Ohio State had a major playoff advantage over Baylor and TCU

GRAPEVINE, Texas — In the end, the selection committee took what seemed like a vexing decision over its fourth playoff team and turned out a straightforward and impactful answer.

Ohio State is in the four-team playoff because it played in a conference championship game. Baylor and TCU are out because they did not.

The committee’s job was to pick the best four teams, which plenty of people presumably agree they did. Alabama, Oregon and undefeated Florida State were shoe-ins. Ohio State, which many dismissed as a possibility the day it lost to Virginia Tech nearly three months ago, gained considerable 11th-hour traction with its 59-0 rout of Wisconsin, especially given the Buckeyes did it with backup quarterback Cardale Jones.

But whether it intended to or not, the committee also sent an unequivocal message to the Big 12 that it ought to implement a championship game ASAP.

“Ohio State’s performance in a 13th game gave them a quality win over a highly ranked team," said committee chairman Jeff Long.

With that, TCU, which entered its final game third in the committee’s rankings, beat 2-10 Iowa State, 55-3, and dropped to sixth. Baylor, which beat ninth-ranked Kansas State, 38-27, finally got that head-to-head edge over the Horned Frogs on the final day, but ultimately it didn’t help the Bears, either.

While saying at one point that the Big 12’s insistence on declaring co-champions “had no bearing on the decision,” he later used the words “definitive champions” in describing the four teams that did get in.

“The one thing I was disappointed about is it appears we were penalized for not having a postseason championship game,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said by phone Sunday. “If that’s the case, at least relative to 12 games verses 13 games, I wish we would have been advised about that. Not that we could have done anything about it, but at least we would have been aware of it.”

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Bowlsby said conference athletic directors will revisit whether to add a championship game as soon as this week. The Big 12 and ACC had previously forwarded an NCAA proposal to eliminate the 12-team, two-division requirement. And of course, “Will it foster discussions of possible conference expansion at some time? I suppose it would."

The committee sent a strong message about another issue as well, one Long had interestingly avoided mentioning in previous weeks. He went there Sunday in discussing Baylor’s exclusion.

“The committee noted that Ohio State’s non-conference schedule was stronger than Baylor’s,” said Long.

In other words, future playoff aspirants might want to aim higher than SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo.

Mind you, knee-jerk reactions about the Big 12’s apparent self-inflicted disadvantage may be presumptuous. Based on the committee’s final rankings we can surmise that if any of the final four — Alabama, Oregon, FSU or Ohio State — had instead lost this weekend, Baylor would be in. And we’d all be talking instead about how wonderfully the Big 12’s round-robin model worked, and how it doesn’t matter who you play out of conference.

As long as there’s a four-team playoff, there’s always going to be at least one major conference left out. Next year at this time we may be talking about someone’s championship game upset blowing up in the league’s face.

Ultimately, though, in 2014 Ohio State’s conference championship game performance was the deciding factor. Even the Big 12 commissioner conceded that.

“Human nature is the most recent achievements are probably the most impactful,” said Bowlsby. “Ohio State’s victory over Wisconsin was a complete domination. In that regard, they played themselves into the position they currently enjoy.”

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Hopefully the playoff folks will reconsider publishing weekly rankings next season. If one week holds no bearing on the next, and a team can drop from third to sixth while doing nothing wrong, then it’s really a deceiving exercise.

But given the incredible interest, that’s probably not going to happen.

Short of that, all we can ask for is straightforward explanations for the committee’s rationale. For all the contradictions and inconsistencies in Long’s week-to-week comments, his final statements could not have been more clear.

Body of work. Strength of schedule. And kick butt in your conference championship game.

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.