As we gear up for the fourth edition of the College Football Playoff, there is at least one fan base left #madonline over the committee’s decision. Ohio State, with an early loss to Oklahoma (the second seed in the playoff) and a mid-season meltdown against Iowa (7-5 record, New Era Pinstripe Bowl invite), was left out of the field of four despite winning the B1G championship. Alabama, with just one loss and no conference championship appearance, was the final team in the playoff. So the question was naturally raised, what matters more, a conference championship or non-conference wins/losses?
While certain conference championships do matter (Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia all won their respective conferences), why then was the B1G champion left out, despite beating an undefeated team in the championship game? Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as some would like to believe.
Playoff seeding is also affected by the strength of schedule of opponents, and the margin of victory over certain opponents also appears to be a consideration. For Ohio State, a bad loss against Iowa and a slim victory over Wisconsin (who did not have a victory against a team in the final regular season top 25) ultimately kept them out of the playoff. So, then why was Alabama rewarded for not winning the SEC, which is an extremely top-loaded conference, with almost no competition from the bottom? Alabama lost to Auburn, which at the time was ranked sixth, one spot lower than Oklahoma was when they defeated Ohio State. Confused yet? Alabama also only squeaked out a victory over Mississippi State, who was ranked sixteenth at the time of the meeting. Either that game, or a 24-10 victory over then number 19 LSU could be called Alabama’s marquee victory. A hyped season-opener against Florida State, a game that the Crimson Tide convincingly won 24-7, looks less and less like a marquee victory, as FSU has fallen to 6-6 on the year.
So, if non-conference wins and losses truly are a determining factor in playoff seeding, then why was Clemson’s 27-24 loss to a 4-8 Syracuse team all but forgotten by the committee? Although it was closer than Ohio State’s loss to Iowa, Syracuse ended the season with at least three less wins than Iowa (depending on the outcome of Iowa’s bowl game). The main argument made by Clemson supporters is the fact that starting quarterback Kelly Bryant was unavailable for the majority of the second half of the Syracuse game. In defense of that argument, Ohio State was mostly healthy on both sides of the ball, and were plagued by four turnovers.
It would appear that average margin of victory can differentiate two teams on the brink. Between Alabama and Ohio State, the fourth and fifth ranked teams in the CFB Playoff rankings, Alabama’s average margin of victory was 2.5 points higher than Ohio State’s. Both teams ranked in the top five of this particular stat, with Alabama second and Ohio State fourth. All four playoff teams were ranked in the top eight, with Clemson clocking in at number eight.
Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt stated that Alabama was “the better football team” shortly after the field was announced. While Buckeye faithful will argue that, as B1G champions, they deserve to be in over a one-loss Alabama team that lacks a conference championship. Simply put, that argument holds no weight. Ohio State’s average margin of loss was a staggering 23 points, while Alabama lost by just 12 to SEC runner-up Auburn. Besides that, the committee has not chosen a two loss team for the playoff, albeit in a small sample size. Sorry Buckeye fans, but the committee got this one right.