By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
On Monday the college football world will have its eyes on Alabama and Clemson again. For the fourth straight year the Crimson Tide will meet the Tigers in the College Football Playoff and play for the national title for the third time in that span.
Meanwhile three schools that felt they should’ve had the right to challenge the two highest powers in the sport were playing bowl games on New Year’s Day. UCF faced LSU in the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State made its first Rose Bowl appearance under Urban Meyer against Washington, and Georgia found itself in the Sugar Bowl against Texas.
And at day’s end, one thing is clear: the selection committee got it right.
Sure, neither semifinal game last Saturday was competitive with the exception of the first quarter of Clemson’s win over Notre Dame, but only two semifinals in the history of the playoff have been decided by one score (and Ohio State’s win over Alabama in 2014 wasn’t in doubt in the fourth quarter).
Let’s start with the Golden Knights, who finished a second consecutive regular season without a loss. UCF overcame the loss of quarterback McKenzie Milton to win the American and earn a New Year’s Six berth against LSU. However, UCF couldn’t take enough advantage over LSU’s depleted secondary and had its 25-game win streak snapped in a 40-32 loss to the Tigers.
Nobody doubts UCF’s ability to be competitive with some of the nation’s best, but to break the Group of 5 barrier, the Golden Knights needed a trademark win this year and they didn’t get it. None of UCF’s wins came against a team that finished in the final College Football Playoff rankings.
Fans in Orlando want to claim that having a healthy Milton would’ve made a difference? Oklahoma replaced its quarterback this year and didn’t miss a beat on offense. Alabama lost its quarterback in its biggest game of the season and still overcame a 14-point deficit against a top five team. Notre Dame and Clemson made changes at quarterback midseason.
Playoff-caliber teams are loaded. They find ways to beat the teams that are elite and crush the teams that aren’t. UCF doesn’t do either of those things. Its playoff argument is invalid.
Ohio State sent Meyer into retirement with a win in the Rose Bowl, but any playoff case Buckeye fans could make is voided by a 29-point loss to Purdue back in October.
Would Ohio State have been more competitive against Clemson than Notre Dame? Maybe, but the committee has made it clear for the second straight season that a lopsided loss to a mediocre conference opponent can have serious consequences.
Georgia was easily one of the best four teams in the country and the biggest threat to either Alabama or Clemson had it reached the playoff, but the Bulldogs blew a 14-point second half lead to the Tide in the SEC Championship and suffered a 20-point loss to LSU earlier in the regular season.
Fans in Athens were crying foul that their team would’ve been a better choice than Oklahoma or Notre Dame. That’s likely correct, but a resume has to mean something. To say Georgia didn’t get a fair shake is untrue. Georgia dominated Alabama for three quarters. Don’t choke. Georgia did. The committee decided the Bulldogs had their chance and they didn’t take it. Calling a fake punt at midfield in a tie game probably didn’t help.
After seeing Notre Dame and Oklahoma get humiliated in the semifinal it would be easy to think Georgia would blow out Texas as a statement to the world that the committee had made a mistake. Instead Georgia’s offense took three quarters to wake up and fell in a hole too big to climb out of in a loss to the Longhorns.
Georgia fans will blame the loss on a lack of motivation due to missing out on the playoff, but there’s no argument to be had if a team goes out and loses to a three-loss Texas team that barely beat Kansas.
When TCU was jumped by Ohio State for the final playoff spot back in 2014 the Horned Frogs didn’t flake on the bowl game. Instead TCU responded by destroying a top ten Ole Miss squad in the Peach Bowl.
Oklahoma and Notre Dame may not have been clear top four teams, but they had two of the best four seasons in college football.
Notre Dame catches flack for not playing in a conference, but the Irish still scheduled ten Power 5 opponents this year, eight of which went to bowl games. Three of Notre Dame’s other opponents USC, Florida State and Navy had unexpectedly down years. That’s not Notre Dame’s fault.
Oklahoma had the number one offense in the country, a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and avenged its only loss of the season against Texas. The Sooners were capable of scoring on anybody.
So congrats to Oklahoma and Notre Dame on reaching the College Football Playoff and better luck next year to UCF, Georgia and Ohio State. For now, you have no one to blame but yourselves.
Enjoy Alabama-Clemson, Part IV on Monday.