The Curious Case Of Two College Football Playoff Contenders

Big Ten Football

Let’s examine the story of a certain high-profile college football team and its contentious quest for a College Football Playoff berth.

It’s a team coming off a year where it lost only one game, filled with highly-touted recruits destined for the first couple rounds of the NFL Draft. It opened the year #1 in the polls and destroyed a highly-touted ACC team away from home in week one, although that win looked a lot less impressive as the season progressed. While this team looked sluggish against a largely unimpressive schedule for a big chunk of the season, it remained #1 in the AP poll through week 10.

The Playoff Rankings were a different story. The committee saw the closer-than-expected wins over unranked opponents as a red flag. The team was still in the top-4 of those playoff rankings, but in mid-November, it was not in the top spot.

Then? Disaster. In late November, the team lost to the only opponent it faced that would finish the regular season in the top-10. It failed to win its division or reach its conference championship game. Clearly this team was loaded with talent, led by a legendary coach, and capable of beating any team in the nation on any given day. But it had some clear holes in its resume.

What would the College Football Playoff Committee do with a team like this?

The 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes fit this description. They came in as defending national champions, played down to several opponents throughout the season, but kept winning until a late-season loss to Michigan State cost them a Big Ten title shot.

The 2017 Alabama Crimson Tide fit this description as well. They came in as defending national runners-up, played down to several opponents throughout the season, but kept winning until a late-season loss to Auburn cost them an SEC title shot.

Those Buckeyes were deemed unfit for the College Football Playoff field. Although they rebounded in the regular season finale to liquefy #17 Michigan, 42-13, they finished #7 in the final playoff rankings. They simply could not overcome their mid-season ennui, shortage of high-profile wins, and the fact that they failed to even reach their conference title game. Yes, they certainly passed the “eye test,” but that was a vague term used by intellectually-flexible people as a substitute for tangible achievements. The committee paid it no mind.

Iowa, a Big Ten West team that made it through the regular season unbeaten against a soft schedule before losing a close game to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship, finished ranked ahead of the Bucks in the committee’s final judgement.

Stanford, a two-loss Pac-12 champion that wrapped up its regular season with a close home win over Notre Dame before cruising past USC to win its league title, also finished ahead of 11-1 Ohio State.

They weren’t just out of the playoffs, they were out of the conversation almost entirely, the third-best team in their own conference.

This year’s Crimson Tide was deemed a worthy part of the College Football Playoff field. Although their loss was in their regular season finale, and they had no chance to rebound against anyone, they finished #4 in the final playoff rankings. Their mid-season ennui, shortage of high-profile wins, and the fact that they failed to even reach their conference title game was not a problem. After all, they passed the “eye test.”

Wisconsin, a Big Ten West team that made it through the regular season unbeaten against a soft schedule before losing a close game to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, finished ranked two spots behind the Tide.

USC, a two-loss Pac-12 champion that wrapped up its regular season with a close home win over UCLA before cruising past #13 Stanford to win its league title, also finished four spots behind 11-1 Alabama.

There is a large segment of the Ohio State fanbase that believes that a grave injustice was done Sunday when Alabama was let into the 2017 field. They’re correct… sort of.

The 2017 OSU team had a great regular season, knocking off Michigan and winning the conference championship. But given their inexplicable implosion in Iowa City, there was a legitimate argument to exclude them.

Sunday, Playoff Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said, “Alabama was clearly the No. 4-ranked team in the country even as a non-conference champion.”

The 2015 OSU team also had a great regular season, knocking off Michigan. And based on the playoff committee’s decision today, even as a non-conference champion, they clearly should have made the field as well.

17 Responses

  1. Its hard to see how the devastating and u explainable loss at Iowa kept OSU out of the playoff. Even thought Alabama only lost 1 game, and had impressive wins over powerhouse teams like Mercer and Fresno State. The committee supposedly frowns on power 5 teams playing division 2 and lower teams.

    OSU played 3 teams in the final 16, while Bama played 3 ranked teams, 7 ,17 and 23.

    The Iowa loss will haunt the Buckeyes for what might have been, but they still deserved to be in the playoff.

