Contrary to all the tweets, all the talking heads on television and all of the columns written, there was no drama in this year’s College Football Playoff selection process. There were zero surprises either.
The New Year’s Six on Monday was exactly as it was the prior Thursday night (aside from a few folks flipping Penn State and Wisconsin’s spots). Nothing changed with the matchups in the playoff either. In a season that lacked relative drama from start to finish, we should not have woken up on Sunday and feigned any disbelief about the outcome when the final rankings were released.
Alabama was an undisputed No. 1 seed and perhaps the most overwhelming favorite for a title in recent memory. Ohio State and Clemson’s resumes stood alone. Washington was the next best team. Whatever movement there was to include the Nittany Lions was heavily influenced by the recency bias of their win in Indianapolis later on Saturday night.
“The committee discussed why each team could be ranked No. 4. Washington had one loss, Penn State has two. Washington is a conference champion. So is Penn State. Washington's one loss is to top-10 Southern California. Penn State's losses are against an 8-4 team (Pitt), and they were non-competitive in their other loss (at Michigan),” committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said. “As you know, we pick the best teams. After considerable conversation about whether Washington or Penn State was better, the committee concluded that Washington is the better team.”
There was no drama. In the end the committee did what it was tasked to do — sort through the Power Five conference champions and other elite squads — and pick the four best teams. It was never about being deserving or head-to-head results or overall résumé. It was about the four best. They followed those guidelines just as they’ve done all season long.
Think back to the first set of rankings back at the start of November. The Crimson Tide went wire-to-wire as No. 1 and Clemson found themselves in the same spot at No. 2. Alabama beat the then-fourth ranked team to clear the path for the fifth-ranked Huskies. Old No. 6 Ohio State flipped places with then-No. 3 Michigan by beating the Wolverines straight up to take their place. Everything simply played itself out.
Penn State fans may be slightly ticked at being left out but they shouldn’t. A month into the season, many wanted to run James Franklin out of State College. Now they’re in the Rose Bowl, wearing the crown of the best league in the country and — maybe most importantly — get to avoid a Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl situation at the hands of Alabama.
And if they were to beat USC on Jan. 2, the Nittany Lions have a very realistic chance to finish in the top four in all of the final polls — if not higher. This is still a young team that is built to defend its league title next season with Ohio State and Michigan likely suffering key personnel losses.
“I would tell you that Penn State significantly elevated themselves in our conversation after their performance last night,” Houcutt added. “Having a chance to watch, with the other members of the Selection Committee, that second half performance, incredibly impressed and significantly elevated them into our conversations.”
Now attention can turn to the task at hand for the final four. Each has a quarterback who can put up points in a hurry — in vastly different ways. Each has a great front seven and these are certainly four of the best secondaries in the country no matter which way you slice things. All four should make for an exciting pair of games that certainly have the potential to be much closer than last season’s semifinals.
All of which makes for a delightful evolution of the College Football Playoff. There don’t need to be any great think-pieces or takeaways from this year’s decisions. The committee picked the four best teams and there’s no drama about any of the four.
That wasn’t the case in 2014, where Ohio State’s surprise inclusion instead of the Big 12’s conundrum of TCU and Baylor proved prescient as the Buckeyes ultimately won the national title. Things improved in 2015, with only minor questions about seeding and much bigger gripes about the dates of the semifinal games.
But there were none of those concerns in 2016. The committee, despite all the handwringing in November, got it right. They picked the four best teams to compete for the national title.
Now all that’s left is to see what unfolds in Atlanta, Glendale and Tampa.
Stat of the Week
Tweet of the Week
Superlatives of the Week
Best player: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Team of the week: Temple
Honorary Les Miles Goat of the week: Jim McElwain, Florida
Quote of the week: Washington coach Chris Petersen on ‘We Want Bama’ signs: “Sometimes you’ve got to be careful what you wish for. I didn’t hold that sign up.”
Play of the Week
I’m a voter in the FWAA/National Football Foundation Super 16 Poll and will be releasing my ballot here every week. Here’s my ballot heading into the postseason.
3. Ohio State
6. Penn State
12. Florida State
13. Western Michigan
14. Oklahoma State
15. West Virginia
16. Virginia Tech
Best of the rest: LSU, Stanford, Auburn, Temple, Pitt, South Florida, Houston, Miami, Air Force
Alabama vs. Washington (Peach Bowl)
At this point in the year, few give the Huskies a chance to topple the Goliath that is Alabama. The Tide are one of only two undefeated teams left in the country and have superior talent at just about every position on either side of the ball. Still, don’t discount Washington and head coach Chris Petersen from having four weeks to prepare. The secondary is very good and there are questions about whether Nick Saban’s team has been properly tested this year in a weak SEC. We’ll still pick Bama but this one should be much closer than folks expect.
Clemson vs. Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl)
This is a matchup NFL scouts have to be drooling over. Deshaun Watson vs. J.T. Barrett. A terrific Tigers front seven going against a host of Buckeyes skill position players. A loaded OSU secondary against some of the best pass catchers in the country. Plus you have the experience of two teams who have been down this road (in both the semifinals and national title game) before. It’s tempting to go with the ACC champions but we’ll lean toward Urban Meyer’s team until proven otherwise.
Penn State vs. USC (Rose Bowl)
This has to be one of the best non-playoff matchups out there and pits two of the hottest teams in the country against each other. The Trojans have the edge in skill position talent with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ronald Jones II and Adoree’ Jackson all getting an opportunity to showcase what they can do for the rest of the country. The Nittany Lions are no slouches though and Trace McSorley and company could have a big outing. We’ll lean toward the quasi-home team in this one but make no mistake, the winner should begin 2017 in the top three of all the polls next year.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.
(Top photo courtesy of @CFBPlayoff)