- Three playoff spots are secure: Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma. The selection committee has to decide which team will join those three.
Championship Saturday began with plenty of potential chaos and a number of possible playoff permutations. In the end, we got the debate we've been expecting for weeks: Will the selection committee go with idle 11-1, non-conference champion Alabama or 11-2 Big Ten champion Ohio State for its fourth and final playoff spot?
(OK, fine, we'll address it. USC finished 11-2 and won the Pac-12, so why isn't it in the conversation? The Trojans' best wins were beating four-loss Stanford twice. Both the annihilation at the hands of Notre Dame and a loss to Washington State have looked worse and worse as the season's dragged on. And finally, when you compare overall conference strength the Pac-12 just isn't as good as the SEC or Big Ten. Sorry, Troy.)
Oklahoma and Georgia's respective wins in the Big 12 and SEC Championship Games mean they'll likely meet in the 2 vs. 3 matchup at the Rose Bowl. Clemson's domination of Miami in the ACC title game keeps the Tigers at No. 1 and sends them to the Sugar Bowl. Now the committee must decide who Dabo & Co. will face.
Was Ohio State's 27-21 win over previously undefeated Wisconsin impressive enough to jump Alabama for the No. 4 spot? Let's look at each team's résumé.
The Buckeyes have five wins over bowl-eligible teams: Army, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Three of those wins came over teams that will finish in the committee's final top 25; two, Wisconsin and Penn State, will probably be in the top 10. Their embarrassment at Iowa continues to be a large enough blemish no concealer can fully cover up. Meanwhile, Ohio State's other loss came to playoff-bound Oklahoma.
The Crimson Tide took down six bowl teams: LSU, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Colorado State, Fresno State and Florida State. Two—LSU and Mississippi State—will probably finish in the final top 25, but not in the top 10. Bama's lone misfire was to now three-loss Auburn. Being widely considered the best team in the country for the majority of the season and not having any Iowa-like "what the hell was that?" moment also helps Alabama's case.
What makes this even more difficult to figure out is the committee having set slightly similar precedents for each of these types of choices before, and it involved Ohio State each time.
In 2014, Ohio State walloped Wisconsin, 59-0, in the Big Ten title game to finish 12-1 and ahead of the Big 12's TCU (11-1) and Baylor (11-1) due to its extra impressive "data point," as the committee referred to it. The Buckeyes went from No. 5 to No. 4 the final week and went on to win the national title. There are three important distinctions between that Buckeyes team and the 2017 version: their conference title game margin was significantly larger, they only had one loss and only needed to move up one spot as opposed to four spots this time around.
The 2016 Buckeyes were like the 2017 Tide in that they only lost one game to the team that won their division, didn't participate in championship Saturday and carried that elite-team status all season. However, there are significant differences. Last year's Ohio State team played a much more impressive schedule than this year's Alabama team. Most importantly, those Buckeyes were already in the top four before the final weekend of the regular season, at No. 2. (They would finish No. 3 on Selection Sunday.)
Neither is the wrong choice, per se, but as we laid out above, neither is necessarily the right choice, either. This should make for some fun politicking by the two parties involved and their fans leading up to Sunday's noon announcement.