  2. While I wanted the Buckeyes to get into the playoff, I can’t say I have a lot of issues with them not getting in given how they got boat-raced in Iowa. And since then we have wondered which OSU team is going to show up each game. Barrett did not look good against Wisky by almost any standard. Yes, he made a few good plays, but also some really poor plays with poor decisions. Missed some wide open receivers and left some points on the field. With another performance like that against Clemson, I’m almost glad we didn’t get in to be embarrassed again. I think it’s ours for the taking nest year given the last couple recruiting classes Meyer has put together.

  3. It would have been easier to accept missing out to USC than ‘Bama, simply because they are a Conference Champion. This year and last year, highlight the great issue with this sport and the fallacy that a CFB team is crowned a “Champion” each year, because it is not. ‘They’ PICK a Champion each year. CFB’s “Playoff” is no better than figure skating in the Olympics. Please remove the human element and stick with computers, like every respectable sport in the world.

  4. I look forward to OSU and the Big 10 getting a lot of vindication in this year’s bowl season. For once, we have not dragged the rest of the conference up another level in the bowl games by getting into the championship series. The Big 10 should do very well this year. On the other hand, I look forward to the SEC getting pounded. I strongly believe that Clemson will beat ‘Bama badly and the same will be true for Georgia, although who knows…there may be 200 points scored in that game. My only sadness is that the Buckeyes, Wiscy, or PSU won’t be able to ground Auburn into the dust, too. It will be an awful bowl season for the “vaunted” SEC. And believe me, if this plays out the way I think, this will be the best thing to happen in years for our Buckeyes, the Big 10, the PAC 10 and every other disrespected conference not named the SEC or ACC. And I don’t expect the ACC, except for Clemson, to do any better than the SEC these bowl games.

  5. Based on the CFP criteria we should have been in. We are a comparable team to Bama regardless what the committee says. The CFP comitee essentially makes up the rules as they go to fit there decisions. Vegas had the future spread OSU-Bama spread at -3. So how can you say Alabama was unequivocally better, and therefore disregard the conference title.
    People like to compare this situation to last year and Penn State. It’s completely different. The committee didnt take us as a non-champ to fit 2 big ten teams in. They took us over another big ten team. You cannot tell me that the SEC was so good this year that they needed two teams in the CFP. The big ten is supposedly one of the toughest if not toughest conference to play in. What happened yesterday was a sham.

  6. Clemson was “excused” for a horrible loss at Syracuse because they lost their starting QB for half the game. Ohio State on the road at their rival lost their starting QB down 6 points and the Buckeyes scored 17 unanswered points to win going away. Usually the “eye” test is conducted over how you are playing in the final weeks of the season, can any non-bias SEC loving person really say Alabama was playing better football over the last four games of the season than Ohio State? In college basketball the committee takes this type of situation into account, why not football? The difference in my opinion between Ohio State and anybody else in this discussion is the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball were dominating down the stretch, that would have been a difference in any game the Buckeyes would have played in the playoff.

  7. The committee got it right. Tell yourselves the truth, you really did not want to see Clemson blow out the Buckeyes in the semi-final game again, did you?

    1. Sounds like Stockholm Syndrome, Stan. Miami was gonna kill us in 2002, and ‘Bama in ’14 as well. Would you rather we didn’t show because we’d get our butts kicked there? Florida wasn’t supposed to hang with us in ’06 either. Let ’em play! We have to beat Clemson someday, why not this year?

  8. Tom- your points are accurate and lucid. There is a special dislike for the current committee’s pick because of the OSU’s fan base valid contempt for the SEC as a whole. There is no question that it is a dirty and overrated conference that, in reality, has been a conference of ONE team for many years now. Tow things hurt OSU more than the committee this year, however. The first was the HORRID loss to Iowa that was a combination of bloated coaching errors and performance. The second is that this year’s major college landscape is pretty unremarkable- its not a good year for stellar teams. Sounds like the committee hit the “default” setting for Alabama. If OSU beats Iowa, however, there’s no need to default. Its been a weird ride this entire season. Hope OSU can close against the University of Spoiled Children in a few weeks.


  10. Put it to bed! Unfortunately in a season that ended up being out for a playoff berth the Buckeyes fumbled the ball. They absolutely did not belong in the conversation for one simple reason……Iowa inexplicably beat the living hell out of them!!!! With this being the case why does any fan even care who the committee chose as the 4th team? Now if you want to debate 2015 when the coaches pissed the MSU game away then I’m all in.

