There should be debate. There should be significant dialogue. There is, after all, one major question looming over the College Football Playoff committee with the final pairings set to be announced at noon Sunday.
But it had better not have anything to do with Alabama. The Crimson Tide shouldn’t be anywhere close to the discussion in the final year of the four-team playoff before the tournament appropriately expands to 12 teams next season.
Who gets to avoid heavy favorite and top-ranked Georgia in the semifinals — TCU or Ohio State — is a toss-up. The No. 3 spot really can go either way. Both teams have one good win, TCU over No. 10 Kansas State and Ohio State over No. 8 Penn State, and each also has one loss, after the Horned Frogs fell to Kansas State in overtime in the Big 12 championship game.
That should be the only point of contention for the committee. Defending national champion Georgia has to be one after going undefeated in the powerhouse SEC, followed by Michigan at No. 2. Both have a number of quality wins. Each school has been dominant more often than not.
USC’s lopsided loss Friday night in the Pac-12 title game eliminated the Trojans and moved Ohio State into a playoff spot. There is some thought that Alabama should be in play after TCU’s narrow loss on Saturday, but I find that idea equal parts delusional and unrealistic.
In the previous eight years of the playoff, a two-loss team has never been selected. Alabama has two losses. More significantly, it doesn’t have a quality win. The Crimson Tide’s best victory is over No. 20 Texas, and in that game, the Longhorns were without starting quarterback Quinn Ewers for most of the game due to injury.
Though Alabama’s two losses were only by a combined four points to No. 7 Tennessee and No. 14 LSU, Nick Saban’s team also barely got past also-rans Texas A&M and Mississippi. The Tide could easily have a third loss. Let’s compare: Both TCU and Ohio State each have one fewer loss than Alabama and a far better win at the top of their respective résumés. The Crimson Tide are 3-2 on the road; TCU and Ohio State don’t have a road loss.
Alabama’s argument is the eye test, that it is one of the four best teams in the country. The Tide were never blown out, as Ohio State was by Michigan, and they didn’t need as many late rallies as TCU did on a weekly basis. But actual results have to matter. Quality of victories can’t be tossed aside.
Alabama doesn’t belong this year. TCU and Ohio State do.
As far as which team is No. 3, I would give the slight edge to Ohio State. The Buckeyes were more consistent than TCU, play in a better conference and have two top 25 wins, over Penn State and No. 21 Notre Dame, compared to the Horned Frogs’ one. I fully expect the committee to order it that way as well, in part because that would set up an absolute can’t-miss event, Ohio State-Michigan Part two. Since Ohio State and TCU are so close when it comes to their overall body of work, why not set up such a made-for-television spectacle?
An argument, though, can be made for either TCU or Ohio State at No. 3. There is no justification, however, to include Alabama in the final year of the four-team playoff.