Will NCAA football playoffs reach potential?

Francis Boeck, Reporter

On Oct. 28, 2014, just a little over two years after being approved by the NCAA, the College Football Playoff board released its first-ever rankings. Today, in its third year, the College Football Playoff board has the opportunity to reach its full potential.

The College Football Playoff board came about to replace the controversial Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Under the BCS, which ran for 15 years, rankings would be put together based on a combination of a media poll (AP/Harris), a coaches’ poll and six computer rankings.

At the end of the year, the top two teams would play in a National Championship game. After years of complaining from coaches, players, fans and media about how the rankings are put together because only two teams would be eligible to win the National Championship, the NCAA board made a major change.

They decided to create the College Football Playoff. The Playoff takes the job of ranking the top-25 teams in College Football from the coaches, media and computers and gives it to a 12-man selection committee. At the end of the year, the 12-man selection committee, comes out with its final rankings and assigns teams to play in the New Year’s six bowl games.

The top four teams are then in the College Football Playoff. On a rotational basis, two bowl games are designated sites of the semifinal games with one hosting the No. 1 vs No. 4 matchup and the other hosting the No. 2 vs No. 3 matchup. The winners then meet in the National Championship, which is played about a week later.

By creating a four-team playoff bracket, twice as many teams are now involved in deciding a National Champion, meaning more teams have a shot at making the playoff, keeping more people interested. Also, by having a committee of 12 people who have extensive knowledge of the sport and watch most if not all of the games, the committee has the opportunity to look beyond superficial aspects.

The first year of the College Football Playoff, the committee and its supporters proved many naysayers wrong. Those that believed four was too many teams to vie for a championship were proven wrong as No. 4 Ohio State upset top-ranked Alabama in the semifinal and went on to win the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Last year, the underdogs were beaten in the semis, leading to a thrilling No. 1 vs No. 2 final between Clemson and Alabama. Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 in the 2016 Championship, its 16th National Championship, first under the College Football Playoff.

But it is this year, before a champion is crowned the College Football Playoff has the opportunity to reach its full potential.

This year, one of the greatest rivalries in all of American sports became the most important game of the College Football regular season. No. 2 Ohio State defeated rival No. 3 Michigan 30-27 in thrilling come-from-behind fashion in double overtime on Saturday.

This year’s game almost reached the importance of the 2006 showdown which became known as the “Game of the Century” when No. 1 Ohio State met No. 2 Michigan. That was the first time the No. 1 and No. 2 teams met in the regular season under the BCS.

But unlike the final week of the regular season in 2006, the 2016 regular season more than just one game had an impact on the postseason. In this final week, nine games, many of which were already rivalry games, had a direct impact on the postseason and six more with potential impact on the bowls. Most commissioners would kill to have that many games in the final week of the regular season have such an impact on the postseason.

One of those games was Michigan State at Penn State. Penn State defeated Michigan State, clinching the Big Ten East Division and a spot in the Big Ten Championship game.

The CFP will be tested this year as the committee has the opportunity to rank the best four teams in the country in the top four spots, despite the issue of conference championships and head-to-head matchups.

Next week, if Penn State defeats Wisconsin, will win the Big Ten Championship and have the head-to-head ‘tiebreaker’ over Buckeyes. One might assume the Nittany Lions would be given a spot in the Playoff over one loss Ohio State.

Under the BCS format, I would assume a two-loss Penn State is put ahead of the Buckeyes. However, with the CFP, the committee can overlook those ‘tiebreakers’ and place the Buckeyes ahead of Penn State when the final rankings are made.

This is the criteria for the rankings the College Football Playoff put on their website.

“The committee selects the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory) and other relevant factors that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.”

While it mentions that the committee considers factors such as “conference championships won” and “head-to-head competition” they only go by these factors when the committee “distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams”. So, the question is, ‘Are Ohio State and Penn State comparable teams?’

Penn State (10-2, 8-1) can make a strong case as to why they should be in the College Football Playoff when it’s all settled. The Nittany Lions defeated Ohio State in Week 7, handing the Buckeyes their only loss of the season. With a win Saturday over Wisconsin, they would be Big Ten Champions.

However, despite losing the head-to-head and not having a conference championship, the Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 8-1) are the second-best team in the country and deserved to be ranked above the Nittany Lions.

The Buckeyes led Penn State for a majority of the game, and only lost thanks to a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown with only four minutes left in the game. Aside from that mistake, the Buckeyes have been taking care of business all year.

Ohio State’s resume includes beating Michigan, Big Ten West-Champ Wisconsin, and dominating wins over Oklahoma and Nebraska. Penn State has a big loss to Michigan and a loss to Pitt. The Nittany Lions faced the bottom half of the Big Ten West with its next biggest win against eight-win Iowa.

The only argument one can make as to why the two teams would even be considered ‘comparable’ is because they are from the same conference. Due to the fact that there are only four spots in the playoff for all Power 5 conferences, people already feel unsettled about leaving out a conference champion.

The fact is having possibly two or more teams from one conference in the playoff makes fans very uneasy. But the truth is the Big Ten is by far better than the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12, and might be from top-to-bottom better than the SEC. The Big Ten might deserve to have a second team in the Playoff over Washington (11-1), whose biggest claim to greatness is a one-touchdown win over No. 22 Utah.

This issue that College Football is faced with right now is the reason why the BCS was given up and the College Football Playoff was created. It’s time for the College Football Playoff to not be beholden to head-to-head matchups and conference champions and reach its full potential.

email: [email protected]

Twitter: @FBoeck300level