The four teams that will compete for a national championship in college football this year are set, and to the surprise of no one, there was some controversy regarding the team that got the fourth spot. Here is how the ranking of the teams in the title hunt break down:
Let’s start with all the non-controversial stuff first. Oklahoma and Georgia will face off in the Rose Bowl in a game that should be an absolute banger. It will kick off at 5 p.m. EST on New Year’s Day, and you should clear your schedule to watch it. Don’t put too terribly much in the seeding of the teams — it’s important for jersey colors and who calls the coin toss — because this should be about as evenly-matched of a semifinal as you’ll find.
Georgia may possess the nastiest defense in college football, as the Bulldogs fly around like crazy and make plays at all three levels of the defense. It will go up against overwhelming Heisman Trophy favorite Baker Mayfield and a Sooner offense that is the best in America. The other side of the ball won’t be as fun, Georgia’s rushing attack is fun even if the team has its limitations in the air and Oklahoma’s defense is best described as “porous,” but watching Mayfield spin it against the Bulldogs is going to be hot fire.
Clemson as the one seed makes sense, too. Outside of the fact that they were Syracuse’s one inexplicable win of the year (in a game where starting QB Kelly Bryant got hurt), they have been consistently very good all season, have a laundry list of impressive wins, play defense as well as anyone in the country, and also won a national title last year. In a year where there’s not one “great” team, it makes sense to throw the very good defending champions in at the one.
They’re going to head to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day at 8 p.m. As for their opponent, that’s where the controversy comes in: The Crimson Tide got the 4-seed over Ohio State. This is kind of groundbreaking, as the committee is putting two teams from the same conference in the Playoff for the first time ever.
It’s also controversial because it’s a two-loss conference champion being left out for a one-loss team that didn’t compete for a conference title. (Ironically enough, this happened last year with the Buckeyes getting in over Penn State, which won the Big Ten but had two losses on its résumé.)
There’s no explicitly wrong answer here — by S&P+, these are the two best teams in America — but you can make a case for either squad. Both are loaded up with five-star talent and are well-coached, and while Ohio State has the better offense, Alabama has the better defense. Really this came down to a matter of scheduling.
Alabama ain’t played nobody. Their signature wins are beating a down LSU squad by 14 at home and surviving a trip to Starkville against Mississippi State. The best team they played was Auburn, who beat them by 12 in a game that wasn’t that close. Ohio State has wins over Penn State and Wisconsin, but it also got trucked at home by Oklahoma and lost by 31 to Iowa in Iowa City for some wholly inexplicable reason. The committee decided with this that the Buckeyes’ losses were more important than the Crimson Tide’s lack of wins.
And then there is the fact that we saw both of these teams play Clemson in the postseason last year. The Buckeyes lost to the Tigers in a semifinal, 31-0. The Crimson Tide lost in the title game, 35-31, on a last-second touchdown in what might have been the best title game ever that did not involve Vince Young. One of these, on face value, sounds far more appealing than the other.
So yeah, we have a Playoff, and it is going to rule. The Rose Bowl is a classic matchup of offense vs. defense, while the Sugar Bowl is a rematch of last year’s championship game. While the Playoff expanding as soon as possible would be great — it would lead to more college football, which is as good of a thing as there is in the world — getting to watch these four teams battle it out for a title should still be a ton of fun.