ATHENS — It has often been said that sports is a microcosm of society, and that certainly applies to the college football season.
The College Football Playoff selection committee released its rankings on Sunday amid great controversy, having had the thankless task of finding order in a season with virtually no transitive properties at its disposal.
The COVID-19 pandemic led conferences to schedule league games exclusively, or almost exclusively, with programs playing an uneven number of games because of different start dates and cancellations.
Alabama and Clemson, winners of the SEC and ACC Championship Games on Saturday, respectively, were No. 1 and No. 2 without much ado.
But there was and is fallout over the No. 3 team (Ohio State) and No. 4 team (Notre Dame), along with the Texas A&M team that finished No. 5 and was left out.
“We’re 8-1 in the SEC and we lost to the number one team in the country (Alabama),” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said to ESPN. “Seven straight SEC wins; some schools ain’t even playing seven games.”
The SEC has had 14 teams play in the past 13 college football national championship games, including LSU winning last year’s title game.
But on Sunday it was the ACC getting two teams into the CFP, while the SEC was left with just one.
“The people who played 10 or 11 games had to survive the grind, and the grind of this season was a whole lot different than any other season, that’s why I thought those teams should be rewarded,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
“But I think Ohio State has a great team, and they probably deserved to be in the playoff as well, based on the quality of team they have.”
It’s the first time in the history of the College Football Playoff that a one-loss SEC team was left out.
Here are three takeaways:
The B1G controversy
The Big Ten hasn’t had a team win a CFP game since 2014, but that didn’t stop Ohio State from making it in with just six wins, including a shaky 22-10 Big Ten Championship Game victory over Northwestern.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly sounded off Sunday, saying things would be different if the CFP committee were made up of 13 coaches.
“I think we see games matter,” Kelly said. “The amount of games that you play certainly do matter.”
The Big Ten changed its rules so Ohio State could play in its league title game, reducing the minimum number of games needed from six to five. On Sunday, the Big Ten reduced its COVID-19 protocol days for positive tests from 21 to 17.
Buckeyes coach Ryan Day, with a cat-that-swallowed-the-canary smirk, said simply that, “everyone has different challenges.”
There was much discussion this season about the benefits of the SEC going to a 10-game schedule, and how much more competitive it made the league and allowed for more trips to other conference stadiums.
After seeing Texas A&M get left out of the playoffs with an 8-1 record, with its only loss being to Alabama, it’s unlikely SEC ADs will vote to expand the league schedule to nine games, much less 10.
Gary Barta, the CFP Chairman, said the committee placed a priority on Ohio State remaining undefeated, which throws water on the notion that scheduling difficulty holds enough reward for the risk of a loss trying to get into a four-team field.
Per the Sagarin Computer Rankings, Texas A&M had the No. 14-ranked schedule overall, and Ohio State’s was 36th.
Oklahoma (8-2), which jumped Georgia (7-2) to finish No. 6 in the CFP rankings after beating Iowa State, has the No. 54 schedule. UGA has the No. 7 schedule.
Notre Dame power
Some things change over time, but not the draw of Notre Dame, the school that has had NBC serve as its own private network TV deal. The Irish, because of the scheduling issues forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, made the smooth move to join the ACC for one season over to assure themselves a worthy schedule.
Notre Dame beat Clemson earlier this season in South Bend with the Tigers missing QB Trevor Lawrence. Clemson avenged that loss on Saturday with Lawrence back in the fold, 34-10, leading some to project the Irish missing the playoff after such a lopsided defeat the day before the selection show.
Instead, Notre Dame is in and will face Alabama in a rematch of the 2012 national championship game, a contest won by the Tide, 42-14.
“We understand if we don’t play to our standard, we could be beaten down pretty bad,” Kelly said on Sunday of the upcoming game. “We are much better prepared than we were in 2021, in terms of the physicality on both lines, and we have the ability to move the football , certainly.”
Alabama opened as a 17 1/2-point favorite in a Rose Bowl CFP Semifinal that will be played in Arlington, Texas at 4 p.m. on Jan. 1. Clemson is a 6 1/2-point favorite in the Sugar Bowl Semifinal that will be played in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans at 8 p.m. on Jan. 1.
If the favorites win, it would mark the fifth time in the past six years Alabama and Clemson met in the CFP, and the fourth title tilt.