No drama playoff: Selection committee has it easy this time


No need to do any Monday morning quarterbacking about the College Football Playoff.

Selection Sunday was a snoozer.

Clemson? Of course.

Alabama? Without a doubt.

Michigan State? You bet.

Oklahoma? A no-brainer.

Even though three of the four teams have losses on their resume, there was nary a hint of discontent over the field that will play for the championship of college football.

“I just felt it was a little easier this year for me discerning between teams than it was last year in some respects, and I’m talking specifically about the top four,” said Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, the committee chairman.

This was a striking contrast to the playoff’s debut year, when the committee left out a pair of worthy Big 12 teams, TCU and Baylor, and bumped up Ohio State to take the final spot.

Ultimately, the decision proved a wise one — the Buckeyes went on to claim the national championship.

Still, the committee had to be relieved that its main decision this year was where to seed Michigan State and Oklahoma. They wound up promoting Michigan State to the third position, after the Spartans knocked off unbeaten Iowa in the Big Ten championship game, and dropped the Sooners one spot to fourth.

No loud complaints about that move. If Oklahoma had stayed third, it would’ve had what was essentially home-field advantage playing at the Cotton Bowl, which wouldn’t have been fair to higher-seeded Alabama. Instead, the Crimson Tide gets to face Michigan State, while the Sooners head to South Beach to take on top-ranked Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

The winners of those two semifinals meet Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz., for the national title.

Still, the lack of debate over the playoff was a bit of a letdown after the topsy-turvy regular season. Certainly, it would’ve been a lot more heated — and entertaining — if the panel had to decide whether Notre Dame or Florida State deserved the final berth in an eight-team field (as it was, the Fighting Irish finished No. 8, one spot ahead of the Seminoles). For that matter, North Carolina (10th) and TCU (11th) could’ve made a case for getting in if there were twice as many slots.

Long wasn’t about to get dragged into that discussion.

“We don’t even think about an eight-team playoff,” he said. “We’re charged with picking the top four teams and then ranking through 25, so that never comes into the discussion. I wouldn’t know how the committee would view that.”

What it does take into account is strength of schedule, which allowed the one-loss teams — Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma — to overcome the blemishes on their resumes.

For Alabama, it was a five-turnover setback to Mississippi at Bryant-Denny Stadium. For Michigan State, it was a one-point defeat at Nebraska, a team that finished 5-7. For Oklahoma, it was a befuddling 24-17 loss to Texas, another 5-7 squad.

In the end, all three had more than enough quality wins to impress the committee.

— Alabama defeated No. 19 Florida, No. 20 LSU and No. 23 Tennessee. Long also touted a season-opening victory over Wisconsin, which didn’t finish in the top 25 but was 9-3. Also, the Tide’s 43-37 loss to Ole Miss was the least damaging in the bunch, since the Rebels (9-3) finished 12th in the committee rankings and will play in the Sugar Bowl.

— Michigan State defeated No. 5 Iowa, No. 7 Ohio State, No. 14 Michigan and No. 14 Oregon, with the two of those wins on the road.

— Oklahoma also defeated four teams that finished in the committee’s top 25: No. 11 TCU, No. 16 Oklahoma State, No. 17 Baylor and No. 23 Tennessee. Three of those wins were on the road.

The committee sent another clear signal that teams willing to take on a challenging schedule will be rewarded. One loss — even two — won’t necessarily be enough to keep a school out of the playoff, as long as they didn’t load their schedule with a bunch of pushovers.

Just think: If college football went to an eight-team playoff, there would be even more wiggle room when it comes to getting fearless teams into the field.

“You need to play non-conference games that test your team against out-of-conference opponents, and I do think that’s demonstrated throughout our ranking,” Long said. “While we’re not trying to send messages, I think you can look at our rankings and get messages.”

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