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CFP Committee Faces Dilemma Over Conference Title

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USA TODAY

 

When the guys who run college football -- and by this we mean the commissioners of the Power Five conferences -- sat down a few years back to hammer out how the College Football Playoff would work, there was a serious difference of opinion. Some wanted to populate the four-team bracket with conference champions. Others wanted the four best teams, period.

They got a compromise, of sorts. It would be the four best teams. But "conference championships won" would be an official criteria the committee was to use to distinguish "among otherwise comparable teams."

We bring this up because it suddenly seems very relevant -- and because Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who back then wanted conference champs only in the Playoff, is set to benefit from the compromise.

You know by now that Ohio State will not win the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are 11-1 but lost a tiebreaker in the Big Ten East to Penn State, which will play Big Ten West winner Wisconsin on Saturday for the league title. But the Buckeyes were ranked No. 2 by the selection committee last week, and that evaluation doesn't figure to change much considering their 30-27 double-overtime win against a Michigan team that was ranked No. 3.

Without diving too deep, we're looking at the very real possibility that for the first time in its short tenure, the selection committee will decide a team that did not win its league is among the four best. And then the question becomes: Is Ohio State in ahead of -- meaning instead of -- or along with the Big Ten champion?

"There are no automatic bids, I know that. I know that for a fact," Delany told USA TODAY Sports -- and to his credit, he did not quite chuckle. "I know this. The committee will look at all the information."

He spoke like a guy occupying a very nice position (although if the committee chooses Ohio State instead of Penn State/Wisconsin, things could get dicey; the commissioner will face anger from within his league). Big Ten teams occupied four of the top eight positions in last week's College Football Playoff Top 25. That doesn't figure to change much, if at all, this week -- and maybe not after this weekend's championship games, either.

Only conference champions? How about his conference's champion and that other team that's even better?

"The most important thing about that committee for all of us that were a part of creating it was that at a core level it's got to be football people with credibility, and that's what we have," Delany said. "And so they'll figure it out."

During the first two years, the committee has clearly been predisposed to favor conference champions. But this is the first time a team the committee is clearly enamored of has not won its conference.

Two years ago, TCU was ranked No.3 the week before the final ranking and finished as a Big 12 co-champion with a 52-point win against Iowa State but fell to No. 6 (ironically, Ohio State jumped the Horned Frogs and Big 12 co-champion Baylor and into the Playoff). That doesn't seem likely to happen to Ohio State, even if the comparison is to, say, Penn State as a Big Ten champion and owner of a win against Ohio State.

(Last week, selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt indicated the committee did not see "a small margin of separation" between Ohio State and Penn State, and if that evaluation does not change, the head-to-head and conference championships criteria wouldn't come into play.)

Michigan could have made things a lot simpler for the selection committee if it had held on to beat Ohio State. And while we're on the subject, there's a case to be made that Michigan remains one of the four best teams. The Wolverines won't get into the Playoff, of course, so the debate shifts, either to Ohio State vs. the Big Ten champ or to the Big Ten vs. the rest of college football.

The good news for Delany: He doesn't have to figure it out. He can sit back and wait, confident that his league is seen as very strong.

 

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November 28, 2016
 
 
 

 

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