BEN STANFIELD/ CC BY-SA 2.0 Penn State won nine straight games and the Big Ten Championship.
This past Sunday, the College Football Playoff committee got together for a final time in order to decide which four teams would make it to the third annual College Football Playoff.
In the end, the choice came down to six teams: the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, the Clemson University Fighting Tigers, the Ohio State Buckeyes, the University of Washington Huskies, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the University of Michigan Wolverines. The decision was a difficult one, but in the end, they got it wrong.
The Committee decided to give Alabama the number one seed, Clemson the number two seed and Ohio State the number three seed. Washington got the final spot at number four. While the consensus was that Alabama should be the number one seed, everything after that was up in the air entering Sunday.
The number two seeded Clemson Tigers, who were ranked number three behind Ohio State the week before, were definitely the second most solid lock-in for the playoffs after Alabama.
Going 12-1 and winning the Atlantic Coast Conference for the second straight year, Clemson barely held on to the Conference title against a lackluster Virginia Tech team by the score of 42-35. They had by far the easiest matchup last weekend, and yet the game was close for the entirety of the second half.
Skipping over the number three seeded Ohio State Buckeyes (more on them later), the number four seeded Washington Huskies, representing the Pac-12 conference, surprised and upset many people. While they were 12-1, with their only loss coming against a surging University of Southern California team, their out of Conference strength of schedule was absolutely atrocious, ranking 127th in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
However, with strong wins against Washington State, Stanford, Utah and a convincing win over Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game, the Huskies deserved to make the playoff.
Now we can talk about the three Big Ten East schools that were in the hunt for a playoff spot. The team chosen, the Ohio State Buckeyes, was the least deserving of the three teams. When comparing the Buckeyes to the Nittany Lions, the first thing any committee should look at is the head-to-head matchup in which Penn State won, even without their team leader in sacks at the time. Penn State leader and defensive end Garrett Sickels was suspended for the first half of the game.
After looking at teams’ matchup, the next logical place to look would be the Conference results. There, Ohio State not only lost the Big Ten East to Penn State, but Penn State pulled out an impressive come from behind victory over then number six University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers to win the conference.
All things weighing completely in Penn State’s favor, it is astounding that the committee could say Ohio State is better. The only explanation is in the final team we have to discuss: the University of Michigan Wolverines.
Throughout the year, the Crimson Tide and the Wolverines were the two powerhouses in college football. They seemed light years ahead of all other teams across the country. The only hiccup Michigan had was their loss to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes by one point.
While the loss seems significant, when you consider that Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight played the end of the game with a broken collarbone and they still almost won, it makes a lot more sense.
In the decisive game between Michigan and Ohio State, Speight was not even supposed to be an option, yet he played with his broken collarbone and allowed Michigan to lead most of the game in the most hostile environment in college football.
Michigan ended up losing in double overtime after a fourth and one run by Ohio State was deemed a first down, though replays show the ball may have been short. A game like that is as good as a tie in the eyes of most fans.
Nevertheless, if you consider the two teams playing on a neutral field with a healthier Speight, it seems obvious that Michigan wins that football game.
Now that Ohio State is out of the picture, it comes down to Michigan and Penn State for the final playoff spot; a decision that comes down to splitting hairs. While Michigan dominated the head-to-head, winning 49-10, that was against a different Penn State team. They were hurt by injuries and had not found their identity yet. Still, a loss that bad cannot be completely disregarded.
The current Penn State team that won their final nine games, averaging 40 points per game, would most definitely fare better against Michigan than the previous confused 2-1 team that played them early in the year. But the big question is, would they win?
This is a very tough question to answer, and it is the question the College Football Playoff committee should have asked instead of booking Ohio State’s ticket as soon as they beat a beleaguered Michigan team.
The Playoff system was implemented three years ago to replace the flawed Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system, which never seemed to get the two best teams into the championship. Under the BCS system, a late loss was the nail in the coffin for teams that had dominated all year. The conditions under which a game was won was never taken under consideration.
One would think the Playoff System was implemented to fix these flaws, yet in just the third year of the system, a team that is not deserving of the top four teams in the country made it into the playoffs over two more qualified teams.
While the playoff games will decide who is deemed National Champions, the selection by the committee to snub Penn State and Michigan will only leave people asking, “What if?”