By: Rajan Nanavati
While the saying goes that assumptions are the mother of all mistakes (with “mistakes” being a far more appropriate version of what’s usually & colloquially said), for the sake of argument, let’s assume that everything goes to plan next Saturday, when it comes to each conference championship.
That would mean that Alabama beats Georgia to secure the SEC title, Oklahoma defeats Texas to secure the Big 12, and Ohio State beats Northwestern to earn their third Big 10 championship in five years (and, of course, Clemson wraps up the ACC by beating Pittsburgh). Assuming that all happens, that would effectively give Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame three of the spots in the four-team College Football Playoffs.
So then, who gets the fourth spot?
Ohio State was ranked 10th in the last college football playoffs rankings, and Oklahoma was ranked 6th. Michigan will be moving down this week, and assuming all of the above takes place, so will Georgia.
That would basically open the door for a debate as to whether the College Football Playoffs Selection Committee should give Ohio State or Oklahoma the coveted #4 ranking, and the last spot in college football’s “final four.”
Head to head, the two programs have similar resumes. Both teams finished with one in-conference loss, and both teams beat the highest-ranked opponent in their conference (WVU for Oklahoma, and Michigan for Ohio State). Oklahoma has two wins against teams that were ranked at the time, whereas Ohio State has four. But Ohio State is 2-0 against teams ranked today, whereas Oklahoma is 2-1.
Whether or not the selection committee will ever admit this, but the potential storylines – and marketing opportunities – for a given team being given that last spot will almost certainly be a factor.
Let’s say Ohio State gets the final spot in the playoffs; that would mean they play the Crimson Tide. The storylines around an Alabama vs. Ohio State rematch are just too tempting. The Buckeyes defeated the Crimson Tide in the inaugural college football playoffs, en route to winning the National Championship; this game could be marketed as a rematch or revenge game. It would tap into the heated debate as to whether football in the southern or midwestern region of the United States is superior. And it would pit two of the most beloved and/or reviled – depending on where you stand – coaches in all of college football (Nick Saban and Urban Meyer).
But an Alabama vs. Oklahoma matchup might be just as interesting. Imagine the chance to match up Saban’s Iron Curtain-like defense against Lincoln Riley’s western shootout-style offense. And it doesn’t hurt that you’d also have two of the finalists for the 2018 Heisman Trophy leading their respective teams, in Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray.
Saturday evening should be a hell of a day for football, even if there’s the melancholy note that it’s the last time we’ll see many of our favorite teams play a meaningful game in 2018. But if all goes the way we think it should on Saturday, it’s going to open up one hell of a debate as well.