Forde-Yard Dash: Which team actually deserves final spot in College Football Playoff?

Yahoo Sports

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (brass knuckles sold separately throughout the sport for next year’s rivalry brawls):

[More Dash: Retread Monday | Texas A&M-LSU | Title game picks]

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FIRST QUARTER

THIS YEAR, FOUR IS ENOUGH

The built-in tension associated with the College Football Playoff is that not all the power players are invited to the party. There are five elite conferences and four playoff bids. Then independent Notre Dame (1) claims a bid, and that guarantees at least two conferences are shut out. And if Georgia (2) shocks Alabama (3) on Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championship game, three of the Power Five almost certainly will be excluded.

That would be the surest route to expanding the playoff. When a majority of the cartel that is accustomed to getting its way does not get its way, you have the impetus for change.

But if Alabama does to the Bulldogs what it has done to everyone else, we will likely be left with an uninspiring fourth playoff participant. Take your choice, America: Oklahoma (4) and its atrocious defense, or Ohio State (5) and its 29-point loss to 6-6 Purdue? Which one earns the right to be stuffed into the Alabama wood-chipper?

There are three deserving playoff teams in 2018 — perhaps there would have been four if Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton (6) hadn’t suffered that horrible leg injury Friday. But there is no such thing as a three-team playoff, so the fourth spot could well fall to the Sooners or Buckeyes.

What a choice. Brand names with big flaws.

Urban Meyer of the Ohio State Buckeyes watches his team play against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium on November 24, 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Michigan 62-39. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Urban Meyer of the Ohio State Buckeyes watches his team play against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium on November 24, 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Michigan 62-39. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Oklahoma has allowed 40 or more points in its past four games yet won them all, thanks to its pyrotechnic offense and the similarly pliant Big 12 defenses it has feasted upon. The Sooners surrendered 700 yards of offense to West Virginia on Friday night in Morgantown. Their average yards allowed per game in November is 585, and yards allowed per play is 7.5.

For the season, Oklahoma ranks 111th nationally in total defense. The other playoff contenders’ defensive rankings: Alabama is sixth, Clemson seventh, Georgia is 12th, Notre Dame 22nd, Ohio State 67th. (Yes, the Buckeyes’ No. 67 defense is really shaky as well — but it’s also 44 spots ahead of Oklahoma.)

Offensively, the Sooners are No. 1 in the nation — but the rest of the contenders aren’t as dramatically far behind as Oklahoma is on defense. Ohio State is second, Clemson third, Alabama fourth, Georgia 13th, Notre Dame 27th.

Clearly, the Oklahoma defense is the weakest link. And yet, the Sooners still are the better playoff choice than the Buckeyes. If it comes down to an Oklahoma-Ohio State taffy pull, it should end in a Norman conquest.

(We pause momentarily for the pre-panic to build in Columbus, where a lot of fans are still angry about being bounced from the playoff by Alabama last year.)

Playoff history is shallow at this point, just four years in, but no team has made the field with anything approximating a 29-point loss to a 6-6 team. Compare that to Oklahoma’s three-point loss on a neutral field to a Texas team currently ranked No. 10 in the AP poll, and it’s no comparison at all.

In addition, the Buckeyes’ body of work features a one-point win over a 5-7 Maryland team and a five-point win over a 4-8 Nebraska team. Ohio State was great Saturday in demolishing Michigan, but that and another one-point comeback win, at Penn State, are pretty much the sum total of the Buckeyes’ résumé.

If Oklahoma beats Texas in the Red River rematch Saturday, it will have beaten everyone in the Big 12 and own quality wins over the Longhorns and the Mountaineers — plus second-tier wins over Iowa State and Army. And, most importantly in terms of comparison to Ohio State, it won’t have a blowout loss to a team that didn’t gain bowl eligibility until Saturday.

If you want to get really provocative with playoff scenarios, there’s this: What if Georgia loses a close, well-played SEC championship game to Alabama? Could the two-loss Bulldogs get in ahead of either Oklahoma or Ohio State?

Probably not — that’s when you’d have a Jim Delany/Bob Bowlsby combo riot (7). But the SEC juice has been strong in the selection committee rankings thus far, and you wonder what the committee would think of a team being able to take the full measure of an Alabama juggernaut that has won every game by at least 22 points this season.

The only other possibility worth considering is if UCF pulls an Ohio State 2014 and destroys Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game with a backup quarterback. Alas, Darriel Mack Jr. doesn’t look much like Cardale Jones so far — the freshman has completed just 48 percent of his passes as a collegian. UCF’s eternally uphill climb for playoff relevance became scaling Mount Everest in tennis shoes at the last minute.

If you want to really sow discord, here’s your scenario: Alabama beats Georgia by 50; Northwestern (8) upsets Ohio State in the Big Ten title game; Texas (9) takes down Oklahoma in the Big 12; and Memphis (10) beats UCF. Then who backdoors into the fourth playoff spot?

It’s already difficult finding a fourth fully deserving team. That would make it impossible.

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