In the end, after all the gnashing of teeth over the impact of early-season losses, after worrying that just winning wasn’t enough, after wondering whether there’s such a thing as having too many uniform combinations and after speculating that the entire field might come from the SEC West, they got it right.
Four clear-cut champions from four power conferences in the first College Football Playoff: Alabama vs. Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, and Oregon vs. Florida State in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, with the winners advancing to the title game Jan. 12.
Quibble if you will about how Oregon-Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and Alabama-Florida State in the Sugar would have been a more traditional look, but throughout this process there has been a strong desire to break with the past, and this demonstrates it. However the pairings shook out, the best four teams are in.
Sorry, TCU and Baylor. But you’re lucky the Big 12 held together a few years ago, or you’d still be stuck in Conference USA or something.
The league that survived despite Nebraska, Texas A&M, Missouri and Colorado all being poached from its ranks — wonder if the Pac-12 would like to give the woeful Buffaloes back? — was unfortunate enough to have co-champs when the folks on the CFP selection committee were looking for singletons.
Maybe if the names on your uniforms were Oklahoma and Texas, things would have been different. It says something for the Big 12 that the league’s only two private schools are its best this year.
You can always protest outside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, site of the CFP Championship Game and deep in the heart of Big 12 country.
But by then, the rest of the college football world will have moved on, so enjoy your Cotton Bowl (Baylor) and Peach Bowl (TCU) berths while your commissioner ponders whether “One true champion” is really the right slogan for your league.
Still, you could have made it a little easier for the committee after a final weekend of the regular season that did nothing to winnow the field. The top six teams all won. In the BCS days, something always happened late that simplified things.
Last season, it was Michigan State knocking off Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game to propel Auburn into the BCS title game against Florida State.
And LSU fans will forever curse Iowa State’s 2011 upset of Oklahoma State, which cleared the way for the rematch against Alabama.
But this time, the chalk held. Only Florida State-Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game was close. But that’s de rigueur for the Seminoles.
And while it’s only the first year of the playoff, it’s already obvious that a four-team field is always going to present more options than a two-team setup. Don’t forget that Mississippi State was No. 4 in the standings until losing to Ole Miss last week.
Could that mean we’re headed for an eight-team playoff before the 12-year contact everybody’s currently under expires? It seems that the seeds have been sown.
Four spots for five power conferences won’t fit. If Ohio State had been overlooked or if Missouri had upset Alabama and the SEC didn’t get in, the explosion would have started early.
As it is, the contracts for the three access bowls — the Peach, Cotton and Fiesta — have a “look-in” clause after six years. While the logistics of an eight-team playoff would have to be worked out — on-campus games have too many potential drawbacks, and it would require major bowls moving from New Year’s to mid-December — it looks a lot more likely now than when the commissioners and CFP executive director Bill Hancock declared the current contract “written in stone.”
Obviously, Hancock isn’t an attorney.
Meanwhile, the Sugar Bowl folks are extremely happy about the Alabama-Ohio State matchup.
Nobody’s been bowling in New Orleans more than Bama. This makes 15 Sugar Bowls for the Crimson Tide, plus the 2012 BCS title game.
And while the Tide isn’t at its best when there’s not a lot on the line — see the Utah game in 2009 and last year’s no-show against Oklahoma — it also has secured the national championship in New Orleans five times.
Ohio State will be making its fifth Sugar Bowl appearance — or four not counting the Buckeyes’ 31-26 victory against Arkansas in the 2011 game. The Buckeyes’ “participation” in that game was vacated in the brouhaha over Terrelle Pryor’s free tattoos and other misdeeds that cost Jim Tressel his job and brought Urban Meyer out of his one-year retirement and to Columbus.
In short order Meyer, who won two national titles at Florida, has Ohio State back in the national title hunt. In the Sugar Bowl, he’ll be facing old archnemesis Nick Saban. They split SEC championship games in 2008 and 2009 that both had BCS title-game berths on the line.
Consider this the rubber match.
In fact, it rivals the first and only meeting between Bama’s Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes of Ohio State in the 1978 Sugar Bowl for having two coaching titans going head-to-head. There certainly aren’t going to be any worries about tickets going unsold or unused. Both schools are proud of the way they travel to bowl games.
Even the great unknown — how fans will travel knowing there’s another trip coming up for the winner — doesn’t seem to be a factor for this one.
In the days, weeks and months to come, we’re going to see and hear a lot of conversation about tweaking the CFP process.
Don’t expect the weekly release of the standings to end, even though they caused considerable confusion. They fulfilled their mission: having people talking about college football all week long.
And is there anything we love more?