CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Selection Sunday? No, this is Squabble Sunday.
The first-ever College Football Playoff bracket will be revealed Sunday, but any chance of this enlightened new era ending more than a century of bickering about who’s No. 1 is long gone. This will be a brutally difficult choice, with ripples of outrage rolling across the land when the teams are revealed at 12:45 p.m. ET.
The six teams in contention for the four bids all won this weekend. Nobody made the committee’s job any easier. So it is time for a committee that has made some weird decisions in its weekly rankings to suddenly develop Solomonic wisdom in the only vote that truly matters.
The top two teams are relatively simple at this point: Alabama and Oregon. The order doesn’t much matter, though it almost certainly will be the Crimson Tide at No. 1 and the Ducks at No. 2. After that it becomes agonizing.
There is undefeated Florida State, which wheezed past Georgia Tech here in the ACC championship game 37-35 and is the defending national champion and still hasn’t lost a game since 2012. The Seminoles are almost assuredly in – but they’ve fallen progressively as the season has gone along. Florida State was No. 2 the first two weeks of the committee rankings, then No. 3 for three weeks, then No. 4 last week.
Saturday night Florida State came the closest of all contenders to losing. Which isn’t anything new for the Nervous Breakdown 'Noles. If the committee already was predisposed to doubt them, this game did little to change that mindset. But it would take a boatload of brass to demote FSU one last time and leave it on the outside looking in with a 29-game winning streak.
“I don’t have a message for [the committee],” coach Jimbo Fisher said postgame. “But there ain’t no decision to be made. The decision just got made.
“I ain’t worried about being No. 1. We’ll be in the playoff.”
He’s probably right. But I’m betting Fisher turns on the TV on Sunday afternoon just to make sure.
There is TCU, which rose to No. 3 last week and followed that up with a 52-point mauling of Iowa State to complete an 11-1 season as (hold the screaming in Waco) co-champions of the Big 12.
There is co-champ Baylor, which happens to own a victory over the Horned Frogs – a distinction that has escaped the esteemed committee all along. Now, after the Bears beat Kansas State to wrap up an 11-1 season of their own, will the committee factor in head-to-head or continue to leave it on the side?
And there is Ohio State, which has an inferior Big Ten résumé but closed with the most emphatic performance of the weekend. Starting a guy who began the season as the third-string quarterback, the Buckeyes dump-trucked Wisconsin 59-0 in the league title game. In terms of last impressions, that was a mic drop.
So what does the committee do with its two spots and four teams?
Unfortunately, it can’t change the rules on the fly and make this a six-team tournament, with first-round byes for the Crimson Tide and Ducks. So it has to make some tough calls.
If the weeks of ill-advised rankings releases can be used as any kind of guide, the Buckeyes may ace out the Big 12. The committee has overvalued a league that did virtually nothing in non-conference play, rewarding Big Ten teams for beating other Big Ten teams that hadn’t proved much.
Ohio State was ranked fifth last week, ahead of Baylor, despite having fewer quality victories and a far worse loss. Michigan State was ranked eighth despite zero victories over ranked teams – a five-point victory at home against a Nebraska team that fired its coach as a highlight. Wisconsin was ranked 13th despite having a loss to 5-7 Northwestern and no quality victories.
A college administrator told me in late November that he’d been told the former coaches on the committee were having the most influence in the meeting room. As it happens, two of the three former coaches on the committee have ties to Big Ten schools – Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and former Nebraska coach and AD Tom Osborne. As it also happens, those men were highly successful coaches while espousing an old-school, smash-mouth football philosophy.
Who plays smashmouth? Michigan State and Wisconsin, both highly regarded by the committee, are two that come readily to mind. Hurry-up, spread-offense Baylor doesn’t fit that blueprint.
Still, predicting what the final vote will look like is precarious business – especially if the committee lives up to its credo of using a blank canvas every week and starting over. There may be an 11th-hour appreciation of the Bears that has not existed to date, or some other shift that creates a different outcome.
But if that happens, then the value of the weekly releases will be called even further into question. If the committee changes its mind on teams at the last minute, then how trustworthy was all the work up to this point? Was it all a show-business charade for ESPN’s benefit and to drum up interest (as if college football needed more) in the new postseason format?
That would be a bad look, and it would lead to a withering examination of the methodology in the coming weeks.
If you want straight storylines, the optimum Final Four would be Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State and Florida State – in that order.
It would set up a Sugar Bowl matchup of the Crimson Tide and Seminoles. The most successful program of the past six years against the most controversial star player in an even longer time. Nick Saban vs. former assistant Jimbo Fisher. The kings of the Southeastern Conference against the disrespected reigning kings of college football. Alabama native Jameis Winston against the Crimson Tide.
"We can look ahead now," Winston said. "I want to play 'em real bad."
And for the maudlin Rose Bowl sentimentalists, a Pac-12 vs. Big Ten semifinal in Pasadena would be rhapsodic. Certainly, the blueblood Buckeyes would bring a bigger audience than up-and-coming TCU or Baylor.
But that’s a playoff based on demographics and storylines, not résumés. If the committee looks at the bodies of work, the bracket won’t look that way.
We’ll see what comes down from the resort-hotel mountaintop on stone tablets in Grapevine, Texas, on Sunday.
No matter what, a lot of people are going to be unhappy.