The College Football Playoff committee got it right in every regard.
The four best teams were named to play in the semifinals New Year’s Day — No. 1 Clemson (12-1), No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1), No. 3 Georgia (12-1) and No. 4 Alabama (11-1) — were slotted right where they belong.
It’s also the best possible scenario for the SEC Champion Bulldogs. Taking on the Sooners is more desirable than going up against the Tigers or Crimson Tide — the past two national champions under our current playoff format.
Looking ahead, having the national championship game in Atlanta adds the storyline of potentially winning a title at home, which Bulldogs fans would be talking about much longer than the current wait of 37 years for another national championship.
But back to what we have right now. The Rose Bowl will be an absolute slugfest with Georgia’s ridiculously-talented defense facing likely Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and the quick-strike Sooners. The nightcap in New Orleans will probably be more riveting for all college football fans, especially those not emotionally invested in cheering for Clemson or Alabama. I can’t imagine a better semifinal round game than the Tigers, likely the most talented team in the playoffs, against the 2015 national champion Crimson Tide, winners of four national titles under coach Nick Saban.
College football fans are being spoiled by these Clemson against Alabama matchups — which has been for the national title the past two seasons. This time, only one will advance to play for the championship Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
That’s great for college football. Let them settle it on the field. Clemson and Alabama have such a great tradition and have performed so well in the playoff format which has been used to decide the national champion since 2014.
Ohio State got the snub from the playoffs for several reasons. The Buckeyes losing by 31 to Iowa was not a good look. Ohio State was also flat when it lost by 15 in the regular season to the Sooners. The 13 CFP voters also remember when the Buckeyes were crushed 31-0 by Clemson in the semifinals in 2016. All these pieces fit together to form a narrative that the Buckeyes are wildly inconsistent.
Those clearly carried more weight than the Buckeyes winning the Big Ten championship on Saturday against previously unbeaten Wisconsin (12-1).
Even though the playoff committee clearly doesn’t place a priority on getting conference champions in the playoffs, don’t expect these largely ceremonial games to go anywhere soon. The conference championship games, particularly for the SEC, Big Ten and ACC, are huge revenue generators.
The SEC raked in $122 million and Big Ten profited $108 million across the board just three years ago, according to Forbes Magazine. Selling out 70,000 seat stadiums for these primetime TV broadcasts are a big bump to the conference brand and lining the pockets of all the programs in each league.
Each conference jockeys heavily with media and pundits to get their teams in the playoffs. Each of the four teams earned $6 million for its conference for making the college football playoffs, as reported by Forbes. In 2017, that’s $12 million to the SEC in extra cash for the coffers to be divvied up between its member institutions, before adding in revenue created from its other bowl game appearances.
Big Ten fans might feel jilted after not getting a team into the playoffs, despite being widely considered the strongest league from top to bottom in the country this season.
However, the room full of college bigwigs who made the call Sunday in Grapevine, Texas weren’t locked into deciding teams based on any conference brand name. This was getting the four best teams in the playoffs. I think they did a splendid job of making the decision. Georgia, Clemson, Alabama and Oklahoma were the four best programs in college football from Labor Day through conference championship Saturday.
I’m sorry that Ohio State fans felt unfairly snubbed after winning the conference title. However, that’s the nature of the beast: With only four playoff spots on the line, someone really good is going to miss the cut.
With the four teams remaining, there’s a very logical case for why each could end up hoisting the national championship trophy Jan. 8 in Atlanta.
However, Ohio State was completely hot and cold all season. Would the playoffs have gotten a team like the fourth-seeded Buckeyes who won it all in 2014, or the Ohio State team that got pounded by Clemson last year?
The bowl committee wasn’t willing to take that chance. The college football committee knew exactly what it will get with Alabama. The Crimson Tide is in no way the flashiest team in the playoff pool — either offense or defense — but would you really want to have to play a Nick Saban squad in January?
Ohio State’s strong finish wasn’t enough to compensate for that ugly loss to Iowa. Not even a 45-point win against No. 18 Michigan State or beating No. 6 Wisconsin could sway the decision of those whose opinion matters. And you know what? They got it right.
College football fans are best served with Alabama in the playoffs over Ohio State. The three playoff games will probably all be fantastic. Revenue for the games will likely be through the roof.
And at the end of the day, this is really all about making good business decisions. Right now, things couldn’t be going better for college football.
Enjoy the next month debating with friends, family and total strangers who will win it all. Your guess is probably better than mine.
Bill Murphy is sports editor for The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Bill_Murphy313 on Twitter.