Did the College Football Playoff selection committee change its previous standards by leaving Penn State out of the four-team bracket?
When the College Football Playoff (CFP) selection committee was instituted for the 2014-15 campaign, it set out to develop uniformity within its choices, unlike the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). In particular, college football fanatics were up in arms over USC’s denial from the national championship game in 2004 despite finishing the season as the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 Poll.
Although the Trojans held an 11-1 record after a dominant 52-28 win over Oregon State in the regular season finale, Oklahoma (11-1), who was derailed by Kansas State 35-7 in the Big 12 title game, still snuck in to face LSU in the pinnacle contest. Hence, the computers provided an obvious flaw, leading many to believe a four-team tournament would import a quick solution.
Instead, the board proved its mortality with the decision to leave Penn State out on the curb with Sunday’s selection, undeservedly so. Albeit an impressive resume from each of the contestants (No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Washington), the Nittany Lions delivered what the CFP determined were necessary aspects from the previous two seasons to receive a ticket to the New Year’s Eve extravaganza.
Let’s travel back a couple of years ago, when the committee chose Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State as the programs to compete in the inaugural Playoff. While those four schools might have elicited consideration as the nation’s best by numerous spectators as well, they all still accomplished a common feat: winning their conference championship games.
Additionally, none of the schools faced a head-to-head conflict with closely ranked teams. No. 5 Baylor and No. 6 TCU, both residing in the Big 12, obviously generated no in-conference debate between the top four, either. The entrants’ strength of schedule also appeared fairly well-built, presuming that category would be the next go-to default to be employed.
Let’s give a round of applause to the committee, everybody!
Onto last season, its resolution was thought to set another vital precedent for years to come. Though the four squads (Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma) deservedly received bids following wins in their respective conference title matchups, MSU created a bit of controversy.
In a defensive slugfest, the Spartans outlasted Iowa 16-13, mostly thanks to a 22-play drive in the fourth quarter, then-freshman tailback L.J. Scott capped off with a three-yard score. Even with the victory, the two schools actually held identical records both overall and in Big Ten play (12-1, 7-1 Big Ten).
Yet the committee clearly favored the head-to-head schedule and rightfully so, recognizing the matchup took place on the big stage. Moreover, Ohio State, who lost to Michigan State in the regular season and therefore was denied a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game, fell short of the tourney.
NCAA switch to 8 playoff teams? Ima Buckeye till I die. But a few teams like Penn State deserve to be in !! Your thoughts?
— Terrelle Pryor SR (@TerrellePryor) December 4, 2016
Well, those guidelines seem reasonable and clear-cut. Thus, No. 5 Penn State (11-2, 8-1 Big Ten) was patently slapped with a double standard.
Sure, head coach James Franklin and his bunch owns two losses, including one to the Pittsburgh Panthers (8-4) in early September. In that contest, the Nittany Lions actually trailed 28-7 late in the second quarter before roaring back in a 42-39 nail biting defeat. Two weeks later, the unit was absolutely throttled in “The Big House,” falling to then-ranked No. 4 Michigan, 49-10.
However, applying the committee’s previously manifested formula, the final product is what counts. It did for Michigan State last season. One extra non-conference loss can’t overrule that. Furthermore, No. 3 Ohio State’s (11-1, 8-1 Big Ten) failure to once again miss out on a trip to Indianapolis should be valued in the same fashion as a campaign ago. Don’t account the “eye-test” as an argument.
Thus, the Nittany Lions’ eight consecutive wins don’t garner the proper amount of acknowledgement, considering a 24-21 victory over the Buckeyes was weaved into the stretch. In the matchup, Franklin’s group replicated its overall resiliency, accumulating 17 points in just under 10 minutes in the fourth quarter to rally from a two-score deficit. The pivotal play came with 4:39 to go in the frame, as cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal attempt 60 yards for a touchdown, giving Penn State its first lead of the evening.
Nevertheless, fans wouldn’t have guessed the program places No. 1 in the nation in fourth quarter points per game (12.8). A 10-point final frame against then-No. 6 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game factored into that, as the Nittany Lions overcame a 28-7 second quarter deficit to manufacture the largest comeback in Big Ten title game history. Shouldn’t winning the conference, which currently possesses four teams in the top 10, mean something?
Let it fly, young man!
Trace McSorley torched the Wisconsin defense for 384 yards and 4 TDs in Penn State's big win pic.twitter.com/WbJWeBDnli
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 4, 2016
In the win, sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley strung together his premier performance of the season, tossing for 384 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions versus the No. 2 team-leader in swipes. More impressively, the victory halted the Badgers’ six-game winning streak.
Some may judge the aforementioned number as an inability to dominate, rather than appreciate Franklin’s ability to preach the significance of mental fortitude. But seeing how the team demonstrated such toughness repeatedly, it’s an indication of some striking adjustments.
Unfortunately, the selection committee couldn’t emulate a similar work ethic in its construction of the College Football Playoff.