Here at last. The College Football Playoff teams have been announced, and the rankings look similar (though not identical) at the top to what they did last week. In order of seed, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington will vie for the national championship, starting with their semifinal games on New Year’s Eve.
The matchups: The Crimson Tide will take on the Huskies, while the Tigers will do battle against the Buckeyes. Left on the outside looking in are Penn State and Michigan; cases could be made for each of those schools, but in the end, the four teams the committee selected are deserving.
With that said, a particularly strong argument could be made for the Nittany Lions, who scored an impressive Big Ten title victory on Saturday night and beat the Buckeyes head-to-head. In the end, however, there were just too many quality teams ahead of them to overcome. Washington lost one game to USC; Penn State, meanwhile, got blown out by Michigan and fell to an 8-4 Pittsburgh team.
There’s no shame in either of those setbacks, but in a four-team Playoff system, the best of the best compete for the title. Each team notched great wins, but Washington was the more consistent group throughout the season. Perhaps this decision was really made last week, when the Huskies were slotted ahead of the Nittany Lions and the Wisconsin Badgers in the rankings. Washington won the Pac-12 title game decisively; Penn State’s Big Ten championship win was vastly entertaining, but it’s hard to say the Lions did anything to jump the Huskies. If anyone has beef, perhaps last week would have been the time to voice those concerns.
It may not affect the matchups at all, but it was interesting to see Clemson and Ohio State switch places in the rankings. The reasoning is obvious: The Tigers won the ACC championship on Saturday night, while the Buckeyes didn’t win their league. It’s clear than no singular factor reigns supreme among the selection committee; Clemson’s ACC title vaulted it ahead of the Buckeyes, but OSU stood firmly above Pac-12 champion Washington and Big Ten champion Penn State.And while head-to-head results serve as a convenient reference point, perhaps the committee is simply using the larger sample size it has at its disposal instead of zeroing in on one piece of the data. An important piece, mind you, but it doesn’t have to be the end-all, be-all. Yes, the Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes this season, and they deserve huge props for that.
At the same time, if those teams faced each other 10 times, who’s winning the majority of those games? Based on its body of work, the committee is telling you the answer to that question is Ohio State. If the résumés were deadlocked, a head-to-head win and a conference champion distinction would certainly be useful tools in separating the two teams. But the powers that be felt that Ohio State’s body of work was clearly superior to Penn State’s, so the Buckeyes got the nod.
We’ve spent so much time debating which teams deserve to be in the field that we haven’t given much thought to the matchups themselves. Now that the teams are set, there’s plenty to get excited about.
First of all, there’s potential for an Alabama-Clemson championship game rematch. Last year was an epic title bout, and if we see Crimson Tide vs. Tigers Round 2, that would be a lot of fun. If Ohio State and Bama win, we’d see a rematch of the semifinal game two years ago in which Cardale Jones lifted the Buckeyes over the Tide.
For the semifinal contests, Clemson vs. Ohio State features two heavyweights with young, star-studded defenses and talented quarterbacks, but Alabama vs. Washington should be intriguing, as well. Sure, the Crimson Tide look unbeatable, but Nick Saban’s crew also hasn’t faced a quarterback as good as Jake Browning this season. Perhaps Chad Kelly is the exception, but Ole Miss gave Alabama its toughest test to date. After weeks of conference play, these out-of-league matchups pose different styles that can be tough to prepare for.
We’ll have to wait a few weeks for the CFP to begin, but the bowl schedule beforehand is a tasty appetizer to the entre that is the College Football Playoff. Let the games begin.