    1. ^ Season that ended up being perfectly laid out….

  11. Is debatable whether OSU deserved a shot at #4. IMO Bama deserved no consideration, but other teams did. I guess we will see if they deserve it when they play. many believed the Bucks deserved no shot either in ’14 and OSU wiped the floor with everyone. The committee has picked at least one dud every year, but IMO they have also included the best team too every year. Something that the BCS was terrible at. OSU had plenty of chances to improve their ugliness and they didn’t. All they can do now is prove the committee wrong by kicking USC’s butt

  12. Best article written thus far on the topic. I’m sure that it won’t be the last. The litmus test of overcoming stumbles, regardless of how bad the stumble was should be measured in the last quarter of the season. Are they peaking at the right time…………………the real eye test because collections of young talents with limited contact and practice don’t mature at the same rate. BUT, by seasons ending that talent should be fairly well settled in. The weight of the eye test should be focused on a “what have you done for me lately to state your case” observation point of reference.

    The Buckeyes closed by wiping out Illinois, CRUSHING a top 15 MSU, beating our arch rival and WINNING the conference title on the arms and legs of a quarterback who had had surgery just 6 days earlier. Statistically that game wasn’t even close.

    Alabama struggled against an LSWHO team who had lost to lowly Troy. They followed up that rather dismal performance by ESCAPING against, regardless of what the clowns perennially rank them, a lousy Miss State team. Then they had a bye week………errr I mean they played a game against a REALLY awful FCS opponent Mercer (5-6 IN THE FREAKING FCS) and beating them. Those types of opponents are supposed to be frowned on for Power 5 schools, but apparently it’s what “passes the eye test” for morons on the CFB committee. They followed that bye week against their arch rival who kicked the daylights out of them. They put up such awe inspiring offensive numbers such as 314 total yards of offense and 14 points, while surrendering 408 yards of offense and 26 points to that arch rival. But that game was nowhere near as close as the score shows. Auburn kicked the snot out of Alabama in every phase of the game. Oh, and Auburn finished with 3 losses and SECOND in the SEC.

    Alabama HAD no case for the CFB playoff……PERIOD. Remove the overwhelming southern vote majority on that committee and Alabama is given nothing but a weak offered excuse attempt by those extremely biased MORONS.

    Their argument should have come down to 3 teams for that 4th spot. Ohio State, USC and, UCF. Had they discussed the SEC AT ALL beyond Georgia…….who actually DID earn it on the field, their comments would have and SHOULD have been centered on the Conference title runner-up, Auburn Tigers.

    There IS no case that the CFB committee got it right. Anyone offering up a case that they DID get it right is speaking ENTIRELY from the EXTREMES of political correctness and not on the fields results.

  13. Thank you, Tom. This is where Snooker was wrong in his evaluation. I attempted a counter-argument that was more centered on this season, but this is excellent stuff as well.

  14. repeat after me…”football by committee is political and will always favor the eye test”
    Ohio State didn’t pass the eye test this year because in games where JT Barrett was allowed to stay in after throwing 2 interceptions we always look horrible and flunk the eye test. Perhaps Urban will get a new pair of glasses next year.

    1. Alabama CERTAINLY did NOT pass the eye test. Nor did they have passing grades for the metrics the CFP committee lyingly states to adhere to.

      POLITICS and nothing more is why a good but not even VERY good Alabama team is in. The committee is dominated by votes from Southern Conference grads.

      The whole nonsense that Alabama was number one all year long is just that. Nonsense. BIAS, not an eye test placed them at number 1. While transitives alone don’t mean anything when comparing teams, they certainly do represent a point of evaluation. Over the last third of the season Alabama looked like C R A P. Ohio State on the other hand, smashed 2 opponents, and statistically dominated the last 2. One of which was ranked number 4 and a playoff LOCK if they could handle the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes rained on their parade by statistically dominating them and winning on the scoreboard with a QB who had just undergone surgery.

      EYE TEST? Alabama struggles against 2 weak conference opponents, plays a garbage level FCS opponent and gets the snot kicked out them to end their regular season.

      You have major issues if you think Alabama passed some abstract notion of eye test.

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