The large early point spreads are not a coincidence. They are an indication of misjudgment.
Alabama and Clemson aren’t just expected to advance past the semifinal round of the College Football Playoff, the experts believe the two will cruise there, both installed as double-digit favorites, respectively against Oklahoma and Notre Dame, after Sunday’s predictably disappointing pairings were announced.
The College Football Playoff committee had a chance to avoid its biggest day being a dud, to be daring, to go against the grain, to trust its members’ eyes and not just slide in the team with fewer losses. Instead, it let itself be held hostage by won-loss records.
Instead, it took the easy way out, the people-pleasing route, picking one-loss Oklahoma over two-loss Georgia, taking the lesser team, the one that didn’t play a top-10 opponent all season, the 111th-ranked defense that allowed 40 points to Kansas of all teams rather than the balanced group that has the better win, a 19-point victory over No. 10 Florida, and played the vastly superior schedule.
The committee punted its decision instead of going for it on fourth-and-short. This was a conservative move when aggression was needed.
It would’ve taken guts to side with Georgia less than 24 hours after it blew a two-touchdown lead in the SEC Championship game. It would’ve taken forward, outside-the-box thinking to choose a conference runner-up over a conference champion. There would’ve been risk. Still, undefeated Alabama beat everyone but Georgia by at least 22 points. Everyone but the Bulldogs was overwhelmed and stood no chance.
Silly me for expecting anything innovative or daring from the NCAA, which still has this ridiculous notion its amateurism model is in the best interest of student-athletes.
Committee chairman Rob Mullens, in defending his decision, said Oklahoma’s defense had played better in recent weeks. The Sooners allowed 437 yards of offense to Texas on Saturday. The week before, they were gashed for 704 yards and 56 points by West Virginia. As impressive as Kyler Murray and Oklahoma’s quick-strike offense can be, Nick Saban and Alabama must be thrilled.
“I sure as hell don’t want to play them again,” Saban said Saturday about a potential Georgia rematch.
The committee granted him his wish and gave the Crimson Tide a layup.
The decision avoids creating future problems. It satisfies the power conferences, because it justifies the conference championship games. Remember, had the Big 12 not added one this year, maybe Oklahoma isn’t the choice, since it enabled the Sooners to pick up a significant win over Texas. Even Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, whose league was left out of the playoff for the second straight year, told The Athletic he wasn’t pushing for expansion.
Choosing Georgia may have changed things. It may have led to more debate about adding teams — it would’ve been the second consecutive year the SEC sent two teams to the playoff and you can be sure the other leagues would’ve screamed until they lost their respective voices — which is what should happen anyway. Under the current model, only the Power Five schools and Notre Dame — which is basically part of the ACC despite its official standing as an independent — have a shot. Central Florida just completed its second straight perfect season and it finished eighth in the rankings. The little guy has no chance.
But extending to eight teams would mean meaningless conference championship games would have to end. The leagues make too much money off those. They don’t want to see that happen. They prefer this make-believe playoff when only a handful of teams have the chance to be included. Central Florida athletic director Danny White hit it on the head when he called it an “invitational.”
The Sooners are considered a major long shot, 14-point underdogs against Alabama. Notre Dame is getting 11 points against Clemson. This is the first time in the five-year history of the playoff both semifinal games are double-digit spreads. That speaks to the matchups selected.
If the two games play out as expected, we will have the playoff committee to thank. Like everyone else, it saw Georgia nearly stun Alabama and match the Crimson Tide athlete for athlete. It was obvious the Bulldogs were one of the best four teams in the country. But rather than a rematch of that classic, instead of Georgia-Clemson, we get two uneven games, because Oklahoma has one less loss. Because the committee took the safe route that wouldn’t upset nearly as many powers that be.
There was a choice here. Remember that on Dec. 29 when you’re falling asleep during these mismatches.
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