Now that the inaugural college football playoff is over, with Ohio State defeating Oregon 42-20, it’s time to look back and ask the question: did it work ?
At first glance, the answer is yes. After all, neither of the two title game participants would have played for the title under the old BCS system. That setup would have given us a matchup of Alabama versus Florida State. The Crimson Tide lost to a team starting its third-string quarterback who had all of one start under his belt while the Seminoles committed five turnovers and lost by 39 points.
Plus, the playoff committee’s fourth-seed, Ohio State, ended up winning the whole thing, thus justifying the committee’s controversial decision to elevate the Buckeyes ahead of Baylor and TCU.
So obviously the committee got it right, yes?
The Playoff Controversy
Actually, no. It is easy to say the committee got it right since Ohio State ended up winning it all. Certainly the Buckeyes proved themselves worthy of inclusion and a national championship.
However, they should not have been picked over TCU.
The Horned Frogs were more consistently dominant the whole season and played in a tougher conference than the Buckeyes. Ohio State lost to a wretched Virginia Tech team at home while TCU’s lone loss was by three to a top-ten Baylor team on the road.
Of course, Baylor did beat the Horned Frogs and won the Big 12, so how could TCU be elevated over the Bears?
It’s a sticky argument with no clear answer, and it was made even worse by the weekly ranking shows on ESPN.
The rankings painted the committee into a corner. TCU had proved all season long that it was one of the nation’s best teams, but there was that problematic loss to Baylor. The committee couldn’t very well put a team in the playoff ahead of the team that not only beat it but also won the conference.
On the other hand, it couldn’t choose Baylor because the Bears didn’t have the resume. Baylor’s non-conference schedule was a joke, and TCU had a stronger resume. Plus, TCU beat West Virginia on the road whereas the Bears could not.
As a result, the committee ranked TCU higher than Baylor throughout the latter part of the season. And that proved problematic because the rankings gave the committee no wiggle room as long as both teams kept winning, which they did.
In the end, the committee chose to sidestep the question entirely by selecting Ohio State. However, that ruined the committee’s credibility since TCU had consistently been ranked ahead of the Buckeyes and was ranked third going into the final week and had closed out its regular season by demolishing Iowa State by 50 points, which is something the third-ranked team in the country is supposed to do.
The Horned Frogs took care of business and put away a lesser opponent yet were dropped three spots to number six in the playoff rankings, which was an absolute joke and undermined the whole weekly ranking system.
If the committee hadn’t agreed to do the weekly ranking shows so that ESPN could get some more views and Twitter hits, then there would have been no controversy. It would have been easy to explain selecting Ohio State over Baylor or TCU at that point because nobody would have known how the committee had viewed the teams going in. It could have been assumed that the committee had placed Ohio State higher all along.
Instead, the committee bowed to ratings and had to try to explain how a team could win by over seven touchdowns and still fall multiple spots in the rankings.
The new system isn’t perfect, and changes certainly need to be made–whether that’s expanding the format so that all Power 5 champions get in or following basketball’s lead and not publicizing the rankings until they are final–but overall, it’s clear that the inaugural playoff was a rousing success and huge improvement over the BCS.
Featured image via ESPN Twitter