GRAPEVINE, Texas – The inaugural College Football Playoff field was set Sunday and it arrived with both excitement, anticipation and other staples of the sport … controversy and bitterness.
No. 1 Alabama (12-1) against No. 4 Ohio State in New Orleans on the evening of Jan. 1. The game will be preceded by No. 2 Oregon (12-1) against No. 3 Florida State in Pasadena, Calif. The winners will meet in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12.
The matchups are tantalizing – Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer, Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota, who will likely follow Winston as a Heisman Trophy winner. The one-off, elimination nature of a playoff is too. College fans had long ago grown frustrated with the old Bowl Championship Series and now the modern era is here.
And it arrives with screams of delight and howls of protest, particularly down here in Texas.
Ohio State surged into the top four on the strength of a 59-0 annihilation of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. It gave the Buckeyes (12-1), which were ranked fifth last week, the bonus they needed to overcome a bad loss at home to Virginia Tech and the general weakness of the Big Ten conference.
“Ohio State proved they are a complete team,” committee chairman Jeff Long said. “It was decisive that Ohio State move into that fourth spot. …It was really about Ohio State and not about TCU. Ohio State’s performance in a 13th game gave them a quality win against a highly ranked team and gave them a chance to move into that fourth spot.”
The committee dinged Florida State (13-0) for weeks after repeatedly struggling against inferior competition even though the Seminoles won all their games. FSU defeated Georgia Tech 37-35 in the ACC championship game, but its unbeaten record was enough to keep it in the playoff and not get jumped by the Buckeyes. The Seminoles even managed to leap TCU.
The Horned Frogs (11-1) weren't so fortunate. Despite being No. 3 last week and defeating a weak Iowa State team 55-3 in a complete domination, TCU dropped three spots anyway.
Baylor (11-1), which was No. 6 last week and had an impressive 38-27 victory over No. 9 Kansas State, never won over the committee's approval and remained on the outside looking in despite having the most impressive victory (over TCU) of any of the contenders. It also had the weakest non-conference schedule, however.
All three of the final teams had compelling arguments for their inclusion, making the job of the committee particularly difficult.
With both Big 12 teams locked out, controversy and criticism will increase on the league office, which lacks a league title game that could serve as a 13th game, and decided to deem Baylor and TCU as "co-champions," perhaps weakening the argument for one of the teams.
Baylor, which owned the head-to-head victory over TCU, was particularly vocal in protesting that its conference wasn't giving it all the weapons needed to make the playoff field.
The Big 12 teams countered the argument of lacking a league title game by pointing out they already play nine conference games, the same number as Ohio State which played eight Big Ten regular season games and the conference title game. The league does plan on petitioning the NCAA for the right to possibly host a title game despite having just 10 members -- the current minimum is 12 teams.
Regardless, it wasn't enough. The deal is set.
It's 'Bama vs. the Buckeyes, the Seminoles against the Ducks and years of arguing to come.