Choose four teams. How hard could it be?
That’s the mission of the 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee. While it can be a thankless job – yours truly certainly being a contributor to the problem, on occasion – the group is responsible for finalizing programs that will compete for a national title.
Now, in the 10 years of the CFP era, three of the four picks have become routine each year. This group still includes highly respected undefeated or one-loss champions from a Power Five conference.
However, the final choice has rarely been truly controversial. This only came close to a real discussion in 2014 and slightly in 2016.
But that changed in 2023.
Florida State is without a quarterback but is 13-0. Alabama just beat top-ranked Georgia, but Bama already lost to Texas. And only two of them could make the CFP, with Michigan and Washington.
Final committee verdict: Texas and Alabama.
So, did they understand correctly?
The result: ranked No. 7
Ohio State is worth mentioning because they held an 11-1 record. The only program listed here not to play in a conference championship game, the Buckeyes entered at No. 6. Due to the chaos of the weekend, they slipped to seventh in the final rankings.
The verdict: expected
Barring wins by Washington, Georgia and Michigan and losses by Texas and Florida State (plus Oregon and Alabama, of course), the Buckeyes probably didn’t have a chance to slip into the Top Four anyway.
Alabama’s victory effectively sealed Ohio State’s fate, which is a 10th consecutive trip to the New Year’s Six Bowl.
The result: ranked No. 6
If Florida State and Texas had lost, Georgia probably could have made the Top Four despite losing to Alabama.
However, destiny cannot be controlled and the Dawgs headed into Selection Day in a shadow of doubt. Ultimately, they fell from the top of the CFP rankings to sixth place.
The verdict: understood
Georgia snuck into the CFP as a 12-1 non-champion two years ago. Context is important, though, and the 2021 conversation included three Power Five winners with more than two losses.
This season, the rest of the country has not cooperated.
“Win your conference” is an oversimplification of the RFP process. But in 2023, it’s a fair measure – and UGA has fallen short.
The result: ranked No. 5
Despite surviving a season-ending injury to star quarterback Jordan Travis, the Seminoles beat Florida in the final and Louisville in the ACC Championship Game to finish 13-0 as champions of conference.
In the final rankings, however, FSU fell behind Alabama and is the first team out of the CFP.
The verdict: false, false, false
You absolutely cannot leave out an undefeated power conference team. Otherwise, your process stinks.
Luckily for college football fans, this particular topic is on its way out. The likely inclusion of automatic bids for P5 champions in the expanded 12-team RFP means that starting in 2024, a program in FSU’s position would already be guaranteed a spot.
Never before has an unblemished P5 winner been left out.
That changed on Sunday.
From a strict competition perspective, this is understandable – and arguably correct. Florida State just isn’t as strong a competitor without Travis, who is out for the season.
But the process sucked. Leaving out an undefeated P5 champion? Terrible.
The result: ranked No. 4
Eighth-ranked Alabama needed a win in the SEC title game to have a chance, and the Crimson Tide achieved that.
During a balanced confrontation, only one turnover made the difference. Georgia mishandled the ball on one play, and Alabama’s Trezmen Marshall — a transfer from UGA, by the way — pounced on the fumble. That result led to a critical basket in Bama’s 27-24 victory.
As a result, the Crimson Tide immediately overtook Ohio State, Oregon and Georgia in the CFP table. The only question, once FSU arrived, was whether Alabama would land ahead of Texas.
The Verdict: Uncomfortable
And the response was that that’s exactly what Bama did.
Look, I have no problem competing with the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff. They will most likely give Michigan a better matchup than an FSU team with their quarterback.
Read it again, please: Alabama is a CFP-caliber team.
Simultaneously, the Crimson Tide ended up as the less deserving option. If we’re just picking the four strongest teams on paper, why bother ranking anyone at any point during the season? In this case, we just have to wait until December next year to release the 12 teams.
The result: ranked No. 3
After hitting Oklahoma State early Saturday, the Longhorns returned home to a promising spot.
Fifth-ranked Oregon lost to Washington, and sixth-ranked Ohio State did not make the Big Ten championship. So seventh-ranked Texas knew it wouldn’t be any worse than fifth, but it needed help.
Alabama initially provided some assistance.
The verdict: defensible
As long as the Longhorns were on the field, it didn’t bother me whether they landed third or fourth.
Behind the undefeated Power Five champions, the Horns had a perfectly simple argument versus Alabama: We played you and we beat you — and better yet, we did it in your own building.
There is also precedent for a team with a loss to be ranked higher than an undefeated team, dating back to 2014 (Florida State, btw) and 2021 (Cincinnati). I wouldn’t have had a problem with Texas because of FSU. It’s the other part of this conversation.
The result: ranked No. 2
Washington went to the Pac-12 title game with a simple outlook: Win and you’re there. And the Dawgs took care of business.
Even though a 20-3 Oregon lead turned into a 24-20 deficit, Washington — as the team did for two months — found a way in the fourth quarter. Heisman Trophy candidate Michael Penix Jr. guided for two touchdowns, and the Dawgs ultimately held on for a 34-31 victory.
The win essentially moved UW to at least third in the final rankings, and Georgia’s loss bumped the Huskies’ worst-case scenario to second.
The verdict: obvious
Given that Washington has played a constant game of survival over the past two months, it’s no surprise that Michigan is ranked ahead of the Dawgs.
But then again, they always survived.
Washington placed second, as expected, and will make a long trip to Louisiana for a matchup with Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
The result: ranked #1
Although the strength of Iowa’s defense meant Michigan probably wasn’t going to crush the Hawkeyes, the outcome of the Big Ten Championship — just as predicted — was never in doubt either.
Iowa had no answer on offense, mustering just 155 yards on a measly 2.8 per snap. Blake Corum had two rushing touchdowns in the 26-0 shutout victory.
Similar to Washington, Michigan moved up a projected spot due to Georgia’s loss to Alabama.
The verdict: deserved
Compared to #1, it’s not even a conversation. Michigan has always been the most crushing team in the country.
The bigger story, really, is where the Maize and Blue play in the national semifinals.
Michigan landed in the Rose Bowl, a classic Big Ten destination, even though the top-ranked team doesn’t have much of a choice. The selection committee determines the matchups.
Washington could have been sent to (relatively) neighboring California, but Michigan is instead headed to Pasadena for a matchup with Bama.