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Reaction to the 2017 College Football Playoff Field

J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
After over three months of fall Saturdays, primetime duels and a decent amount of controversy we have arrived at the culmination of the 2017 college football regular season, and the releasing of the four teams competing for the national title. Unsurprisingly, Clemson locked down the top seed following a dominating ACC Championship win over Miami, Oklahoma came in at number two with the SEC Champ Georgia rounding out the top three. The final spot was where the big debate was set to happen: would the two-loss Big Ten Champ Ohio State get in or could one-loss Alabama make their fourth straight Playoff bid? In the end, the Tide gained the final spot in the four-team field, surprising more than a few folks. Once again, the move by the Selection Committee makes the qualifications to make the Playoff even more unclear, and indicates just how hard it is to make it into the sport's most exclusive club.

The debate between Ohio State and Alabama for the fourth and final spot was clear, even if Alabama wasn't going to get a chance to play in a conference championship field. The Buckeyes win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship clearly proved that Ohio State was the top team in the conference, and showed their potential when they were fully healthy. Ohio State also seemed to have a stronger resume, which included victories over Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State and a nine game conference schedule (the SEC only plays eight, which is why Alabama played Mercer late in the season). Yet, that doesn't mean the Buckeyes weren't without downsides. They were dominated in the non-conference at home by Oklahoma and also went on the road and lost to 31 to Iowa, who ended up 7-5 and under .500 in the conference. On the other hand, Alabama owned a better record and did beat a fully healthy Florida State in the opener, but were dominated by an Auburn team that went out and looked flat against Georgia in the SEC Championship. The Tide were also hurt by a resume that lacked much substance beyond wins over LSU and Mississippi State. The Selection Committee still decided that Alabama deserved the last spot, which again throws the Playoff system into question. In 2014, we learned how much the Committee seemed to value conference championships when Ohio State jumped TCU and Baylor then we've seen two teams that haven't won conference championships make it in the last two years (Ohio State last year, Alabama this year). The Committee made it clear how important having a strong resume and overall quality opponents were, then puts Alabama in, despite Ohio State having a stronger strength of schedule and nine conference games. So, what exactly is the Selection Committee looking for? Does Alabama get a free pass just because they are Alabama? While the Playoff system seems like a vast improvement over the BCS, with more teams getting representation, there has to be a way to better figure out the best four teams in the country. Whether it comes to computers or a Committee that is more consistent in their selection of teams, the recent decisions throw serious questions into the future of the Playoff system.

Despite the claim that the implementation of the Playoff would give us a wider variety of teams able to fight for a National Title, the Playoff system continues to exclude Group of Five teams, which includes UCF this year. Sure, the Knights didn't exactly play a brutally tough schedule (their toughest non-conference game was against Maryland) but going undefeated should at least get you more respect than 12th in the country. An ideal solution would be to move the Playoff to eight teams, and include one Group of Five team to get more representation across the country. It seems almost inevitable that this will happen eventually, but perhaps now, in a year where there are a number of teams that have a great case to make the field and were still excluded, that really set the events in motion towards an eight-team Playoff.

There is sure to be plenty of continued debate about how Alabama was able to get in over Ohio State, but the decision has been made and despite these complaints, this year gives us some intriguing battles. Alabama and Clemson are set to meet for the third time in as many years, while Oklahoma and Georgia give us a duel between an elite offense and shutdown defense. It should still be an exciting finish to the 2017 college football campaign, and one sure to still involve plenty of fireworks.

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