By JOHN FINERAN
Considering the constraints put on them, the members of the College Football Playoff committee got it right Sunday. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington are the four best teams heading into the holiday bowl season.
Sorry, Penn State. You may have beaten Ohio State, 24-21, on Oct. 22 with the help of a blocked field goal that eventually got you a spot into the Big Ten Conference Championship Game, where you defeated a good Wisconsin team, 38-31. But you got beaten by Pittsburgh, 42-39, in Week 2 and then got drilled 49-10 in Week 4 at Michigan, a team the Buckeyes beat in double overtime. Enjoy the Rose Bowl but watch out biting on those thorny stems.
Sorry, Michigan. You lost two road games – the one at Ohio State and another at Iowa on a last-second field goal. Win either one and you’re in Indianapolis playing Wisconsin, a team you beat, for the conference title. Instead, Jim Harbaugh, enjoy your consolation prize – a Dec. 30 matchup with Florida State at the Capital One Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, which is 3½ hours down I-75 from Bradenton where your team spent some of its spring practice. Make sure you have plenty of lotion, Coach … you’ve been getting a little red in the face lately.
And sorry, Oklahoma. You went unbeaten through your conference schedule after losing at Houston in the season opener and then at home to Ohio State – by 21 points – in Week 3. Next season, the Big 12 will have a conference championship despite having only 10 teams while its Power 5 brethren have 12 teams or more. Still scratching my head on that one, Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. Add a couple of teams next time when you look into expansion. And remember, beignets and Hurricanes don’t mix.
Nope, the CFP committe got this one right.
Unbeaten Alabama, tested only twic all season, finished its march to 13-0 with a 54-16 thrashing of Florida in the SEC Championship Game, and Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide is two-touchdown favorites over Chris Petersen’s Huskies, who rolled over Colorado 41-10 to win the Pac-12 Conference title. They will meet Dec. 31 at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
No. 3 Ohio State, which got to rest and heal last weekend, is a 3-point favorite to beat No. 2 Clemson, which beat Virginia Tech, 42-35, in the ACC Conference Game in Orlando Saturday when they meet in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31 in Glendale, Ariz.
In my eyes, it will be Alabama versus Ohio State in the National Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 9. And right now, the Crimson Tide is playing in its own league.
And it would be Alabama versus Ohio State in the National Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 9if they truly do this playoff thing right – by adding not four teams but 12 more to the existing four.
Yes, I’m talking about a 16-team playoff, one which allows each member of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams to say it has a chance to win the national championship when the season starts. Curre
ntly, there are 10 FBS conferences and each would use its regular season and conference champion to determine 10 of the 16 spots.
The other six spots are at-large teams. That pool of teams would be conference also-rans (no conference, however, could have more than two at-large teams in addition to a champion for a total of three representatives) and/or independents (Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Army and Massachusetts) deemed viable by a playoff committee.
Bingo, a 16-team playoff.
It can be done. Sixteen teams. The NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff field has 24 teams, the NCAA Division II playoff field has 28 and the NCAA Division III playoff field has 32. Youngstown State, a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, went 8-3 in its FCS regular season, and if it wins the FCS title, it will have played 16 games.
The two finalists in a 16-team FBS playoff will play four games before it is done, and if you add that to a 13-game regular season (12 plus a conference championship), that’s 17 games, maybe one too many. These are student-athletes (we’re reminded) and we’re told a lot is asked of them already, so asking them to play 17 games may be too much. But having them year-round on campus, expecting them to attend summer school to remain eligible, working out with the conditioning coaches isn’t too much? Come on.
So how about playing a max of 12 games in the regular season, with the 12th being the conference championship game. The regular season begins with the last Saturday in August and ends with the conference championship games on the last Saturday of November, so we have built-in bye weeks.
Then after the first two Saturdays in December are utilized so the student-athletes can take care of their finals, the 16-team playoff on the third Friday–Saturday in December with eight games over two days hosted by the top eight seeds determined by a committee with the help of computers.
The eight winners are then reseeded for the quarterfinals and those four games will be played at four existing bowls from a rotating pool of seven bowls – Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta, Peach and Outback.
The four winners then match up in two semifinal bowl games (at pool sites) on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1(unless one falls on an NFL Sunday), with the championship game the first or second Monday of January as it is now.
Simple – a true national championship involving all 128 FBS schools. And no one goes home disappointed or feeling screwed.
Here’s how it could have worked out this season:
Conference champions (10): Temple (American), Clemson (Atlantic Coast), Oklahoma (Big 12), Penn State (Big Ten), Western Kentucky (Conference USA), Western Michigan (Mid-American), San Diego State (Mountain West), Washington (Pacific-12), Alabama (Southeastern) and Appalachian State (Sun Belt).
At-large teams (6): Ohio State and Michigan (Big Ten), USC (Pac-12), West Virginia (Big 12), Louisville and Florida State (ACC). (Sorry, SEC.)
The computers and committee seed them this way:
- Alabama; 2. Clemson; 3. Ohio State; 4. Washington; 5. Penn State; 6. Michigan; 7. Oklahoma; 8. USC; 9. Florida State; 10. Western Michigan; 11. West Virginia; 12. Louisville; 13. Temple; 14. San Diego State; 15. Western Kentucky; 16. Appalachian State.
Friday, Dec. 16 on campus
(11) West Virginia at (6) Michigan, 11 a.m.
(14) San Diego State at (3) Ohio State, 2:30 p.m.
(15) Western Kentucky at (2) Clemson, 6 p.m.
(10) Western Michigan at (7) Oklahoma, 9:30 p.m.
Winners: (6) Michigan, (3) Ohio State, (2) Clemson, (7) Oklahoma
Saturday, Dec. 17 on campus
(12) Louisville at (5) Penn State, 11 a.m.
(16) Appalachian State at (1) Alabama, 2:30 p.m.
(13) Temple at (4) Washington, 6 p.m.
(9) Florida State at (8) USC, 9:30 p.m.
Winners: (12) Louisville, (1) Alabama, (4) Washington, (9) Florida State
Friday, Dec. 23
(9) Florida State vs. (2) Clemson at Peach Bowl (Atlanta), 11 a.m.
(12) Louisville vs. (1) Alabama at Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas), 2:30 p.m.
(6) Michigan vs. (4) Washington at Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.), 6 p.m.
(7) Oklahoma vs. (3) Ohio State at Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.), 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 31
(3) Ohio State vs. (2) Clemson at Orange Bowl (Miami), 4:30 p.m.
(4) Washington vs. (1) Alabama at Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), 8:30 p.m.
Monday, Jan. 9
(3) Ohio State vs. (1) Alabama at Outback Bowl (Tampa), 8:30 p.m.
And the winner? Alabama.
(John Fineran has covered sporting events for more than 40 years for newspapers in Michigan, Indiana, Florida and his native New Jersey. When it comes to a playoff to decide the national championship, he believes, like Ringo Starr does, that 16 is a beautiful number for a playoff).