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SAU Reacts to the Controversial Final College Football Playoff Rankings

On Sunday, December 3, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee released their final rankings of the year, deciding who would be four teams to compete in the playoffs for a national championship.

Division one, FCS college football has a very unique way of determining the teams who will compete for the championship of their league. Unlike the NFL, NBA, MLB, or even other college sports like basketball, wrestling, or baseball, college football decides the teams who can compete for a championship completely subjectively.

Of course there are obvious selections for who the appointed committee will choose. Michigan and Washington went undefeated this year and won their conference championship, both of which are considered “Power 5” conferences, or in other words the five conferences in which the teams are clearly better than the remaining conferences. 

Those conferences include the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, PAC-12, and SEC. As mentioned, both the Big 10 and PAC-12 had undefeated conference champions, both of which gained the top two spots in the final playoff ranking.

Where the rankings get tricky is when the picks aren’t perceived to be so obvious. In previous years the committee has had to choose between groups of one loss teams, and have had to compare the teams based on who they lost to, who they beat, what conference did they play in, among other things. 

The most important piece of information though is that the committee isn’t looking for who are the conference champions, who has less losses, and other tangible things. The playoff committee is instructed to choose the “four best teams”.

This concept is more abstract than concrete. Who are the four best teams? Can a team lose a game or two and still be considered one of the four best? Can a team win their conference and still be left out of the top four? The criteria leaves endless possibilities for the selection committee, and this year, we got a scenario unlike others we have seen before.

With the top two spots taken, the committee had the final two spots narrowed down to three teams: Alabama, Texas, and Florida State. Alabama was the SEC champions who had one loss on the year to Texas. Texas was the Big 12 champions who also had one loss to a lower ranked, but still very good, Oklahoma and a head to head win against Alabama.

Finally there was Florida State, the undefeated ACC champions. To the naked eye, it seemed like Florida State was a no brainer for one of the final two spots. However, two weeks prior to their ACC championship game win, Florida State lost their Heisman candidate starting quarterback, Jordan Travis. In the two and a half games after Travis suffered a season-ending injury, Florida State struggled offensively, but still managed to win the rest of their games.

In the world of the college football playoffs, with the subjective goal of picking the “four best teams”, the injury to one of the nations best players and the recent play of the team put doubt into people’s minds if this Florida State team was “better” than Alabama or Texas.

The committee faced a tough decision based on the criteria they had to work with, and finally they reached a verdict. Texas and Alabama received the final two spots in the playoff, leaving Florida State, a team that had won every game it played in the 2023 season, out.

The decision sparked a lot of debate about the four team playoff format, which was decided to expand to 12 teams starting in 2024 at the beginning of the season, how conferences were judged, how teams were judged without certain players, and many other conversations.

I asked a few SAU students and professors what they thought of the committee’s decision. Overall, people were disappointed in the way the committee handled things, believing that even if Alabama was technically one of the four best teams, that the position should belong to teams that are most deserving, and not who is perceived as the “best”.

Junior Luke Vera sounded off on the committee’s decision as “disrespectful”.

“I don’t like it at all. It’s disrespectful to the game of football. All because the decision was made for money instead of the kids who deserve it. If you go undefeated and win your conference in the power 5 you should be in the playoff. The committee couldn’t sit out an SEC team even though Alabama barely beat a bad Auburn team,” Vera commented.

The Auburn game he referenced occurred one week before the SEC championship, in which Alabama won on a last second touchdown against a 6-5 Auburn team. If Alabama had not pulled off those last minute heroics against a perceived worse team, Alabama would not have even been in consideration for the playoff.

“I enjoyed this era and it’s cemented by the success of Alabama and Georgia with some good Clemson teams as well. I can’t wait for an expanded playoff even though I wish it was eight teams instead of 12.”

Some voiced their understanding of the committee’s process in picking Alabama based on the criteria, but felt it spoke on the need to change the criteria for entry in the playoff.

Junior Ryan Schiestel commented, “I have some very mixed feelings about it. For one, I think it’s not fair that you leave a power five, undefeated team out of the playoffs just because they lose their quarterback. He’s a big part of the team, but it’s a team sport. On the other hand, I really think Alabama is gonna put up a better game than Florida State would’ve against anyone. I also don’t think that Alabama won by enough against Georgia to make the jump they did.”

Alabama, then ranked eighth, defeated Georgia, then ranked first, in the SEC championship by a score of 27 to 24, the victory that allowed them to leap frog multiple teams to get into the top four.

Senior Connor Grabins shared this understanding of why the committee made the decision that they did. 

“I dislike it but at the same time I understand why they did it. The committee rules specifically state that they will take into consideration key players who are unavailable. So  in that regard the made the right decision. But I think that shouldn’t be something they look at because there are about one-hundred other guys on the team who make them good. So the process is just flawed. It should be more objective like the NFL where there are a set of requirements like winning your conference and you are in or something like that. Florida State could do nothing else,” Grabins detailed.

Communications Professor Greg Armstrong also shared his view of the decision, “When you really start looking at it, did they draw up the three best games that we are going to get for the playoffs and the national championship? Yeah I think we got there. When you start thinking about taking the decision off of the field and into the boardroom, that’s always been the criticism of the selection committee, but now you see it in the most ugly form. They took the credit of the wins out of the equation. Florida State did their job and still didn’t get in,” Armstrong chronicalled.

When asked about how they will look back at the four team playoff era, responses indicated that they thought it produced some great games and moments, but ultimately it was a flawed system and that they are happy for the expansion.

“I enjoyed this era and it’s cemented by the success of Alabama and Georgia with some good Clemson teams as well. I can’t wait for an expanded playoff even though I wish it was eight teams instead of 12,” described Vera.

Schiestel shared Vera’s sentiments, “I never had a problem with the four team playoff. There are some years that I think it’s hard to decide on four teams, and this year is no different. I’m excited to see the 12 team playoff, but I wonder if people are going to get sick of it. Let’s be real, odds are one of the top five to six teams will always win it. I think it should’ve been six teams with the top two spots getting a bye.”

“Given that this is the last one, it’s going to leave a negative connotation to it forever, because as well as some years where it worked, now we’re seeing why it wasn’t effective at all, really,” Armstrong added. 

The playoff semi-finals will be played on New Year’s Day. Millions of eyes will tune in to see how Alabama will serve against top-ranked Michigan. Millions will also tune in New Year’s Eve, when Florida State will take on Georgia in the Orange Bowl. If Florida State can win, it will spark the conversation all over again about if they deserved a playoff spot. Regardless of how either game turns out, the speculation will continue forever.