By Joel Silverberg
The fourth College Football Playoff is in the rearview mirror. The new format for determining college football’s national champion has now gone through a full graduating class. What’s to make of the Playoff at this point? How has the selection committee performed? Here’s a recap of the first four years.
2014: Freshman Year
Who got in: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State.
Who was left out: Baylor and TCU.
The no-brainers: Alabama lost to Ole Miss, but won eight straight games, including five against ranked opponents, to go 12-1 and win the SEC. Oregon lost to Arizona, but beat the Wildcats in the Pac-12 title game to finish 12-1. Florida State was unimpressive despite going 13-0, but a reigning national champion that returns a Heisman Trophy winner and finishes undefeated in a Power 5 conference isn’t missing the Playoff.
The controversy: Ohio State was behind both Baylor and TCU in the CFP rankings leading up to its Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, but the Big 12’s decision to name the Bears and Horned Frogs co-champions was ultimately the conference’s undoing. Combine that with the Buckeyes 59-0 smackdown of the Badgers and the selection committee didn’t have much of a choice.
Did the committee get it right: Yes. Thanks to the Big 12 refusing to name a single conference champion the committee had an out to take neither Baylor nor TCU. It helps the committee’s case that Ohio State went on to win the national title that year.
Committee grade: B+. The committee gets a pass due to the Big 12’s blunder. Florida State may not have been one of the top four teams in the country this year, but going undefeated kept the Seminoles in the Playoff.
2015: Sophomore Year
Who got in: Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma.
Who was left out: Nobody.
The no-brainers: The situation could’ve potentially been chaotic for the committee, but Clemson went undefeated, Alabama won the SEC (again), Michigan State beat Ohio State on its way to a Big Ten title and Oklahoma won the Big 12 as an 11-1 team.
The controversy: There wasn’t any. Iowa lost to Michigan State in a win-and-get-in Big Ten title game. Stanford and Notre Dame both had two losses. Ohio State lost to Michigan State in the regular season.
Did the committee get it right: Yes. The next three teams that had a case for the Playoff all had clear red flags against them. Notre Dame and Stanford both had two losses and Ohio State lost to Michigan State in the regular season.
Committee grade: A-. It’s an easy A, but an A nonetheless. The committee had the four most complete resumes fall right into its lap.
2016: Junior Year
Who got in: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Washington.
Who was left out: Penn State.
The no-brainers: Alabama went undefeated and won the SEC (yes, again). Clemson overcame a loss to Pittsburgh to win the ACC and finish 12-1. Washington shook off a late loss to USC by pounding a ranked Washington State team and crushing a top ten Colorado team by 31 points in the Pac-12 title game.
The controversy: First, there’s the pink elephant in the room. Penn State beat Ohio State head-to-head, but the Nittany Lions early loss to Pittsburgh and blowout defeat to Michigan was what the committee pointed to keep Penn State out of the Playoff. Penn State went on to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game while the Buckeyes sat at home and watched. Second, the committee slid Ohio State ahead of Washington in the final rankings despite the Huskies being a conference champion while Ohio State was not.
Did the committee get it right: No. Penn State’s head-to-head win over the Buckeyes and conference championship ultimately meant nothing at all. To make the committee look even more foolish, Ohio State was shutout by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
Committee grade: D+. The committee gets a passing grade, but lucked out by Clemson and Alabama playing one of the most thrilling national title games of all time. The best four teams weren’t in the Playoff, but the best two teams certainly played for the championship this season.
2017: Senior Year
Who got in: Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia , Alabama.
Who was left out: Ohio State.
The no-brainers: Clemson shook off a loss to Syracuse to pummel Miami in the ACC title game. Oklahoma beat TCU for the second time to win the Big12. Georgia avenged its only loss of the season against Auburn in the SEC Championship game.
The controversy: Ohio State had just won the Big Ten by beating Wisconsin. Alabama didn’t win its division after losing to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The Buckeyes lost by two scores to Oklahoma early and then were crushed by Iowa later in the year. The committee chose the Tide, likely citing Ohio State’s second loss as the determining factor.
Did the committee get it right: Yes. Unlike the previous season the two teams in question didn’t play one another. Alabama’s lone loss was against a top ten team on the road. Both of Ohio State’s losses were one-sided. A case couldn’t be made for the Buckeyes to be one of the top four teams in the country. Alabama followed up its selection by handling Clemson and knocking off Georgia in the title game for its fifth crown in nine years.
Committee grade: A. College football fans finally got to enjoy multiple good games in the same Playoff. The National Championship went to overtime for the first time in the Playoff era. What really helps the committee is for the first time in the Playoff’s four years a case could’ve been made for any of the four teams to win it all. That couldn’t have been said for Florida State, Michigan State or Washington in previous years.