Penn State’s Big Ten title could break the College Football Playoff as we know it
There was no chaos — no crazy final weekend upset. Instead, there were strong performances, a couple of close calls, and an impressive comeback in Indianapolis.
So when it comes to the College Football Playoff, Sunday's final rankings should prove to be relatively easy for the selection committee — just push the same top four they had last week.
If only it were that simple. For the CFP, chalk in the final four is the worst-case scenario.
The selection committee really, really needed some chaos on the final weekend — a reshuffling of the landscape so that there would be no expectation that the final rankings would match last week's.
Things did not break its way, and the resumes only became stronger for five of the six teams that had a realistic shot of making the playoff.
Alabama is undefeated and smoked Florida by 38 points to win the SEC. Nick Saban's team has to be in the playoff as the No. 1 seed.
Clemson, the No. 3 team coming into the weekend, held off a pesky Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game Saturday night to win its second-straight league title. The one-loss Tigers have to be in the playoff.
Washington, the No. 4 seed — the team that was narrowly ahead of idle No. 5 Michigan heading into the Pac-12 title game Friday night — blew out Colorado to win the conference championship and heads into the postseason with a 12-1 record. The Huskies have to be in the playoff.
And idle Ohio State didn't do a thing to hurt its standing as the clear-cut No. 2 team in the rankings.
In fact, because of Penn State's incredible three-touchdown comeback to win the Big Ten title over Wisconsin Saturday in Indianapolis, the Buckeyes' one loss added quality. Add in the fact that the Buckeyes have wins over Big 12 champion Oklahoma, Michigan, and Big Ten runner-up Wisconsin and it's clear: Ohio State has to be in the playoff .
That leaves all four spots taken. But then there's Penn State.
Five worthy teams for four spots. How do you choose?
The selection committee doesn't have that answer.
The College Football Playoff selection committee wants to choose the four best teams but also the four most deserving teams.
The panel members can't do both this year.
They want to reward quality wins, particularly out-of-conference, but also conference championships and head-to-head wins.
They can't do both this year.
The want to make sure that no one is left unhappy, so, in turn, they're going to make a lot of people angry.
If conference championships matter, then Ohio State is out, and that's unfair — the Buckeyes were deemed the second-best team in the nation a few days ago and did nothing to change anyone's mind on that. Shouldn't the playoff have the best four teams?
But if we're just picking the four best teams, what's the point of playing conference championships? They don't seem to matter in that system. Shouldn't the playoff be a tournament of champions?
And if the committee wants to avoid the Penn State-Ohio State debate, you're going to have to kick out a one-loss conference champion to include a two-loss team. (And Clemson's loss was to Pitt, which also beat Penn State this year, to add to the unfairness.)
The College Football Playoff selection committee is going to have to use pliable logic and moving methodology to create a four-team field this year, but that's not new for them.
That said, this isn't like the first year of the playoff, where the committee chose a Big Ten champion Ohio State over a Big 12 co-champion TCU — there was a (semi-)common denominator there.
No, this conundrum will collapse the playoff selection system down to its root — it will highlight to the world just how arbitrary the selection process is and that will leave at least one large, justified fan base feeling as if it was jobbed.
In a sport that's seemingly fueled by outrage, the 2016 season will be used as a rallying cry for years to come, and eventually, the CFP will want to avoid repeating this kind of controversy again (if it can avoid further controversy in the interim) and expand to six (either the top six teams or the five conference champions and a top Group of Five team) or eight teams.
The college football playoff selection committee should have an easy Sunday — all four of its top four teams won, and the weakest of those four considerably strengthened its resume. There was no chaos, so the selection committee should have chalk across the board.
But you can't put five into four, and that will prove to be the most chaotic possible outcome.
- Alabama Crimson Tide
- Auburn Tigers
- Clemson Tigers
- Colorado Buffaloes
- Florida Gators
- Grambling State Tigers
- Jackson State Tigers
- LSU Tigers
- Memphis Tigers
- Michigan Wolverines
- Missouri Tigers
- Ohio State Buckeyes
- Oklahoma Sooners
- Penn State Nittany Lions
- Princeton Tigers
- Savannah State Tigers
- TCU Horned Frogs
- Tennessee State Tigers
- Texas Southern Tigers
- Towson Tigers
- Virginia Tech Hokies
- Washington Huskies