The conference championship weekend was an opportunity for the college football playoff committee, isolated in front of a bank of televisions in the Grapevine, Texas hotel, to evaluate the contenders for the national championship.
Basically, Georgia looked like the favorite. Michigan looked mostly like a contender. The Texas Christian looked flawed but playful. Southern California looked burdened with the Utah issue (and another Lincoln Riley defense).
But Alabama, which was an integral part of this weekend, was nowhere to be found. (For that matter, neither Ohio State, nor Tennessee, nor any fault on Clemson’s part to Dabo Sweeney over his choice of quarterback this season.) Bryce Young didn’t scatter passes all over the field, Will Anderson Jr. didn’t terrorize opposing quarterback, and Kool-Aid McKinstry did not zigzag upfield as the punt returned.
This is not to say that Crimson Tide is unheard of.
In fact, Alabama coach Nick Saban was everywhere on Saturday. There he was on ESPN, then on Fox at halftime of the Big Ten Championship. CBS seemed to pass on his talking points – all arguing that Alabama, with two losses and no quality wins, should be in this season’s playoffs because:
Alabama has won its last three games. (So did Washington and Tulane.)
Alabama didn’t deflate at the end of the season. (So did the state of Utah or the state of Kansas, which won their conferences, too.)
Alabama has played five games on the road. (And lost two of them.)
Alabama’s loss was due to its quarterback Young playing painfully. (The Ohio State loss came without the best receiver and running back.)
Alabama would be the bookmakers’ choice. (As well as the choice of television executives, the SEC commissioner, Alabama elected officials, and nine out of every 10 Paul Finebaum radio show hosts.)
Ultimately, however, the committee looked to Alabama and saw a team that was just as flawed as Saban’s arguments, leaving the Crimson Tide with two losses aside for only the second time in nine seasons in a four-team playoff format. .
As expected, Georgia retained the top spot on Sunday after beating Louisiana State on Saturday. Georgia will play Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. Michigan, who went undefeated after beating Purdue on Saturday night, will play Texas Christian, who suffered his only loss of the season on Saturday in overtime against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Both semi-final games are scheduled for December 31st.
The winners will play for the championship on January 9 in Inglewood, California.
The Texas Christian, where grudges are not forgotten, made little secret of his uneasiness after Sabbath’s defeat. Coach Sonny Dykes was afraid to enter a beauty pageant involving blue bloods, such as the states of Ohio and Alabama. In 2014, Ohio State overtook the Horned Frogs for last place when the Buckeyes trashed Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and the Big 12 had no championship game.
“I hope we get into the tournament and get a chance to compete for the national championship,” Dykes said late Saturday night. “We wanted to do it ourselves today. We didn’t want anyone to make that decision.”
Saban, while not naming a team, seemed to be pointing not to the Horned Frogs but to Ohio State.
It’s hard to know if Saban was really talking to the committee – or just trying to calm down his fans, who could be justifiably grumpy that a team that almost won a second championship in a row last season in a recovery year couldn’t even make it out of the SEC West. with a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and an all-star defense.
One moment Saban made has some historical weight: a crushing loss at the end of a season is often a harbinger of what lies ahead. The exception may have come last year, when No. 1 Georgia was handily beaten by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game 41-24, but made the playoffs as the No. 3 team, bulldozed Michigan in the semi-finals, and avenged Alabama’s title loss. match.
But in the 2020 pandemic season, Notre Dame lost to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game and failed to match Alabama in the semi-finals.
In 2003, Oklahoma was choked out by Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game 35-7 and earned a spot in the title game of the Bowl Championship Series, which it lost to Louisiana State in a defensive struggle. That season, USC, whose only loss was in overtime to Cal, and its then-unknown quarterback Aaron Rodgers, were sidelined. When the Trojans convincingly beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl, they received writers’ votes, finishing first in an Associated Press poll.
And in 2001, Nebraska lost to Colorado 62–36 in the regular season finale, but was given a title game spot where it could not match against Miami. Despite being second in all three polls, Oregon State, with one loss, was delisted because it suffered in the computer rankings, which was a component of the BCS.
That doesn’t bode well for Ohio State, which lost at home to Michigan rivals two weeks ago, losing 252 yards in the rush 45-23.
But someone has to play the defending champion, Georgia, in a game close to the Atlanta home game, and so the committee decided the Buckeyes would play.