama ran the table before losing in the Iron Bowl, which sent Auburn to the SEC title game instead. Their win against Florida State lost its luster when Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois left the game with a season-ending injury and the team fell apart. Bama’s out of conference slate was weaker than the Buckeyes’ and their best win was probably against LSU. The SEC West wasn’t as savage this season as it usually is.
So what’s the process here? Do you place more value in a two-loss team with stronger wins or a one-loss team with weaker wins? According to the people that matter, it’s the latter.
Straight from the horse’s mouth:
CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said the 31-point loss to Iowa weighed Ohio State down, and the Buckeyes were not close enough to the Tide for the Big Ten championship result to matter.
“As we saw Alabama play week in and week in out, the selection committee believed Alabama was the better football team,” Hocutt said. “When we looked at Ohio State, when you looked at their résumé, it was impressive, but it wasn’t enough for the selection committee to place them in above Alabama.”
I mean, he’s not entirely wrong. That OSU loss in Iowa was brutal. And they didn’t look great losing at home to Oklahoma.
But anyone who watched Alabama this season knows that we’ve got a watered-down Crimson Tide, a team that is not as good as previous incarnations. I feel like Buckeye and Bama teams of the last few years were superior to these iterations.
On paper, Ohio State finished 2-1 against the current top-10 and 4-2 against the top 30. Alabama went 0-1 against the current top-10 and 3-1 vs. the top-30. Clemson had a ridiculous 7-0 record against top-30 teams this year.
Some Bama vs. OSU numbers, first from realtimeRPI.com:
- strength of schedule: Ohio State 31, Alabama 42
- conference power index: SEC #1, B1G #2
- conference SOS: ACC #1, SEC #2, B1G #3
Keep in mind that Alabama beat FCS school Mercer, so they’re not factored into these stats on some websites.
- strength of schedule: Ohio State 28, Alabama 56
- overall rating: Alabama 98.23, Ohio state 95.82
Sagarin’s SOS numbers are usually sound, but he factors scores into stats that get lumped in with others, which is why he has Bama rated higher than better squads.
- strength of schedule: Ohio State 2, Alabama 10
- in-conference SOS: Ohio State 3, Alabama 7
- strength of schedule: Ohio State 15, Alabama 22
- opponent winning percentage: Ohio State 0.61 (88 wins, 56 losses), Alabama 0.59 (79 wins, 54 losses)
Most of the sites you take a look at have numbers that are similar to those. Ohio State gets the nod in schedule difficulty with the SEC and and Big 10 sort of neck and neck in conference power, even though I think the B1G was slightly better this year. Bama, Auburn, and Georgia were great, but then there’s a gap between those three and LSU. The Big 10 has OSU, Wisconsin, Penn State, and a pair of 9-3 Michigan State and Northwestern teams. Both conferences were pretty even, I think.
Obviously clout and name recognition has something to do with selection as well. If Alabama and Rutgers both have the exact same record and exact same SOS, which team do you think is getting in? Bama, of course.
I don’t know how much they enjoy that benefit vs. another national darling like Ohio State, but the angle is always worth considering.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Southern Cal, who went 11-2 and won their conference, just like OSU. Difference is, I guess, that they got killed by Notre Dame and didn’t benefit from that big top-10 win, even with a pair of victories over Stanford. How much of a difference is there between the Trojans and Buckeyes? I don’t know, but I guarantee you that fewer eyes are on west coast USC games vs. eastern Buckeye games.
Wisconsin got left out because they lost their conference title game and played in the weaker B1G division. Auburn finished with 3 losses despite having a much more difficult schedule than the top four.
Ohio State has a case, but I find it hard to feel bad for them considering what happened in 2014, when they jumped both TCU and Baylor because the committee had no idea how to decide between two Big 12 teams with identical records in a situation where there was no conference title game. OSU was the easy choice, even though I felt like TCU had the better slate that season. The Buckeyes won it all anyway, so go figure. And this year, they’re in the same exact situation as Penn State was last season, so any bitching is hypocritical, considering that their 2016 path was the same one Bama gets to walk right now.
End of the day, in 2017, it was obvious that the committee weighed bad losses more significantly than key wins. That’s why 11-1 Alabama, with a weaker SOS, got in over an 11-2 Ohio State team with a tougher SOS.
Kiffy gets it:
The precedent for conference championships not mattering was set last year, when Ohio State didn’t win one but still got top 4. Don’t come for Alabama now that the same thing worked in their favor. #CFBPlayoff
— Kiffy Balchon 🏡 (@kbalchon) December 3, 2017