For the most part, I stand by what I’ve said from the beginning. There’s no reason to have weeks of rankings from the CFP’s selection committee, other than to give ESPN broadcast fodder. That being said, I will reluctantly admit there may be something to glean from tonight’s effort, and, no, it’s not about Georgia. It’s about whether we’re going to see a canary in the coalmine with regard to postseason expansion.
The first three seasons of the four-team College Football Playoff have raised some fun hypotheticals, but three always stood out above the rest:
■ While at least one of the so-called Power 5 conferences — the Atlantic Coast, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the Pacific-12 and the Southeastern — is guaranteed to be locked out of a four-team party every year, would a final bracket ever omit two of those conferences by taking, say, an independent like Notre Dame, or two teams from the same league?
■ Could a team from one of the lower-tier Group of Five conferences qualify? (This, too, would leave out two power conferences.)
■ Might a pattern develop in which it became clear that one power conference was congenitally unlikely to make the playoff, either by performance or by design?
None of these hypotheticals have become reality so far…
The fun part is that, about two-thirds of the way through the season, all three intriguing — and potentially consequential — possibilities listed above remain on the table…
But even more damning would be for the Big 12 champion to deserve to make the playoff — and still fail to get a bid. Take the Sooners, for example, who still could rip off four impressive wins to go with a September victory at No. 3 Ohio State (7-1) — and then find themselves ranked fifth or sixth, behind some combination of the SEC champion, the Big Ten champion, a one-loss A.C.C. champion (or even an undefeated one: hello, Miami!), a great one-loss SEC team and even one-loss Notre Dame.
That kind of ego-bruising, budget-blowing disappointment would not be unprecedented. At the end of the 2004 season, Auburn was 12-0 and was passed over for the Bowl Championship Series title game. Although the four-team playoff took another decade to arrive, that Tigers season is seen in retrospect as the moment it became inevitable.
If the Big 12, with tradition-rich Oklahoma boasting a deserving résumé and (possibly) a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Baker Mayfield, finds its face pressed against the wrong side of the glass yet again, then prepare for more changes to the way college football picks its champion.
You can skip the Central Florida talk as being a pipe dream dependent on a bunch of P5 programs falling by the wayside over the next five weeks. (Yes, I suppose I’m saying there’s a chance.)
But another lockout of the Big 12, especially after it went and adopted its useless championship game? No doubt that would threaten the true underlying purpose of the CFP, namely, generating more revenue for the P5 conferences. What would exacerbate that tension even more would be if two SEC schools made the semis, along with Notre Dame. Do I think that would be another inevitable moment for college football’s postseason, to go along with 2004 and The Rematch? Damn straight I do.
So let’s see who makes the top four tonight. It’s not a final rendition by any means, but it’ll indicate whether the committee is at least willing to contemplate going there.