The final poll is in and the field is set. I could be like every other sports blogger in the country and attempt to give a three-weeks-too-early break down of each game or try to explain to you how and why the committee got it right or wrong. Instead, I’ll be different from other sports bloggers and compare how I would have done it vs. the committee and try to give credit where credit is due and point out where I would have done things differently. All in all, I thought the committee did a fairly decent job with the exception of one big miss.
Rose Bowl (#1 vs. #4): Oklahoma vs. Georgia
As you can imagine, this is one of the games where I believe the committee ultimately got it right even if I did the rankings a little differently. Most people seem to think that Clemson is a clear #1 and Oklahoma is a clear #2, but I don’t think the differences between these two are that distinguishable. Clemson’s big wins are Auburn at home, Virginia Tech on the road, Louisville on the road, N.C. State on the road, South Carolina on the road and Miami at a neutral site. Their loss is to Syracuse, who finished 4-8 (yes yes I know Kelly Bryant didn’t play in the second half). Oklahoma’s big wins are Ohio State on the road, TCU at home and again at a neutral site and Oklahoma State on the road. Their loss was a home loss to an Iowa State team who managed to get bowl eligible. Those resumes are comparable, and I would lean slightly towards Oklahoma personally.
Sugar Bowl (#2 vs. #3): Clemson vs. UCF
This was the one big miss for the committee. Everything shaped up for this to be the ideal year to give the Group of Five a playoff shot. There are only three clear playoff teams from the Power Five conferences and there is an undefeated Group of Five team who won all of their games, the majority of them convincingly. I have been saying for about four weeks now that I thought this was the kind of scenario where the committee should give a strong look at UCF, but the rankings each week made it abundantly clear that that was not going to happen. One telling thing that reaffirmed my belief that UCF should be the fourth team is that pretty much the entirety of the debate around Ohio State vs. Alabama, at least from a media standpoint, centered around whose flaws were the least damaging. This ultimately is why the committee chose Alabama over Ohio State. You know whose record has no flaws? UCF.
Orange Bowl: Miami vs. Alabama
The argument between Alabama and Ohio State was essentially a coin flip, but I do think Alabama was the right choice between these two. Even though I thought the committee would have picked Ohio State, the committee’s decision indicates that record trumps conference championships and, to some degree, strength of schedule. I have to add the “to some degree” because clearly UCF’s perfect record wasn’t enough to overcome what was evidently perceived as a vastly inferior schedule. One thing this decision does not say is that conference championships and strength of schedule don’t matter at all, it says that everything matters, but your record matters more. Generally speaking, I agree with this premise because that embodies two of the major ideas of the college football communities: that the four best teams should make the playoff and that every game matters. The precedent was set last year with Ohio State making it over Penn State, and the committee continued it this year by putting in Alabama over Ohio State. Now if only they could just learn to properly evaluate a good Group of Five team we’d be in business.
Peach Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin
Tough break for both of these teams, but there are worse consolation prizes for losing a conference title game than a New Year’s Six Bowl, just ask Stanford and TCU. Both teams had fantastic seasons, and Auburn came very close to putting the precedent mentioned above in serious jeopardy because if Auburn had won yesterday they would have been a lock for the playoff. Wisconsin still could have made a case for the playoff with Saturday being their lone loss of the season, but the committee made it crystal clear that Wisconsin’s resume was not going to be strong enough to overcome a loss prior to the Big Ten title game.
Cotton Bowl: USC vs. Ohio State
The committee nailed it with these next two games. With Ohio State not making the playoff, they seem like a natural fit to take on USC in a game that will be the most watched non-playoff bowl game. The other option here might have been a re-match of last year’s thrilling Rose Bowl, but I think the committee got it right to give us a Buckeyes vs. Trojans Cotton Bowl. These two schools have played 24 times in their storied histories, with USC leading the all-time series 13-9-1. Interestingly enough, USC has won the last seven times these two have played, with the last time being in 2009.
Fiesta Bowl: Penn State vs. Washington
Another strong New Year’s Six matchup that’s actually happening, this game should have everything you lovers of offensive fireworks want. If you do a family prop bets pool, this might be a good choice for highest total points of any New Year’s Six games. Then again, if you have a family prop bets pool you probably need to get a gamblers anonymous family plan for Christmas. Also, for you NFL fans, this game should feature a pair of future first rounders with Washington DL Vita Vea and future top-five pick Saquon Barkley. If you haven’t seen Barkley play yet then do yourself a favor, and if you have then savor this last opportunity to see him at the college level.
Cover Photo Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports