LLANO, Texas — Living in the heart of Texas — and Big 12 country – I’m surrounded by fans denouncing the College Football Playoff Committee.
There’s not much protest over perennial heavyweight Alabama, or Oregon with Heisman-bound Marcus Mariota, or unbeaten Florida State, the undefeated defending national champ, making the Final Four. But what about Ohio State, with a third-string quarterback and a resume blighted by a loss at home to .500 Virginia Tech?
The TCU Horned Frogs and Baylor Bears are outraged. They expected one of these one-loss Big 12 teams to be in the inaugural national playoff, as long as one of them took care of business in its final regular-season game. Both came through, Baylor 38-27 over 9th-ranked Kansas State, and TCU with a 55-3 crushing of woeful Iowa State.
After the dust had barely settled, Baylor coach Art Briles confronted Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. They were seen having a heated conversation because the commish announced there would be conference “co-champions,” since TCU and Baylor had identical records in league play.
Briles felt Baylor should have the throne to itself by virtue of a head-to-head win, 61-58. He pointed out that Bowlsby said before the season began that head-to-head would be the first tie-breaker to determine “one true champion.”
The Frogs countered that that their narrow loss to Baylor was in Waco and that the Bears had a more serious blemish: a two-touchdown loss at West Virginia.
Indeed, the Playoff Committee was leaning to TCU, placing it No. 3 going into the final week. The Frogs had run up a slew of big scores over respected adversaries: 41 points on Kansas State, 42 on Oklahoma State, 82 on Texas Tech, 48 on Texas.
What’s difficult for folks down here to understand is how TCU fell from third place to No. 6 after walloping Iowa State by 52 points.
TCU receiver Kolby Listenbee tweeted: “Yall want us to score 100 next time?”
The committee was swayed by an overwhelming performance by the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game: 59-0 over No. 11 Wisconsin. They shut down an all-time great running back, Melvin Gordon. Jeff Long, Playoff Committee chairman, said, “It was about Ohio State, not about TCU.”
So what was the purpose of the weekly rankings going up to Selection Day? Those rankings turned out to be a sham. Florida State somehow rose from No.4 to No. 3 on the strength of a 2-point win over Georgia Tech in the ACC (All Cupcake Conference?) championship game.
In the end, the main consideration was having the most attractive semifinals possible for the television audience. Who could argue that a matchup of the most accomplished coaches of this era – Nick Saban and Urban Meyer – would be more dramatic than Saban vs. Briles or Gary Patterson? Meyer and Saban have combined for six national titles.
And how can you not like the undercard featuring the two greatest quarterbacks of the past two years, Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston?
Committee members admitted they gave extra credit to Ohio State for winning its conference championship game in such an authoritative manner. The fact that the Buckeyes could do so after losing their top two quarterbacks with injuries speaks volumes for the coaching and recruiting by Meyer and his staff.
In the end, the Committee created a four-team tournament that most of the country will love. It was mathematically certain that at least one of the “Power Five” conferences would be left out. The message to the Big 12 is get yourself a championship game.
NCAA bylaws require a conference to have two divisions of at least six teams each before a championship game can be played. The Big 12 got reduced to 10 in the realignments of 2011.
But with the NCAA having already caved in to the Power Five, there’s little doubt a championship game could have been arranged for this season if Bowlsby had pushed it.
The truth is Bowlsby didn’t want it. He didn’t see the need, since each team in his conference got to play every other team in the conference. You would have a championship game between two teams that had already met.
Briles assumed that if two teams finished tied for first, the head-to-head matchup would break the tie. That’s a logical assumption, but if the Big 12 believed in logic it would have found a way to have 12 teams.
Instead, it has set itself up as the Mickey Mouse conference. It created the impression that it’s the league nobody wants to join.
You have to wonder why during the realignment shuffle the Big 12 couldn’t have snared the University of Houston and either Tulsa or SMU. That would have made perfect geographic sense.
There also have been reports of negotiations with the University of Cincinnati and with Brigham Young. The Big 12 tried to lasso Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish opted instead for the ACC.
Bowlsby told ESPN: “It’s clear that we were penalized for not having a postseason championship game. It would have been nice to have been told that ahead of time.”
Frankly, I don’t see why Bowlsby needed to be told. He should have figured this one out long ago.