The College Football Playoff has been around long enough that its selection committee now has a significant body of work in picking teams.
How’s it done so far? Let’s go year by year and see where the committee got things right with selecting the four teams, and where it missed on others.
The first year had drama, as the committee leapfrogged No. 5 Ohio State in the top four on Selection Sunday, leaving Big 12 co-champs TCU and Baylor on the outside. The committee justified this by pointing out the magnitude of OSU’s 59-point win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, while TCU and Baylor finished out the remainder of their Big 12 regular season schedules with wins that weren’t notable.
Did the committee seem right at the time? Not everyone was happy, and some accused the ESPN-broadcasted Playoff of favoring the big-name Buckeyes over two private schools, but yes. The Buckeyes played the tougher schedule, won more games, and had arguably the most impressive win of any team in the entire season.
Did bowl results change anything about that? On the one hand, the Buckeyes vindicated the committee by winning the Playoff, as Baylor lost to a Michigan State the Buckeyes had beaten. On the other, TCU destroyed Ole Miss and finished No. 3 in the AP, making the Playoff look like it just had one spot too few that year.
The committee had less drama this year, giving Playoff bids to undefeated Clemson and three one-loss Power 5 champs: Alabama, Michigan State, and Oklahoma.
Did the committee seem right at the time? Sure. This was the easiest field so far. The only other one-loss teams (Iowa and Ohio State) both lost to Michigan State, which made it in. A two-loss Pac-12 champion Stanford didn’t have much of a case, either.
Did bowl results change anything about this? Not all that much. Alabama went on to defeat Clemson in a thrilling national championship game. OSU went on to defeat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, and Iowa got drubbed by Stanford. Although Ohio State looked better than MSU at the end of the year, that didn’t really matter on Selection Sunday.
But the Peach Bowl did give some foreshadowing with how the committee would handle mid-major teams. 12-1 Houston was ranked just No. 18, but then dominated Florida State.
A lot of two- and three-loss teams ending up in the final Playoff top 25 made the final four a bit less surprising, but there was still a good bit of controversy. Undefeated Alabama and one-loss Clemson, Ohio State, and Washington got bids.
Did the committee seem right at the time? Not everyone thought so. The other team that had a case to be in was Penn State. The Nittany Lions were Big Ten champions. However, Penn State lost two games, one of them by 39 points. (The next year, the Playoff committee would follow the same logic in another high-profile decision involving Ohio State.)
Did bowl results change anything about this? How the Buckeyes did in the Playoff didn’t help. Clemson handed Urban Meyer his first shutout loss of his head coaching career in the semifinal. Penn State lost by a field goal to USC in an epic Rose Bowl. Sure, PSU-Clemson could’ve been a better semifinal matchup, in hindsight.
Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Alabama all made it in as one-loss teams. For the first time, the committee included two teams from the same conference — Georgia defeated Auburn to win the SEC, whereas Alabama’s only loss came vs. the Tigers in the Iron Bowl. The Tide were the second non-conference champ to make the field, after 2016 OSU.
Did the committee seem right at the time? Yes, but many fans of two-loss Big Ten champion Ohio State were upset the one-loss, non-champ Tide got in ahead of them. (Many blamed ESPN, which had gotten blamed for OSU beating out Baylor and TCU in ‘14.) To the committee, a 12-1 Bama’s resume was stronger than OSU’s, even with its Big Ten Championship win over Wisconsin. The Buckeyes lost too many games, one of them by 31 points.
Did bowl results change anything about this? Bama beat Georgia in the national championship game, justifying the committee’s bid to a non-conference champion. Ohio State defeated USC in the Cotton Bowl. The Tide winning it all cost the argument that OSU should’ve had the spot a bit of its luster.
Where the committee really missed was with the undefeated UCF Knights. The highest they climbed all season was 12th. 12th! The committee gave UCF a Peach Bowl bid against Auburn, and the Knights began their national championship claim after a 34-27 win.
This year’s final four teams were not surprising, but there was a good bit of debate about the No. 4 spot: Should it have gone to Oklahoma, Georgia, or Ohio State?
Did the committee seem right at the time? Pretty much. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma all made it in, despite Georgia’s impressive (losing) effort against the Tide in the SEC Championship. Big Ten champion Ohio State was also left out, despite finishing 12-1, but a blowout loss to Purdue cost the Buckeyes. OU only lost one game, but it was by 3 points to Texas instead of 29 to Purdue, and the Sooners later avenged it.
Georgia was one of the country’s four best teams, but not one of the most deserving, because it lost too many games. The committee did screw up its Peach and Fiesta Bowl pairings, and it again didn’t much respect UCF, but the top four was fair.
Did bowl results change anything about that? We’ll just have to wait and see!
Georgia will get Texas in the Sugar Bowl, with Ohio State facing Washington in the Rose Bowl. Undefeated UCF will face LSU in the Peach Bowl. If the Knights win, they could claim another title, and Playoff expansion talk might only get louder.