By ranking Florida State above Georgia, the College Football Playoff committee exposed its flawed logic

If FSU is so unimpressive without its starting quarterback, then how are the Seminoles ranked fifth — ahead of Georgia, Ohio State and Oregon?

Starting in 2024, the top six highest-ranked conference champions will receive an automatic bid to the College Football Playoff (though it might be reduced to five following the splintering of the Pac-12).

In actuality, the first automatic bid in CFP history was delivered Sunday.

A day after the playoff committee made the unprecedented step of leaving an unbeaten Power Five conference champion — the ACC’s 13-0 Florida State Seminoles — out of the four-team field, the reasoning seems clear: The committee wasn't going to stage a playoff without the champion of the SEC.

Either Georgia was going to finish 13-0 and enter ranked No. 1, or Alabama was getting in at 12-1 following an upset of the Dawgs. The deal was essentially set.

It’s not a meritless argument. The SEC has dominated the sport for two decades and produced 13 of the past 17 national-title-winning teams. A tournament without the SEC would feel strange. And Alabama is very good, seemingly better on paper than the current incarnation of FSU.

You can agree with the above. You can believe the Tide will beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and go on to win the national title.

And you can still be troubled, or at least curious, about how the committee reached its decision. Because conference history wasn’t supposed to matter, and consistency of argument is in short supply here.

This is a 2023 tournament, not a reputation-built-since-2005-tournament. There weren’t supposed to be any automatic bids. No league was guaranteed a spot. And the SEC was hardly a vintage outfit this year — 7-9 vs. other Power Five teams and 4-6 vs. the ACC.

Officially, committee chair and North Carolina State athletic director Boo Corrigan cited the season-ending injury to FSU star quarterback Jordan Travis as the reason the Seminoles were left out. Travis broke his leg in late November against North Alabama. FSU went on to win that game and at rival Florida with second-stringer Tate Rodemaker. When Rodemaker was forced to miss the ACC title game due to a concussion, the Seminoles used a third-string freshman to defeat Louisville. (Rodemaker was expected back for any bowl game.)

Florida State is a different team than they were through the first 11 weeks,” Corrigan said on ESPN. “An incredible season, but if you look at who they are as a team right now, without Jordan Travis, without the offensive dynamic that he brings to it, they are a different team.”

Is “different” necessarily worse? Perhaps, but maybe it’s just … different. The defense was unaffected. The running game was still excellent. In 2014, when Ohio State lost star quarterback J.T. Barrett to injury, the Buckeyes focused even more heavily on their run game and saw Ezekiel Elliott deliver 476 yards and six touchdowns in playoff victories over Alabama and Oregon to win it all.

Maybe Ohio State was better that way. And who is to say what Rodemaker might've looked like with a month of practice and preparation?

In this case, the committee went with the “best four” and said Travis’ injury was the determining factor.

Looking at that decision and the available information from an intentionally non-transparent process, it doesn’t seem like the committee even believes its own reasoning.

If FSU is so unimpressive without its starting quarterback, then how are the Seminoles ranked fifth — ahead of Georgia, Ohio State and Oregon? Those teams are at least as impressive as Alabama. Why would Florida State still be ahead of them?

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 2: The Florida State Seminoles celebrate after the trophy ceremony after defeating the Louisville Cardinals during the ACC Championship at Bank of America Stadium on December 2, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)
Finishing 13-0 and winning the ACC championship wasn't enough for Florida State to make the 2023 College Football Playoff. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)

The argument that losing Travis called into question the Seminoles' accomplishments would hold more water if the committee ranked them, say, eighth.

Likewise, if this were about choosing the “best four,” then wouldn’t there be a stronger argument for Georgia to still make the field? The Bulldogs lost to Alabama, but who thinks they’re not an elite team?

Instead, it looks like the committee just split the baby here. They believed FSU deserved to be in, but couldn’t find a way to do it without adding the SEC champion, Alabama. And if Alabama were in, then Texas needed to be in as well, given that the Longhorns defeated the Tide in Tuscaloosa in September.

Basically, Alabama and Texas were a package deal, and if just two spots were available (13-0 Michigan and 13-0 Washington were safe), then FSU was out.

Here’s guessing that if Georgia had defeated Alabama and thus assured SEC representation, then 13-0 FSU would've been in ahead of Texas. The committee would've just pointed to the four undefeated teams and told everyone else not to lose.

After all, in the penultimate rankings — coming off FSU's Rodemaker-led, 24-15 victory at Florida — the committee placed Florida State at No. 4 and Texas at No. 7.

FSU then beat No. 15 Louisville by 10 with a quarterback who would not be expected to play in the playoff. Texas beat No. 20 Oklahoma State by 28. Both became conference champs. Was that really enough for the Longhorns to jump four spots … and above FSU?

If anything, the Seminoles' defense and rushing attack against Louisville should've strengthened the argument that they are a quality team even without Travis because the return of Rodemaker would upgrade, in some manner, the quarterback position.

Apparently not.

Ultimately, none of this is about which teams should've gotten into the playoff. It’s about the committee telling on itself and the fact that there is no consistency in its decision.

The SEC essentially got an automatic bid. Maybe for good reason, maybe not.

Mercifully, next year every deserving conference, ACC included, will get one as well.