By: Jonathan Goad
With the Conference Championship games complete, the bracket is now set for the final weeks of the NCAA football season.
Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma are the top four rankings and will compete for the National Championship. Alabama will face Oklahoma in the semi-finals, and Clemson will face Notre Dame.
Just missing the cut was Georgia and Ohio State, both who could argue they deserve to be in the playoffs.
Did the voters get this right?
Let’s start with the teams who are in.
There’s no doubting that Alabama and Clemson are the two best teams in the country.
The Crimson Tide (13-0) have dominated opponents all season long with the lone exception being this past weekend in the SEC Title game. The Tide came from behind to beat Georgia 35-28. This was their only game that the final score was within single digits. Let that sink in. The Tide also beat four ranked opponents (at the time of the game) and shut out two of them, LSU and Mississippi State.
Clemson (13-0) only had two games within single digits. The Tigers snuck away with a two point win over then unranked Texas A&M. They also only beat Syracuse, who was also unranked at the time, by four. Every other game was lopsided in the Tigers favor. Clemson beat two ranked opponents on the year.
The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are 12-0, so it’s hard to argue that they shouldn’t be in the CFP. The Irish seemed to play better against ranked opponents as three of their four victories against ranked teams were won by double digits. The only exception was a seven-point win over 14th ranked (at the time) Michigan in the season opener. Notre Dame beat 7th ranked Stanford 38-17, 24th ranked Virginia Tech 45-23, and 12th ranked Syracuse 36-3.
It’s safe to say the top three teams in the College Football Playoffs are correct. However, the fourth and final spot is where things get debatable.
As previously mentioned, the Oklahoma Sooners (12-1) were voted into the fourth and final spot after they defeated rival Texas in the Big 12 Championship game. The Sooners only played three ranked teams this season, Texas twice and West Virginia. The Sooners only loss came at the hands of Texas 48-45. The biggest difference between Oklahoma and the rest of the teams in the CFP is on defense. The Sooners give up a ton of points. But in their defense, they score a ton of points. Are they worthy of the final spot? The voters think so. A few teams would say no.
The fifth ranked Georgia Bulldogs (11-2) would be the first to make an argument. They played six ranked opponents this season going 4-2 against those teams. They lost to 13th ranked LSU 36-13 and Bama in the SEC title game 35-28. With the exception of those two losses, the Bulldogs were as dominant as any team in the nation. Even Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban said he wouldn’t want to play Georgia again. He won’t have to because the Dogs didn’t make it into the CFP. Georgia’s case would be much stronger had they not lost to LSU. It could still be argued that they’re among the best teams in college football, however.
The sixth ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1) know exactly where they went wrong. Their 49-20 loss to Purdue proved to be extremely costly. The Buckeyes beat all five of the ranked opponents they played this season and were very dominant in the vast majority of their games. If the Big Ten champs wouldn’t have lost their one game, they’re a no brainer to be in the CFP. They only have themselves to blame.
The seventh ranked Michigan Wolverines (10-2) have a case, but it’s not nearly as strong as Georgia’s or Ohio State’s and maybe not as strong as the next team on this list. Michigan only lost two games this season, their first and last. As mentioned earlier, the Wolverines lost to Notre Dame 24-17. They then lost to archrival Ohio State 62-39. Michigan went 3-2 against ranked opponents this season, and the two losses were costly and poorly timed. Not playing in the Big Ten Championship game also hurt the Wolverines.
The University of Central Florida gets absolutely no love. The eighth ranked Knights went 12-0 on the season and have now won 25 straight games. They went undefeated in back-to-back years and missed out on the CFP in both seasons. The issue is obvious, strength of schedule. The Knights have only played three ranked opponents in the past two seasons. Sure, UCF has dominated their conference, but they’d be no match for the likes of Bama, Clemson, or Notre Dame.
With only four teams making the College Football Playoffs, there’s always going to be a few teams who feel like they got snubbed. This year is no exception. I’m still a believer in expanding the field to eight teams. That would give UCF the chance they desire even thought they’d get destroyed by Alabama in the first round if they went off this season’s rankings.
With all that said, I’m perfectly fine with the four teams who made the CFP. A Bama-Georgia rematch would be a lot of fun, but it’ll be interesting to watch the Oklahoma offense face the Bama defense. Fans of the teams who just missed out will likely be upset, but enjoy college football for a few more weeks, then try again next year.