Somewhere in a conference room near Dallas, the 13 College Football Playoff selection committee members watched the TCU Horned Frogs fall behind by 11 points Saturday to Kansas State early in the fourth quarter of the Big 12 championship game.
It says a lot about how little trust there is in the committee that the conversation on social media immediately shifted toward whether TCU was about to be replaced by Alabama in the Playoff.
The same Alabama that lost twice during the regular season. The same Alabama that didn’t win the SEC West. The same Alabama that didn’t post a better victory than over No. 20 Texas way back on Sept. 10.
Come on, folks. Give the committee a little more credit than that.
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Though the Horned Frogs did lose the Big 12 title game in overtime, 31-28, any conversation about TCU vs. Alabama is nothing more than fake drama heading into a Sunday where the CFP field has fallen firmly into place.
When the bracket is revealed at noon Eastern, it is likely to be:
4. Ohio State
There is one caveat that the committee will have to deal with, which is the possibility of flipping Ohio State and TCU, thus creating a rematch of the rivalry game we saw in Columbus last weekend. More on that in a moment.
Alabama, though, is not likely to be a serious part of the discussion. If they are, it should be a short one — or else this committee is venturing quite far from its protocols and precedents. In truth, the mere mention of Alabama as a viable candidate seems more like conspiracy theory rooted in the belief that the committee cares more about brands and TV ratings than results.
TCU fans, of course, will not sleep all that well until it’s official. They remember the first Playoff in 2014 when they finished off an 11-1 season with a 55-3 win over Iowa State and yet slipped from No. 3 to No. 5 when the final rankings were released.
But this is a different year and a different set of circumstances. Whether you believe TCU is as good of a football team as Alabama or would beat Alabama on a neutral field has no relevance to the evaluation of their respective seasons.
And pretty much every metric the committee is supposed to use favors TCU.
TCU has a better record against the top 25 (2-1 vs. 2-2). It has a better so-called “strength of record,” which measures how many games your opponents won. They had a common opponent in Texas, which TCU controlled from start to finish in a 17-10 win while Alabama had to mount a last-minute drive to win back in Week 2.
And finally, TCU’s overtime loss to a top-10 Kansas State team is better than Alabama’s overtime loss to a four-loss LSU team that got pounded by Georgia Saturday in the SEC championship. There’s also the matter of Alabama’s other loss, which would make them the first two-loss team ever included — a huge hurdle for a team that didn’t win its division.
It’s really not a close call. In a year of imperfect teams, TCU did what it needed to do and Alabama did not. Punishing the Horned Frogs for having to play a conference title game against a team it already had beaten earlier this season wouldn’t just be controversial — it would undermine all faith in what the Playoff is supposed to value.
“We were (No.) 3 last week and my hope is we’d stay at 3 and go tee it up and see how we do,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said.
Unless the committee deliberately wants to set up a rematch of Michigan and Ohio State from the game that was played last Saturday, that’s how it should shake out. Otherwise, even with the TCU loss, it’s hard to justify moving the Buckeyes from No. 5 to No. 3 when they did nothing to add to their résumé after getting pounded 45-23 at home in their final game.
If anything, the Buckeyes should be thankful after their second-half implosion against Michigan that they will get any chance to redeem themselves. And they owe it entirely to Southern Cal, whose argument ended in the Pac 12 title game Friday night with a 47-24 loss to Utah.
Having already lost to Utah in the regular season, it was reasonable to set up the rematch as the hurdle the Trojans had to cross — and they didn’t just fail, they got exposed.
Without other viable options, Ohio State will get the benefit of a backdoor entry into the Playoff, similar to what happened in 2017 when Alabama lost 26-14 to Auburn in a game that decided the SEC West. After unbeaten Wisconsin lost the Big Ten title game to a two-loss Ohio State team that had already been eliminated from contention, Alabama was able to sneak in — and ended up winning the national championship. We’ll see if Ohio State can take advantage of the same good fortune.
It is strange to have a Playoff where half the field lost its final game, but that will be more of the norm when it expands to 12 teams in 2025. Under the format that has been floated, where the top four teams have to be conference champions, the first-round matchups could look something like this: No. 5 TCU vs No. 12 Tulane, No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 USC, No. 7 Alabama vs. No. 10 Penn State and No. 8 Tennessee vs. No. 9 Utah while Georgia, Michigan, Kansas State and Clemson get byes into the quarterfinals.
As long as a committee is in charge of evaluating teams, there will always be arguments about who should get the final spots. It could be that by 2025, nights like Saturday will be even more interesting and controversial when you consider that the margins between teams ranked No. 8 and No. 16 are going to be pretty small. It seems like there will be actual arguments to be made on the merits of the final few teams.
In practice, the four-team Playoff has been pretty devoid of controversy. Only the search for a possible plot twist has brought Alabama into the discussion. Otherwise, there’s really no precedent for the committee to seriously consider a team with as little heft to its résumé.
After all the faux outrage brought on by the committee’s weekly rankings, their job was done for them in the end.