Let the argument over the College Football Playoff begin.
Entering Sunday’s final rankings, the only team that was a lock for the top four was Alabama. The Crimson Tide, which is the No. 1 overall seed, had been the No. 1 team in the nation since the preseason and won its 25th straight game Saturday with a defeat of Florida in the SEC Championship game.
From there, things got a little crazy as Clemson claimed the No. 2 spot while Ohio State dropped to No. 3. Despite Ohio State being ranked second in the rankings heading into championship weekend, the Buckeyes were penalized for not having played in their conference title game. Those penalties were compounded by the fact that the team that won the Big Ten title, Penn State, was the only team to defeat the Buckeyes this season.
Clemson struggled in the ACC title game against Virginia Tech and it’s lived on the edge with many close wins this season. The Tigers also have the worst loss of any team in the field (Pitt, 43-42).
Probably the most debated part of the top four was the final spot. Washington, which had the worst nonconference schedule of the group, showed enough in its thrashing of Colorado in the Pac-12 title game to earn the final playoff spot and breathe a sigh of relief. But Penn State was nipping at the Huskies’ heels.
College Football Playoff committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said the final playoff spot was the most debated as the committee weighed the résumés of Washington and Penn State.
“We had spirited discussions in the committee selection room as well,” Hocutt said. “Last night we met until approximately 1:30 a.m. this morning with that same [Penn State or Washington] conversation. It was detailed, it was difficult conversation and we looked at a lot of things. Obviously, we looked at two conference championship, Washington of the Pac-12, Penn State of the Big Ten. We looked at one-loss Washington, that loss being against a top-10 opponent compared to a two-loss Penn State team. One loss they were not competitive in that particular game, the other loss was to an 8-4 team
“We talked about strength of schedule. Obviously, strength of schedule favored Penn State. Had Washington had a stronger strength of schedule, I don’t think the conversation and discussion would have been as difficult. We looked at key statistical categories, which translate to performance on the field each and every week and the statistical categories that the selection committee sees value in that we discussed in detail last night and again this morning, Washington has the advantage. We talked to our coaches about what they saw in the performance of these two teams on the field not just in one particular game, but over the course of 13 games and Washington seemed to have the advantage there as well.
“So while it was challenging conversation, it was detailed conversation that went hours upon hours, coming out this morning, Washington deserves that No. 4 spot and the selection committee believes they’re a better football team when compared to Penn State.”
For once, the committee stayed consistent with its rankings, which is something many have been pleading for throughout the process. While the final field could have taken on several different scenarios, it’s hard to argue that the one the committee chose was the wrong one.
Here’s a look at the résumés of each of the four playoff teams:
No. 1 Alabama
Notable wins: vs. No. 6 Texas A&M, at No. 13 LSU; vs. No. 15 Florida
Notable losses: None
How it got in: Alabama was the preseason No. 1 team and remains the No. 1 team heading into the College Football Playoff.
The defending national champions opened the season in dominant fashion by defeating No. 20 USC 52-6. While there were some defensive struggles in wins against Ole Miss (48-43) and Arkansas (49-30), the Tide defense settled in during the second half of the season to allow an average of 8.3 points through the final seven games, including just 12 points against rival Auburn and 16 in a win against Florida in the SEC title game.
Alabama’s offense is averaging nearly 40 points per game, which is better than the Tide were averaging a year ago when it won the national title. The Tide is seeking its fourth title in the past six seasons.
No. 2 Clemson
Notable wins: vs. No. 3 Louisville, at No. 12 Florida State
Notable losses: vs. Pitt 43-42
How it got in: This season was not easy for Clemson. It started with a gutty win against Auburn and another close bout against Troy. But the Tigers started to play a little bit better on offense the next couple games and the 42-36 win against No. 3 Louisville should have been the turning point of their season. But the close games didn’t stop.
N.C. State and Florida State were two more close wins that ultimately foreshadowed a close loss to Pitt that nearly derailed the Tigers’ season. However, that loss seemed to spark something in the Tigers as they went on to outscore their next two opponents 91-20.
The ACC title game looked like it was going to be a similarly easy contest, but Virginia Tech put up a strong fight. A late interception gave the Tigers the win, but questions about Clemson’s defense, which struggled against the better competition the Tigers faced this season, still linger.
No. 3 Ohio State
Notable wins: No. 14 Oklahoma, No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 3 Michigan
Notable losses: at Penn State
How it got in: Ohio State was the only one of the top four that did not play in a conference title game, but that didn’t stop the committee from favoring the Buckeyes’ regular season work enough to warrant a playoff spot.
The Buckeyes started the season hot, beating its first five opponents by an average of 42.5 points per game. Included in those first five games was a win against Oklahoma, which won the Big 12 title on Saturday. The Buckeyes defeated Big Ten West champion Wisconsin 30-23, but quarterback J.T. Barrett struggled in that contest. That poor play carried over to the next weekend against Penn State, which resulted in a 24-21 loss and ultimately the loss of the Big Ten East Division.
Ohio Sate rallied, though, and despite some close contests against Northwestern and Michigan State, the Buckeyes’ 30-27 double–overtime win against Michigan was enough to put them in a position for a playoff spot.
No. 4 Washington
Notable wins: at No. 17 Utah, at No. 23 Washington State, vs. No. 8 Colorado
Notable losses: V.s No. 20 USC
How it got in: Washington has flirted with the College Football Playoff throughout the season, but the Huskies found themselves in the top four the week before the championship games. A decisive 41-10 win against No. 8 Colorado in the Pac-12 title game secured the Huskies’ playoff spot and their best season since going 11-1 in 2000.
Washington blew out six of its first seven opponents with its only close game a 35-28 overtime thriller against an underwhelming Arizona team. The 28 points Arizona scored marked the most by any opponent this season.
But the real low point for the Huskies came in a 26-13 home loss to USC. The Trojans’ defense dominated Washington and quarterback Jake Browning had his second-worst game of the season (worse was against a similarly tough Colorado defense). However, dominant wins against Arizona State and Washington State, coupled with key losses by top teams, put the Huskies back in the playoff picture.
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