The 2017-2018 college football season came to a climatic end this past Monday night with the Alabama Crimson Tide winning their fifth national title in the last nine years. This time the Crimson Tide dusted off their Southeastern Conference brethren in the Georgia Bulldogs in the national title game to win it all. And although that the contest between Alabama and Georgia was thrilling, it drew the ire of some people outside of the Southeast region.
When the four-team College Football Playoff was implemented four years ago, it was a breath of fresh air to the old Bowl Championship Series formula where the participants for the national title game were decided by a computer. The College Football Playoff committee is a 13-person group which is mainly comprised of former college football head coaches and school administrators who have come together in order to use the “eye test” and decide who are the four best teams in the nation at the end of the regular season. This was supposed to be a way to turn back the monopoly of the Southeastern Conference who in the BCS era claimed nine national titles which was highlighted by the Alabama facing the LSU Tigers to end the 2011 college football season. This new format made it more likely that the other four Power Five Conferences would have a spot at the table in order to determine a national champion, but that does not mean that some people have not questioned it.
With four slots in the College Football Playoff, and five Power Five Conferences, it means that someone is always going to get left out. Conference commissioners will always publicly lobby for their leagues to get in, but the committee uses the eye test, while strength of schedule along with playing in and winning your conference title game factor in.
But instead of one Power Five Conference being left out of the equation this past season, it was two as the Southeastern Conference became the first league to send to schools to the College Football Playoff in Georgia and Alabama. And with the Clemson Tigers representing the Atlantic Coast Conference, while the Oklahoma Sooners were pulling the wagon of the Big 12 Conference, it meant that the Pac-12 and Big Ten Conferences were left on the sidelines.
Alabama’s inclusion into the College Football Playoff was met with some controversy due to the fact that the Tide did not win the Southeastern Conference, nor their division. Alabama began the season as the top ranked team in college football and they defeated every team on their schedule until their regular season finale versus the Auburn Tigers. And after Auburn defeated Alabama 26-14 in the Iron Bowl, both teams were 7-1 within the SEC West which meant that the Tigers were headed to Atlanta for the conference title game.
Auburn’s win over Alabama would vault them to the second overall ranking in the College Football Playoff Poll heading into conference championship weekend. The Tide would drop to fifth, and without the ability to play for the Southeastern Conference Title, they would have to be spectators to see how things would pan out around the country.
Alabama would get a second reprieve as Auburn lost to Georgia, while the Wisconsin Badgers who were ranked fourth lost to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game. Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia were locks to make the College Football Playoff since they won their conferences, but the last slot would come down to Alabama and Ohio State.
Alabama was 11-1, while Ohio State was 11-2. Ohio State had the conference champion factor over Alabama, but the Buckeyes would be done in by their 55-24 loss to a mediocre Iowa Hawkeyes team. The Buckeyes were able to defeat an undefeated Wisconsin team in the Big Ten Championship Game. But the Badgers won the Big Ten West which was extremely weak. And when Ohio State scraped by to defeat Wisconsin, their victory wasn’t convincing enough for them to move from eighth to fourth in the final College Football Playoff Poll in order to overtake the Crimson Tide.
But since the name of the Big Ten carries so much weight and this conference was tired of getting left out in the cold during the Bowl Championship Series era, there was no way that they could be left out of the mix now, or could they?
The committee made the tough decision which was the right one and that was to include Alabama and not Ohio State which made the people in Big Ten country furious. And after the Buckeyes used the perceived disrespect of the committee towards them as fuel in their 24-7 thrashing of the USC Trojans in the Cotton Bowl, the pressure was going to be on Alabama when they met Clemson in the Cotton Bowl.
However Alabama was up for challenge as they were equally dominant versus Clemson in the Sugar Bowl as they cruised to a 24-6 win. Alabama had their own motivation to not only prove the naysayers wrong about their inclusion in the College Football Playoff, but to also avenge last year’s loss to Clemson in the national championship game.
The Tide once again faced adversity versus Georgia in this year’s national title game as the Bulldogs had the unofficial home-field advantage being that the game was being played in Atlanta which is 70 miles from their campus. And although that Alabama even spotted Georgia a 13-point lead, they found the resolve of a champion to come back and win the game in order to claim another national championship.
So not only did the Tide join Ohio State as the only four seeds entering the College Football Playoff to win it all, but they also became the first team that didn’t win its conference title to win this tournament. When the College Football Playoff was created, it was anticipated that this situation could happen where multiple teams from a conference could get in which would mean that a non-conference champion could win it all, but I am not sure that the committee anticipated it happening so quickly as this system just wrapped up its fourth year. And being that the Big Ten was left out of the field of four, it is only going to increase the intensity in regards to shifting the playoff field from four to eight. However this is the perfect system whether or not that everyone likes it.
Gone are the days where the college football season would finish with two or three teams laying claim to being the best team in the nation as the playoff has done away with that. During the Bowl Championship Series era, there was always one team that felt that they were jobbed in regards to not getting in, but the new system takes the top four teams in the country which is adequate enough. Most teams already play a 12-game regular season schedule; not to mention that conference championship game participants play an additional contest. 13 games is enough time to see who are the best teams in the nation and since these players are “student-athletes”, what about their time in the classroom since the season begins in August and lasts until December?
Increasing the College Football Playoff from four teams to eight will only water down the product, while also producing a ninth team that feels deserving of inclusion. This system puts extreme focus on the regular season as teams know that they cannot waver during their 12-game slate which is what did Ohio State in this season.
And since Alabama was able to win it all, there will be people who’ll contend that Ohio State could have done the same thing, but they could have also been blown out by Clemson just like they were last season in the Fiesta Bowl 31-0. For those people who want to get mad at Alabama being included, don’t get mad at the Tide, and instead focus your disgust at those schools in the Southeastern Conference who consistently lose to them. And we cannot forget about Wisconsin being unable to defeat Ohio State, or the Buckeyes losing to Iowa which all led to us having two SEC schools in the College Football Playoff. Be upset with Oklahoma for blowing a 31-14 lead to Georgia in the Rose Bowl, and Clemson’s offense for being unable to figure out the Crimson Tide’s defense in the Sugar Bowl. Do you see how foolish that my last argument is? That is exactly how it sounds when people get mad because two schools from the SEC go into the College Football Playoff in spite of the fact that they were two of the better teams in the nation.
There is nothing in place to prevent two schools from the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, or Atlantic Coast Conferences to reach the College Football Playoff and they will all have their chance once again starting in August. And instead of looking for excuses, win your games and come next January we won’t be having this same conversation.