In 2014, TCU entered the final week of the season ranked third by the College Football Playoff selection committee. It defeated Iowa State, 55-3, to move to 11-1. The next day, the Horned Frogs dropped to sixth, out of the playoff field, replaced by Ohio State.
One of the stated reasons was the Buckeyes, 12-1, had won the Big Ten championship game and thus was able to present a so-called “13th data point” to TCU’s 12 total games. The Big 12, which had just 10 members, was prohibited by NCAA rules at the time from staging a league title game (12 members were needed).
It was a brutal snub for TCU.
“It’s clear we were penalized for not having a championship game,” then-Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said at the time. “It would have been nice to know that ahead of time. We were told we had a different model.”
The Big 12 later petitioned to have the rule change and added a title game for the 2017 season to give its two best teams a 13th game.
Well, we are about to find out.
TCU again entered the final weekend of the college football season ranked third, but this time with a 12-0 record. None of the teams ranked behind it — No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Alabama, No. 7 Tennessee and No. 8 Penn State — qualified for their championship games and thus were stuck at the “12th data point.”
If there was no Big 12 title game — a game created because 12 games was deemed one too few — then TCU would be in the playoff. The committee saw it as superior to the others.
There was a game, though, and TCU lost it 31-28 in overtime to Kansas State.
So now, could 12-1 TCU get bounced from the playoff for playing a 13th game by a team that played only 12 games … just eight years after it was bounced for playing only 12 games by a team that played 13?
It would be the most College Football Playoff thing … ever.
No. 5 Ohio State (11-1) is already expected to replace No. 4 USC (11-2) after the Trojans lost in their 13th game while the Buckeyes watched from home.
That leaves the committee to decide whether 12-1 TCU remains in the field or gets replaced by 10-2 Alabama? This would also set off a bitter argument from 10-2 Tennessee, which believes, on the basis of its head-to-head victory over the Tide, it should be ranked ahead of Bama.
Here are the basic arguments.
The first is based in logic, namely that no team should be punished for playing a 13th game when the team it is being compared to has played only 12. If the committee thought TCU and USC were superior to Ohio State, Alabama and the others after 12 games, then it makes no sense to make them — and only them — play a 13th game and then penalize them for it.
Why should TCU (or USC) have an extra and undue burden of proof?
This makes intellectual sense and is a sound argument. However, the committee has not historically subscribed to that and there is no indication they are even aware of it, let alone find appeal in it.
As such, USC is almost assuredly out of the playoff and TCU is on the chopping block. What should happen — and what will happen — are not the same thing.
So, TCU? Here’s the Horned Frogs' case vs. Alabama.
It has 12 wins, two more than the Tide. Its one loss, to Kansas State, came on a neutral field. It previously defeated the Wildcats, 38-28. It has an excellent strength of record. And the Wildcats, at 10-3, will likely move up a peg or two from their No. 10 ranking, maybe even supplanting Penn State at No. 8.
A neutral-field overtime loss to a top-10 team is not, by the committee’s criteria, a bad loss.
Then again, what is the criteria? The CFP has so many of them that it actually has no criteria. It can pick teams based on analytics and formulas, on good wins or bad losses, on the perceived strength of the defense or offense, on injuries, on turnovers, on strength of record, on the proverbial eye test and so on.
They can justify — and will — any decision.
So if this isn’t based on “fairness” if you will, or the number of games played, or even the number of games won, then what is Alabama’s argument?
Well, the Tide’s two losses came on the final play, on the road against Tennessee and LSU. (Does even the most die-hard Frog fan believe they’d have fared better?).
The Tide handled everything else. Even in defeat, the Tide offense, led by quarterback Bryce Young, played well. Young, who was hurt, is now healthy. The sheer talent on the roster far exceeds the Horned Frogs. Vegas would make Alabama a favorite in a head-to-head match up. TV ratings. Nick Saban. Dr Pepper. Aflac. Who knows?
Really, the committee can talk itself into anything.
Is TCU more deserving? Sure, by many standards. Did it do more to earn a spot? Absolutely.
Is it the better team … eh, probably not. And that’s the issue.
Is this the four best teams or the four most deserving and if it’s “best,” then by what standard?
Then again, if the committee is going to argue that it should put Alabama in over TCU because it wants the four (subjectively decided) “best teams” then how does it then justify putting Alabama in over Tennessee when it was demonstrably determined that the Vols were better than the Tide by actually defeating them in a game?
Again, by whatever means it wants.
This system is so bad, so inconsistent, so contradictory and so boxed in due to its foolish decision to stage a weekly ranking show that reversals and rethinking are controversial, that no one can truly know what might come.
TCU might be safe. TCU might be cooked. Bama might be back. Bama might be dreaming. Tennessee will probably just be bitter.
Next season is, mercifully, the last of the four-team system, a playoff created by people who were forced to create a playoff and thus set up a horrible one.
As for TCU, 12 games was once too few and now 13 may become too many and good riddance to this entire debacle.