Now that the dust has settled on the total embarrassment that was the 2022-2023 College Football Playoff, the only question that remains is whether the CFP Selection Committee chooses to learn from it.
If you tend to get twisted up by reading statements you feel are outrageous, do yourself and your diastolic blood pressure reading a favor and back out now, because this is going to be a column full of them – and none of them are embellished for shock value.
Let’s start with the point contained within the headline: The CFP Selection Committee was formed to deal with (re: thwart) situations like this, where there was one dominant team (Georgia) and a bunch of pretenders, some of which had gaudy records. The committee was struck to make the tough decisions, pick the best teams – that’s in italics because “best team” is the only consideration of the CFP, not conference champions, Group of Five representatives, or bowing to media pressure from an industry that would rather talk about “fairness” in the selection process than actual merit. It was also supposed to prevent situations where sportswriters could magically vault certain favorite teams (here’s looking at you, Notre Dame) four or five spots in the rankings after the bowls were played for a variety of reasons — political, personal or otherwise.
So let’s spoil the surprise right now: The four best teams in college football this year – and it was clear from the third week of October forward – were Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and who cares.
To be fair to the CFP, having two undefeated Big Ten teams go that deep into a season without a loss complicated matters, and it was especially a complicating factor when Michigan didn’t just defeat Ohio State, but rather annihilated the Buckeyes. So fine, drop Tennessee – which had lost its quarterback and by that time had an ugly loss to South Carolina on the resume – and take two SEC teams and two Big Ten teams. Problem solved.
The reason for this is, outside of Clemson (which Tennessee would go on to obliterate in its bowl game this year, by the way) and a handful of Oklahoma teams over the years, the only conference that has been able to mount any type of a challenge to the SEC’s best has been the Big Ten. The PAC-12 has been more similar to the Washington Generals than the Washington Huskies; the rest of the ACC (to include its adopted orphan cousin, Notre Dame) and the entirety of the Big 12 outside of the Sooners have been also-rans.
The CFP Selection Committee couldn’t foresee Ohio State nearly knocking off Georgia in its semifinal, but that’s when the CFP Selection Committee has to exercise its other supposed powers – such as being able to evaluate rosters, coaching staffs, program strength and all the other things that go into the formula of best team.
Instead, the committee did what it’s done just about every year: It crossed its collective fingers and prayed that teams would continue to drop by the wayside as the season came to a close, leaving it with an easy decision in the end. But 2022 wouldn’t cooperate. Instead, the committee found itself having to split the Michigan-Ohio State baby, in addition to dealing with possibility of leaving TCU out in favor of two-loss Alabama. The committee should have done exactly that, but chickened out.
Because evaluating TCU on its merits would have revealed a pretender. The Horned Frogs came into the game ranked in the 70s in total defense and finished 95th thanks to vomiting all over itself in front of Georgia. They finished 97th in pass defense, 90th in scoring defense, and their best ranking in any defensive category was 48th in pass efficiency defense. Remember, folks, this is best team stuff we’re witnessing here. Not only that, but TCU couldn’t even claim to be trading defense for offense, because the Horned Frogs finished outside the top 25 in total offense (27th).
And by the way, Big 12 fans: The next time you want to argue with an SEC fan that the Big 12’s offenses are so innovative that the SEC can’t keep up – and that’s why your defensive stats are consistently so awful – roll tape on Alabama-Kansas State and Georgia-TCU, and get back to us.
These are exactly the things the committee is supposed to work out, but given the CFP has taken criticism in the past for being too friendly to major programs — from those same sportswriters whose votes are no longer worth the paper they were once written in — you get what you get. The committee was either bullied into doing something it shouldn’t have done, or it didn’t competently analyze the data before it, and ESPN had multiple “experts” trying to search for anything they could find, postgame, to justify what we’d seen.
It also probably didn’t hurt the Big Ten’s cause for getting two teams in versus the SEC’s one that Michigan’s athletic director, Warde Manuel, was a committee member, or that the Big Ten had three committee seats to the SEC’s one.
Again, let’s be direct: The College Football Playoff should basically be an SEC award until another program proves capable of dethroning what the SEC has to offer. Fair’s got nothing to do with it. Remember, the metrics here are … best teams.
Since the CFP format will be moving to an expanded field in 2024, here’s one way to handle that right now: The top four seeds go to the top four SEC teams and they all get first-round byes. Positions 5 through 12 go to the eight best other teams – and they can still be SEC teams, too, if they deserve to be. For teams from other conferences, let them play for the right to knock the SEC off the throne. If they can’t do it, repeat as needed every year until they either can, or until the rest of the college football world accepts the facts before them, which is the SEC is truly in a separate category as far as best teams go.
There isn’t even a believable counterargument to that anymore. Despite the best efforts of college football’s showrunners to try to artificially level the playing field, the SEC just keeps winning. The transfer portal was supposed to help smooth out the talent level across all programs; what it’s done instead is give players who develop into stars for lesser teams the ability to make an instant transfer to a contender and play for a title as an upperclassman. The college football world would do well to run any potential changes by Nick Saban first – if you hear him utter the phrase “is that what we want football to be?”, then abandon the plan before it even gets out of the blocks. Saban has taken NIL, the transfer portal, early signing day, even less significant things like basic offensive tempo, and turned them all against their creators. Now the SEC has two active multi-championship winning coaches; does anyone expect things to suddenly change in their favor and against that of Nick Saban and Kirby Smart?
Unfair, you say? The minute the CFP Selection Committee was charged with finding the best teams, this is exactly what was supposed to happen, regardless of geography, conference affiliation, red state/blue state, public or private university, how many times the teams had already played or any other factor. The charge was to find the best teams, not the best stories, the best underdogs, and certainly not to reward teams whose inferior quality should have been clear from the start to any talent evaluator worth his or her salt.
You know, like the ones who are supposed to sit on the CFP Selection Committee.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN