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College football playoff faces scrutiny

By Shane Brooks
On January 25, 2018

The College Football Playoff Committee makes the final decision on which four teams will compete for a national title.

The 2017-18 college football season came to an exciting conclusion with the overtime thriller between two SEC foes, Alabama and Georgia. 

True freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench in the second half to rejuvenate the Crimson Tide offense and win head coach Nick Saban his fifth national championship in eleven seasons with Alabama. 

The matchup contradicted the conference’s bowl game record, which had the SEC finishing at 5-6 overall.

Despite falling short of the playoffs for the first time, the Big Ten Conference made a dominating statement in near perfect fashion with a 7-1 bowl record.

Michigan was the only team from their conference unable to win its bowl game, falling to an 8-5 record in Jim Harbaugh’s third season with the program. 

Both Michigan State and Ohio State were able to put together wins, convincingly downing Washington St, and USC in primetime bowl matchups. 

A good amount of fans believe that Ohio State was worthy of the four seed rather than Alabama, because Ohio State won its conference; Alabama did not.

Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has cracked the final four in every season that the format has been in effect. 

This lopsided conference performance will add more fuel to the fire of an ongoing debate over which conference displays the best quality of football. The Big Ten’s lack of playoff presence is a point to mention, but it’s also important to understand how the CFP Committee operates in deciding the “four best teams.”

The CFP system looks to a committee of people with many years of superb football experience and knowledge to select four teams they deem worthy to compete for a national title. There are no official tie-ins, and no automatic entries even if you win your conference. 

That’s the controversial issue regarding a four-team playoff system; there will always be a team or two who feel cheated out of their shot. Shouldn’t Power 5 conference champions automatically qualify to compete for a national title? What about the teams outside of Power 5 conferences who go undefeated?

A good example of the non-Power 5 debate was UCF (13-0) who won its own conference, led the nation in scoring (48.2 PPG), and went on to beat the SEC’s runner-up in a major bowl game. The Knights of Central Florida, feeling cheated, declared themselves the 2017-18 national champions despite Alabama winning the official championship. 

“It looked like a conscious effort to me to make sure that they didn’t have a problem if they put us too high and a couple teams ahead of us lost,” former UCF and current Nebraska head football coach Scott Frost told ESPN.com.

“And oh, no, now we have to put them in a playoff? But we just beat Auburn, which beat two playoff teams and lost to another one by six points, and we beat them by seven,” Frost said after beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl.  

A season ago, former Western Michigan/current Minnesota head football coach P.J. Fleck led the WMU Broncos to an undefeated regular season, winning the MAC conference championship.

They weren’t granted an invite to the CFP, as expected, but instead a bid to the Cotton Bowl.

They lost the bowl game by just a possession to a top ten-ranked Wisconsin team and finished 13-1 on the 2016-17 season. Should they have been invited to the CFP?
Three conference champions made up the four teams selected for the most recent playoff — the SEC’s Georgia, the Big 12’s Oklahoma, and the ACC’s Clemson.

Then, there was a debate over whether they should put in the Big Ten Champion Ohio State (lost to an unranked Iowa by 31 and by multiple possessions to Oklahoma), or put in the SEC’s Alabama, which didn’t win its own conference division, but had a near perfect record at 11-1 (only lost to rival Auburn on the road by two possessions). 

The committee chose Alabama over Ohio State, the 31-point loss to an unranked team being the “deciding factor” in their decision. Opinions were divided regarding this decision, but they ultimately chose the team which later proved to be good enough to win it all. 

Ohio State was on the opposite end of that spectrum in 2016, when it fell short of a Big Ten Championship, but was still able to make the cut with just one loss to Penn State (who won the Big Ten Championship). 

Does this system devalue the importance of a conference championship? The Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC) will never be able to represent all of their champions simultaneously in just a four-team playoff. Until a format expansion is negotiated, this system is primed to stir up controversy and debates. 

The College Football Playoff Committee is unanimously content with the current format. No changes to the system are expected, nor in discussion to be considered anytime soon.

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