There hasn’t been a day since the College Football Playoff system was designed when a good argument hasn’t broken out. So why should have Tuesday been any different.
For the first time this season, the committee in charge of deciding who will play in this year’s Final Four offered its opinion. And frankly it should have been enough to drive fans of defending champion Clemson crazy.
The Tigers are unbeaten this season. They have defeated opponents by an average of 32.5 points and have a top-four team in total offense and total defense. What’s more, they have won 24 straight games. But they are ranked No. 5 by the committee.
“It just doesn’t matter one bit to me,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “What if they tell us we’re No. 1? Are we going to have a parade? We’re not having a pizza party. It just doesn’t matter. If we’re No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 15, it just doesn’t matter. It’s not worth the brain cells.
“I know this, there’s only seven undefeated teams left and we’re one of them. So we’ve got a chance. If we stay focused and committed and do the things that win this time of year, then we’ll have a chance to be in the conversation.”
If you want a reason for Clemson’s current ranking you can point to the Tigers game at North Carolina on Sept. 28. The Tar Heels played inspired and nearly knocked them off, losing 21-20 in the most entertaining game of the Atlantic Coast Conference season.
So despite winning their four games since (Florida State, Louisville, Boston College and Wofford) by at least 31 points, its clear the committee used style points as the criteria for its decision.
Ohio State, LSU, Alabama and Penn State are all ranked ahead of the Tigers, even though they received seven first-place votes in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll, where it is currently ranked No. 4 ahead the Nittany Lions.
There is no doubt Ohio State is the best team in the nation behind quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young, who has a chance to be the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy since Charles Woodson at Michigan in 1997.
And there is no way to denigrate LSU which has already defeated Auburn, Texas and Florida.
Even now without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama has given the selection committee no reason to doubt it.
But Penn State? The Nittany Lions have some nice wins over Iowa and Michigan. Still, its hard to understand how they could be allowed to leapfrog a defending champion without a defeat.
“After Week 10, the committee felt Penn State was a notch above,” Rob Mullens, the chairman of the committee and the athletic director at Oregon said on ESPN.
Still, there is no reason for Clemson to be overly concerned. There is a lot of defining football to be played and never in the history of the College Football Playoff have all the teams ranked in the first poll advanced to the Final Four.
Something will happen. Something always happens.
Let’s begin on Saturday when LSU and Alabama will play in Tuscaloosa. The winner will have a clear path to the SEC Championship game. But if Alabama loses, its chance of representing the West division in that game will be all but gone since LSU would rise above it.
Also, if you look at the history of the playoff poll, you’ll notice how slippery a slope the third seed has been. Last year’s No. 3 (LSU) eventually lost to Alabama. In 2017, No. 3 Notre Dame slipped out after a loss to Miami.
In two weeks, Ohio State and Penn State will play in Columbus. That will be the biggest game in Penn State’s recent history. It’s fair to say if the Nittany Lions win, and then survive the Big Ten title game, they will be a sure bet to make it.
The loser of that game will likely face expulsion because you figure there is no way Clemson is going to lose again, unless you think Wake Forest or South Carolina can give it a game.
And imagine what would happen once Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama or LSU suffers their first loss. Does that mean the committee might then reconsider No. 6 Georgia, which already has lost to South Carolina at home (in double overtime), if it wins the SEC Championship?
Meanwhile, it doesn’t seem as if there’s any chance for a team ranked lower than Georgia to get into the playoff at this point. Too many things would have to happen to too many teams and that’s not likely.
We still have a month for this to play out. The committee’s final ranking will be announced on Dec. 8. So there is plenty of time for Clemson, with the help of a few others, to grab its spot in another playoff.
“We had a lengthy discussion about Penn State and Clemson. Two really, really good teams. Both strong defensively,” said Mullens. “But in the end, what it came down to, and again, much debate, (was) Penn State has the marquee wins against 14th-ranked Michigan and a road win at 18th-ranked Iowa. In addition, they have a nonconference win over Pitt, which is a pretty good win at this point.
“So sure, the close (Clemson) win over North Carolina is a factor, because we’re looking at the entire résumé. And what we see with Clemson is an impressive team.”
Just not good enough right now.