The College Football Playoff is set, the conference championships have been determined, and the New Year’s Six matchups are defined. It’s officially the college football postseason!
I have been both harsh and conciliatory in these CFP Rankings evaluations, and I’m a big man and willing to accept when I was wrong – it did all work itself out. That’s a phrase that many bandied about weeks ago when the committee will ranking Michigan ahead of Michigan State while also putting Oregon ahead of Ohio State, all while Cincinnati sat on the outside looking in, and I disagreed with it. But it did all work itself out.
I still don’t like that excuse, and I don’t think it works every time (see: 2014, 2017). Also, if game results had gone differently, the committee would have had a lot of big decisions to make. All it would have taken was one of Alabama, Michigan, or Cincinnati to lose to open up that chaos. But all three win, and the top four basically made itself for the committee.
So I have to give it those who were saying this earlier in November: it did all work itself out, and for that I’m sure the committee is grateful.
The College Football Playoff Is Set: The Committee Got Lucky
Seriously, how fortunate is the committee? Oklahoma State lost to Baylor, meaning the committee doesn’t have to figure out if a one-loss, Big 12 champion Cowboys team should jump into the top four instead of someone else (likely Cincinnati). Cincinnati and Michigan took care of business with no issues, so keeping them in the top four is an easy choice, especially with Oklahoma State out of the picture. Then to top it all off, Alabama runs Georgia out of Atlanta, meaning the committee can easily and justifiably include two SEC teams in its final four.
There isn’t really any controversy about this top four. It did work itself out, which was always possible but something I was surely skeptical of relying on.
Had one of Michigan, Cincinnati, or Alabama lost, then the committee would have had an issue on its hands. Do you put in 11-1 Notre Dame with no conference championship and no head coach? Do you put in 10-2 Ohio State with two losses and no conference championship? Do you put in 11-2 Baylor with a bad loss to TCU but a Big 12 title under its belt? Those are the teams that finished ranked fifth through seventh, so you have to imagine those are the ones that committee would have included next, in that order.
There would have been a firestorm if any of those teams were selected for the College Football Playoff for different reasons for each. Instead, nobody can really argue with this final four – the most dominant team throughout the season, the only undefeated team in the country, and the only two one-loss champions of the power conferences. It’s a self-populating playoff field.
I did not think this would happen, not because I didn’t believe in Cincinnati, but because I didn’t believe in the system to do right by the Bearcats, even if they got to this 13-0 point. And boy, the system sure didn’t want this to happen, but there was enough chaos that it all “worked itself out,” and Cincinnati is the first group-of-five team to have a shot at a national championship.
It’s interesting to think about the non-power conference teams that had to get so close in the past to build us up to the point where people are generally fine with a team like Cincinnati being in the College Football Playoff. The openness to the Bearcats now is totally different to how they were treated in 2009 when they were in the Big East, a BCS conference at the time, and it’s completely different to the treatment of 2017 UCF and many past iterations of Boise State, Utah, and TCU. Part of that is absolutely because of the road win at Notre Dame, but it’s also shows a bit of a shift in how this sport views teams without the marquee names across the front of their jerseys.
About five years ago, the committee did everything it could to not just not put UCF in the top four – it kept UCF well outside the top 10, every week telling the Knights point blank that they had no shot no matter what. Now, Cincinnati got into the top four even before the final week. Obviously, there is context to help explain some of the difference, but it’s not like UCF was ranked just outside the playoff – the Knights finished the year 12-0 and were No. 12 in the committee’s final rankings.
What does this mean for the future of the sport? I’m not sure. It could mean more of an openness to non-power teams, but the best G5 programs are already continuing to consolidate within power conference, and for good reason. Perhaps if the current American were able to stay together, the long-term affect of this could be greater, but we already know that isn’t happening.
But right now, in 2021, those of us who have wanted to see undefeated non-power teams get their shot for many years are finally going to see it happen. Many Boise State teams, a few TCU teams, a few Utah teams, 2017 UCF, and a handful of others all died for this. Let’s see what Cincinnati can do – all it has to do is beat Alabama!
New Year’s Six
One of the downsides of the College Football Playoff is how much it overshadows the New Year’s Six games, which include some of the most historic and important bowls in the sport. For most programs, making a New Year’s Six bowl is a huge deal and something that should be celebrated, not lamented about because it’s not an invite to the CFP.
Anyone who complains about a Rose Bowl, not matter what team it is, should not be allowed to watch this sport, full stop.
This is the full schedule of this year’s NY6 showdowns, including the College Football Playoff:
Peach Bowl: No. 12 Pittsburgh vs. No. 10 Michigan State (Thursday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. EST)
Cotton Bowl (CFP Semifinal): No. 4 Cincinnati vs No. 1 Alabama (Friday, Dec. 31 at 3:30 p.m. EST)
Orange Bowl (CFP Semifinal): No. 3 Georgia vs No. 2 Michigan (Friday, Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. EST)
Fiesta Bowl: No. 9 Oklahoma State vs No. 5 Notre Dame (Saturday, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. EST)
Rose Bowl: No. 11 Utah vs No. 6 Ohio State (Saturday, Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. EST)
Sugar Bowl: No. 8 Ole Miss vs No. 7 Baylor (Saturday, Jan. 1 at 8:45 p.m. EST)
Congratulations to the 12 teams that will play in this year’s NY6 games!