How to order College Football Playoff teams? Decision and rationale could be telling
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in Grapevine, Texas, right about now.
Chalk held during championship weekend, Clemson providing the final piece in Saturday night's 42-35 win over Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. That means the foursome that made up that penultimate College Football Playoff rankings' top four — the aforementioned Tigers, Alabama, Ohio State and Washington — will likely hold those same spots in Sunday's announcements of the semifinal games.
The only drama now is the consensus the 12-member selection committee comes to
behind unquestioned No. 1 Alabama, and what criteria will be used to back up that thinking.
The Buckeyes entered the weekend — one they didn't play in while No. 7 Penn State stormed back to beat No. 6 Wisconsin for the Big Ten crown — at No. 2, while Clemson was third and Washington fourth. But now that the Tigers and Huskies have the ACC and Pac-12 titles, respectively, and Ohio State didn't win as much as its division (the Nittany Lions did that), will that 13th data point push them past the idle Buckeyes?
A case can be made.
Using final records against the committee's latest Top 25, Clemson is 4-1 and Ohio State and Washington are both 3-1, but the Huskies just added another in beating No. 8 Colorado — by 31 points, mind you — in the conference championship game (though in the Buckeyes' defense, they did beat Oklahoma, which just won the Big 12 crown). If we're zeroing in on strength of schedule, per NCAA.org, Clemson was second, Ohio State third and Washington 44th.
Having a complete resume with the addition of the league titles would give the committee the ammo to move the Buckeyes down to at least third behind Clemson to appease those who don't like the look of a team that was off championship weekend still making the playoff (those people, of course, being from Happy Valley).
But ultimately it's a matter of what the selection committee believes its true role is. Is it to simply pick and order the four best teams? Or is to do so and also play matchmaker and produce the best ratings draws and matchups that will benefit game sites?
Per the playoff's Web site, “the committee's task is to select the best teams, rank the teams for inclusion in the playoff and selected other bowl games and then assign the teams to bowl sites.”
It's a role it explicitly handles for the New Year's Six games, but is it approaching the top four with the view of the game it's creating or is a true ranking of those teams and the matchup that comes from it is simply secondary?
Here's what's concrete going into Sunday: as the certain No. 1, the Crimson Tide will stick close to home and play in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Based on the previous week's rankings, they would be in line to play Washington and that would leave Clemson and Ohio State for the Fiesta Bowl.
As well as the Buckeyes fan base travels, and the Tigers' did a year ago during their run to the national title, is that matchup going to pack the house in Glendale, Ariz?
The same could be said for the Huskies faithful traveling across the country to Georgia, however, if Washington were to wind up in the the Fiesta — a three-hour flight from Seattle — and either Clemson or Ohio State in the Peach, attendance would certainly benefit those teams due to the proximity.
The No. 1 team's destination is the only one that is supposed to take location into account, making it the only true benefit of topping these final rankings. But ticket sales, economic impact … and yes, TV ratings, may be on the minds of the committee as well.
Remember, last season's semifinals saw a 36 percent drop in viewership from the year before, with Clemson and Oklahoma earning a 9.7 rating compared to 15.5 in the first playoff game from 2015 and Alabama and Michigan State drew a 9.9, while the second game from '15 sat at 15.3.
A rematch of last year's national title game of the Crimson Tide and Tigers or Alabama and Ohio State would seem a bigger draw for the Peach Bowl, which is likely to be the second game of the day. Granted, those scenarios could rob the playoff of another Alabama-Clemson game for the title or having another ratings juggernaut in the Buckeyes join the Tide in the final.
Maybe the selection committee isn't weighing any of this. Maybe that group's only focus now is deciding who truly is No. 2, and so on and so on.
But it's also about protecting and producing a product, one that generates TV ratings, ticket sales and hotel room reservations, and addressing that may not be explicit, but it's part of the machine.
What that foursome looks like with Sunday's announcement, and what drove the committee to that conclusion, may give us a glimpse into how much of a part.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, 'Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,' and 'The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.' are now available.
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