ARLINGTON, Texas — Championship Saturday started here in central Texas just like we all had hoped: With chaos.
Baylor’s defense smothered Oklahoma State, producing a goal-line stand to beat the fifth-ranked Cowboys, 21–16. It opened the door for a shakeup in the current top four, potentially paving a way for Notre Dame and its 35-year-old, brand new head coach to make the College Football Playoff.
And then came more chaos. Alabama stunned Georgia to win the SEC championship. In a way, chaos on Saturday actually led to … calm?
The selection committee’s first job—picking the top four teams—got a whole lot easier despite Saturday’s unexpected fireworks (both Bama and Baylor were basically six-point underdogs). The top four this past week will almost certainly be the top four on Sunday at noon ET when the selections are announced: Alabama, Cincinnati, Michigan, Georgia.
The real decision: What order to put them?
Certainly, not in the order above. Though they are not supposed to consider matchups when seeding, committee members must. And they will. Don’t give us a rematch of the SEC title game. Don’t.
If you create seeding with that in mind, you will invariably end up with one of two options:
Here’s our guess: the committee chooses the former (the Tide will be the No. 1 seed). That said, the Wolverines have an argument. In fact, let’s dive into the digits.
Alabama has three top-25 wins; Michigan has two. Alabama has two top-10 wins; Michigan has one. Heading into the weekend, Alabama had a strength of schedule of 18; Michigan was at 36. Alabama lost to No. 25 Texas A&M; Michigan lost to No. 11 Michigan State.
The Bearcats’ strength of schedule (87th) is 36 spots worse than the next-best strength of schedule among the four teams (Georgia is 51). It’s why they are bound for the No. 4 seed.
For the second time in the last five years, two SEC teams—the Bulldogs and Tide also both made it in 2017—will make the Playoff. And for the first time ever, a Group of 5 program is in.
The Playoff is setting up to be the SEC against the world. Alabama vs. Cincinnati is the SEC against the Group of 5. Georgia vs. Michigan is the SEC vs. The Alliance. Fun!
The No. 1 seed is granted preference on its semifinal site. Barring something unforeseen, Nick Saban is taking Dallas over Miami, right?
Think about it. You’d want to control the environment with an enclosed venue and limit distractions/temptations as much as possible. This is an easy decision. Tide vs. Bearcats in the Cotton Bowl and Wolverines vs. Bulldogs in the Orange Bowl.
In fact, this is the least suspenseful selection show in, maybe, the eight years of the event. There isn’t a fight for No. 4. There isn’t that tight of a battle for the top seed. You can’t have a rematch. It’s a fairly easy top four.
It’s not always been this way, of course. Just last year, 8–1 Texas A&M was left at home in favor of 10–1 Notre Dame. In 2019, one-loss Oklahoma beat out two-loss Georgia. The year prior, 12–1 Ohio State and 12–0 UCF were left out for 12–1 Oklahoma. In 2014, Ohio State got in over a pair of 11–1 Big 12 teams, TCU and Baylor.
There is no drama this year. No anxiety.
Those left out in 2021 don’t have a real legitimate argument. An 11–1 Notre Dame lost at home to the presumed No. 4 seed, Cincinnati. And 11–2 Baylor lost a game to 5–7 TCU.
As wild as it is, chaos ensued Saturday. But it led to, of all things, calm.
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