It would not be college football without controversy.
That goes double for the College Football Playoff.
And this year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup is right in the middle of it.
The CFP selection committee made its choices Sunday.
Southeastern Conference champion Alabama was a no-brainer as the No. 1 overall seed. Love or hate the Crimson Tide — and in South Louisiana it’s more of the latter unless you’re related to a Bama player from here, which is a large swath of the population — they are helmet and shoulder pads above every other team this season.
Atlantic Coast Conference champion Clemson was the clear No. 2 after exacting revenge on Notre Dame for their Trevor Lawrence-less regular-season defeat.
No. 3 is Ohio State, which will play Clemson in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. This is where things start to get a little, ahem, heated. And the temperature only rises as you move down a rung to No. 4 Notre Dame.
Ohio State only moved its record to 6-0 Saturday with its Big Ten Championship Game victory over Northwestern. The Buckeyes hail from a Big Ten Conference that committed about three false-start penalties before deciding to finally play a season this fall, then started so late there was no wiggle room for the inevitable postponements and reschedulings. Conversely, the SEC went 69 for 71 in its attempt to play games this fall.
The Big Ten had to rewrite its rules already written in cream cheese to get Ohio State in its conference title game, gerrymandering the entire process because the Buckeyes hadn’t played the prescribed minimum number of six regular-season games. That left Indiana out of the mix.
A show of hands for anyone believes they would have rewritten the rules to help out the Hoosiers.
CFP committee chairman Gary Barta cited the Buckeyes’ quality wins over Northwestern and Indiana among the few to choose from. Ohio State supposedly meets the indefinable but convenient “eye test” (The “I don’t know what art is but I know it when I see it” argument), which covers up all sorts of inconvenient sins. But the fact remains Ohio State played three fewer games than any other CFP contender: No. 5 Texas A&M (8-1), No. 6 Oklahoma (8-2) and No. 8 Cincinnati (9-0).
Maybe the Buckeyes would have won more games if they played them. Then again, maybe they would have been tripped up by a shocking upset like then-No. 6 Florida was when LSU stunned the Gators 37-34 two weeks ago. The ultimate eye test should have revealed there was not enough to meet the eye when it came to Ohio State.
Notre Dame is another question. The Irish beat Clemson without Lawrence and some other key Tigers, then got routed by them 34-10 in the ACC final. Texas A&M argued that it belongs in having lost only to Alabama, but that was by a lopsided 52-24 score. Yes, Notre Dame is a big 19½-point underdog to the Tide, but which No. 4 seed wouldn’t be?
What the committee had a great chance to do this year but sadly punted on was inviting a Group of Five champion like Cincinnati to be the No. 4. It would have been politically shrewd to display a little inclusion in what is such a strange, difficult year. The Bearcats would have gotten blitzed by Bama and been on their way, happy to have just been asked to the dance.
Instead, we have four teams that have all been in the playoff before. Only 11 teams have been in the playoff, and level of exclusion is generating a tsunami of resentment.
The drumbeat for expanding the playoff booms louder than ever. I wonder if the members of this year’s committee realize how much fuel they have added to that fire? I’m still not in favor of expanding the playoff — I believe it creates more logistical nightmares than proponents admit — but I certainly believe this year’s “final four” pushes us farther down that seemingly inevitable road.
Despite all the controversy, it could be an exceptional Sugar Bowl. While LSU was routing Oklahoma 63-28 in the Peach Bowl last Dec. 28, Clemson was surviving Ohio State 29-23 in a thriller in the Fiesta Bowl. Hopefully we’re in for a similar game this time.
Sadly, for the Sugar Bowl and New Orleans itself, the game will have but a minuscule impact on the local economy bowl games were originally designed to bolster. New Orleans officials continue to be rigid on limiting crowds in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to 3,000 fans. It’s one big reason Alabama was happy to play the “Rose Bowl” against Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where 16,000 fans will be allowed.
Three thousand fans is slightly better than zero, which is what officials in California told the Rose Bowl it could have for this year’s semifinal. That’s why the game is getting moved out of Pasadena for the first time since it was played in 1942 at Duke (yes, Duke) because of worries of a West Coast enemy attack during World War II.
In a normal year, Alabama surely would have been happy to play in the Sugar Bowl, a short jaunt for its many fans. Imagine how happily overrun New Orleans would have been by fervent factions of Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish fans from the French Quarter to Uptown?
Alas, it is not to be this year. While we are happy to see the College Football Playoff actually played, we can’t help but be disappointed in so many respects about what it might have been.