The year 2016 has been a wacky one for college football, but not in a bad way. The scenarios drawn from the conclusion of the conference championship games leave a few teams waiting impatiently for the selection show in order to see if they made it. While it would seem that four conference champions receive automatic spots to be the top four teams, there is a strong chance that it may not happen this year. Moreover, the College Football Playoff Committee never stated that a conference champion is an unquestionable insertion.
When teams are vying to get in the playoffs with similar resumes, components such as head-to-head, championships won, and quality of competition all comes in to play; not individually, but collectively.
College Gameday analyst and college football commentator Kirk Herbstreit made this very clear when analyzing the top four after the Clemson vs. Virginia Tech ACC Conference Championship game. When discussing the playoffs with fellow commentator Chris Fowler, he asserted that Washington’s very poor non-conference schedule may be the biggest detriment in their case for that fourth spot.
“I think the thing to remember about Washington is while they looked great last night against Colorado, the committee is gonna continue to go back to their non-conference scheduling. They’re 127th in the country with their non-conference schedule. That stands out to the committee. Because if you put in a team like that, I think it sends the wrong message, even though they’re conference champions.”
This is not the first time Herbstreit has criticized poor non-conference scheduling. Last year, he criticized Alabama for scheduling a much lesser qualified team of Charleston Southern, defeating them 56-6, before competing against their rivals Auburn in the last game of the regular season. This year, they did the same thing, facing Chattanooga a week before their showdown with Auburn.
Herbstreit makes a good point. Not only with the importance of non-conference games, but how scheduling insignificant games so late in the season just pads points to inflate the margin of victory “eye test” that the committee looks at.
While most of the major conference championship games were only one team having a chance to go to the playoffs (Washington, Alabama, and Clemson), the Big Ten is what makes the selection very tricky.
Per the grid shown of the Big Ten resumes, there is no clear-cut team that should feel confident enough that they are going to be one of the top four teams. Since Wisconsin lost, they are officially out of the discussion, but will be placed in a very good bowl game. This leaves Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State.
Penn State won their conference championship, but came into Saturday evening ranked seventh in the nation. The only team that lost in the six ahead of them this week was Wisconsin, who they beat, and were ranked sixth. Does Penn State now jump Michigan since they won the championship? According to the committee, no, because the championship is thrown into the same pile as the head-to-head, which Michigan won.
However, Penn State beat Ohio State, and are the Big Ten Champions, so does Ohio State fall down three spots without playing a game this week? Highly unlikely, because Ohio State has the most impressive resume in the Big Ten, beating four top 10 teams, three of them still there (Michigan, Wisconsin, Oklahoma).
Perhaps the biggest letdown for Penn State is not what happened inside the conference, but outside. Oklahoma convincingly defeated Oklahoma State to win the Big 12 Championship. Ohio State beat Oklahoma by three touchdowns, which makes their non-conference argument one of the best that can be presented.
Interestingly, if Penn State ends up getting the fourth spot in the playoff, it may end up happening because they pushed Washington out.
[Featured Image By Marcio Jose/AP Images]