Ohio State fans are simply disgusted after their team got pummeled by Clemson 31-0 in the College Football Playoff Semifinal. The defeat was arguably Buckeye Nation’s most disheartening defeat since the January 2007 BCS National Championship loss to the Urban Meyer-led Florida Gators, 41-14. So much so that some fans, like myself, are employing a similar strategy as the conclusion of the 2006 season: refusing to acknowledge that a game even occurred for about five years. To put this loss in perspective, Urban Meyer had previously never been shut out. This one was the first in his 194 games as a head coach. And worst of all, his team laid a goose egg on one of the biggest stages — an environment his squads usually seem to thrive in.
In the College Football Playoff’s short three-year life, the last two years have unfortunately provided lopsided results. Last year’s college football semifinal resulted in a 37-17 Clemson victory over Oklahoma, and an Alabama whooping on Michigan State. This year, in addition to Clemson’s dominant victory over the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl, Alabama scored 24 unanswered points on Washington, in spite of a poor offensive performance. Their 24-7 victory even resulted in a “mutual decision” to let their offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin leave just before their National Championship.
As disappointed as Ohio State’s players, staff and fans are, the notion that they didn’t deserve to be one of the final four teams in hindsight is an egregious error.
The fact of the matter is that the College Football Playoff committee has gotten its final four teams right in each of its three years. The biggest argument for their selections was their first year, 2014, in which they chose Ohio State as their fourth team (Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State). That decision was later proved correct, when the Buckeyes beat Alabama and Oregon en route to a National Championship.
The CFP committee took the entire season into account when selecting a team like Ohio State this year. Just like they took the entire 2015 season into account when selecting Michigan State last year. Using the result of the semi-final game to question that process is counterproductive and irresponsible. It ignores the purpose of the committee, and instead weighs the final game heavier than the others. Based on that same logic, Clemson’s regular season loss to Pitt could have instead factored in the committee decision over the rest of their impressive resume. Critics of the Ohio State selection will dismiss the Clemson example as exaggeration. The clear question in critics’ eyes is the Buckeyes being included in the CFP when they failed to win their conference and lost head-to-head against a Penn State team that did win it.
Further, it’s easy to use Penn State’s performance against USC in the Rose Bowl to suggest that they would perform better against Clemson than Ohio State did. However, we don’t know and will never know for sure, because the game won’t happen. Not only that, but if we’re operating on hypotheticals, we can easily deduct that Ohio State would not lose to Clemson in the same fashion they did whether they played another one game or another nine games. Just like Ohio State likely wouldn’t lose to Penn State head-to-head like they did. Had they not lost 31-0, would we be questioning the Buckeyes’ presence in the playoff like we are now? Just like we are unable to ignore the results of those two games, we cannot ignore the results of Ohio State’s other eleven.
If hindsight can be used, then who would Ohio State be replaced with? Penn State? By using the same hindsight, we know that the same game we were using to suggest the Nittany Lions would perform better in the playoff was a loss in the Rose Bowl. Michigan? A team who suffered their third loss at the hands of Florida State. Sure, the next obvious choice is Oklahoma, who won the Sugar Bowl convincingly over Auburn. But since we’re still using hindsight, can we really say that Auburn deserved to represent the SEC in that bowl game over a Florida Gators team who defeated Iowa, 30-3? And in the case of Michigan and Oklahoma, even with hindsight we STILL can’t ignore that they both lost to Ohio State, and one other team each before their bowl games.
Even with the hindsight and lopsided result, the teams on the losing end still deserved to be in because we cannot ignore the triumphs that landed them there. Ohio State had victories at Oklahoma, at Wisconsin, home versus Michigan, home versus Nebraska, and one, close loss at Penn State. Those regular season results can’t be disregarded in favor of their poor final game. Just like those regular season results could not be ignored when they were selected ahead of Big Ten Champion, Penn State, who dropped an early game to Pitt and lost another by a 49-10 margin against Michigan. The College Football Playoff committee insisted that tiebreakers like head-to-head results and conference championships would only come into play with razor-thin margins. They remained steadfast in their selection of Ohio State, proving Penn State wasn’t in the razor-thin realm. And if Penn State wasn’t in the realm, Michigan definitely wasn’t even near it.
It’s rather obvious that Ohio State being selected in the College Football Playoff drew the most criticism due to the fact that they were not conference champions. Instead, that title fell to the only team that beat them in the regular season, Penn State – the team most critics would have put in the playoff over Ohio State. Those critics don’t believe a non-conference champion should get into the playoff. So, what’s the point of a committee then? If we operate under the requirement that a CFP representative must be a conference champion, likely from a Power Five conference, a computer could tell us which four conference champions out of the five deserve to be in. Based on that logic, those same people ought not to be vocal about switching to an 8-team playoff in the future. But that’s for another time. Non-conference champion critics fail to realize that conference champions are not immune to lopsided defeats. Last season, Michigan State’s Big Ten Championship team lost 38-0. In addition to the Spartans, last year’s Big 12 champion, Oklahoma and this year’s Pac-12 champion, Washington, each lost by 17 points or more.
The college football playoff committee serves an important purpose: to evaluate the entire product. No one criterion is more important. For every proponent of the eye test, there’s someone who values a conference championship, or another who values good losses. There is no end-all-be-all category; it’s the entire product. And for the last three years, the committee’s gotten the product right – they just unfortunately couldn’t control the result.