By MARK KNUDSON @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
Over analysis and needless hand wringing. Those are the two biggest take-a-ways from the release of the College Football Play-off Committee’s first version of its rankings, the final version of which will determine which four teams get a shot at College Football’s National Championship in January. More than two months before it actually counts for something, everyone wants to argue and try to figure out which team is ranked where and why – and who’s been left out – when none of it really matters…yet.
The first poll is all for show. It’s highly unlikely that these will be the four teams who are “in” when the final poll is released. In fact, no team that’s ever been ranked #1 – as the University of Georgia was in the first poll – has actually ended up #1 in the only poll that matters. So for the Bulldogs, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson, they aren’t “in” anything yet. Their work is actually just beginning.
For the sake of argument, here’s some initial analysis: The case for the first three schools – Georgia, Alabama and Notre Dame – is solid. The only loss among those three is Notre Dame’s one-point loss to Georgia. But the inclusion of one-loss Clemson in the fourth slot is curious. The Tigers lost to unranked Syracuse, while #5 Oklahoma beat #6 Ohio State, who beat #7 Penn State. OU’s loss is to ranked Iowa State. So all four of those teams have a better “resume” than Clemson.
Not that it matters, yet. What does matter is that Georgia and Alabama are likely to play in the SEC title game, while the Fighting Irish still have to play at unbeaten #10 Miami, Ohio State will likely face #9 Wisconsin (which is still unbeaten) in the Big 10 Championship game, Oklahoma plays #11 Oklahoma State this weekend, and we still have title games in the ACC and Big 12, too. Those will all factor in – in a major way – before the final rankings are released on December 3rd.
What doesn’t matter? Who actually wins their conference championship.
The way the system works now, conference title games are a bonus, not a requirement. Being crowned champion of your conference, while a factor, is not a perquisite to advance toward the national title. Last season, Penn State won the Big 10 and saw Ohio State, who didn’t even play in the Big 10 title game, make the four-team play-off field.
This season, the champion of the highly competitive Pac 12 is unlikely to get an invite, and it’s very possible that another conference champion could be left out, too. For example, if Notre Dame wins their final four games, they’ll very likely be in, regardless of the fact they don’t even play in conference. That would mean at least two Power Five conferences would be on the outside looking in. And if both Alabama and Georgia enter the SEC title game undefeated, the loser will probably still be in the final four. That could eliminate still another conference champion.
Teams like Washington, which has lost just one game – on the road at Arizona State – is all the way down at #12 and could run the table, win the Pac 12 title game, finish 12-1 and not sniff the final four.
As epic as the college football regular season is – and it’s still the best, most meaningful regular season in sports – it’s wrong to not reward conference champions with a play-off bid. Under the current system, one is already left out every year. If more than one Power Five conference is left on the sidelines this season, don’t be shocked if the push for a six-team field picks up steam.
It could work like this: College Football could expand to a six-team play-off field, bringing in the five conference champions and a single “at-large” team at the conclusion of the regular season. A six-team play-off would reward schools for winning their conference, while making the competition for the single at large spot white hot. An outstanding regular season performance would continue to matter as to where the teams are ranked. The top two spots would earn a first round bye.
Since we’re in to projections at this point in the season, projecting a six-team field for 2017 could look something like this:
- Alabama (SEC Champ)
- Oklahoma (Big 12 Champ)
- Ohio State (Big 10 Champ)
- Georgia (At-large)
- Clemson (ACC Champ)
- Washington (Pac 12 Champ)
Why this order? We’re guessing that Alabama would defeat Georgia in the SEC title game giving the Bulldogs their only loss. Georgia then gets the at-large over Notre Dame since they defeated the Irish in South Bend earlier in the season. Oklahoma gets the #2 spot and the first round bye because they defeated #3 Ohio State in Columbus in September. Clemson is seeded fifth because they have a worse loss than the top four, but ahead of Washington because of more quality wins than the Huskies.
Under this scenario, Ohio State would face Washington in a New Year’s Six Bowl, and Clemson would meet Georgia. The lowest seeded winner would advance to face Alabama, the higher seeded winner would meet Oklahoma. And so it would play-out.
Under this plan, Notre Dame would certainly have a gripe. Then again, if the school would simply go all in and join the ACC in all sports, they’d have a much more direct path to earn a play-off berth every season. Other than the Irish (who did lose at home to our at-large team, remember) every other school would have been able to take their shot – Wisconsin and Penn State would have lost to Ohio State, Oklahoma State would have fallen to OU, and Miami would have lost to Notre Dame and to Clemson in the ACC title game.
All any team can ask for is a fair shot to make the field. A six-team play-off would give every team in the Power Five that chance. Plus, when is more college football a bad thing?