Nick Saban’s No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Urban Meyer’s No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes at the Sugar Bowl.
Marcus Mariota, this season’s Heisman Trophy front-runner, and second-seeded Oregon vs. Jameis Winston, last season’s Heisman Trophy winner, and defending national champion Florida State at the Rose Bowl.
The winners will meet on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas, at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
A new era, indeed, but with the same old problems: What is the best way to pick the teams and what should be the criteria?
After six weeks of ranking teams, the selection committee shuffled its deck Sunday and dealt the Big 12 out of the playoff.
“We’re smarting today,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.
TCU, which had been third in the rankings last week, ended up sixth. Big 12 co-champion Baylor moved up a spot to No. 5, but both were squeezed out by Ohio State, which won over the committee with a doozy of a closing statement in its conference championship game: a 59-0 victory against Wisconsin for the Big Ten title.
“I would say that human nature is that the most recent thing that occurs, in this case the most-recent achievements, are the most impactful,” Bowlsby said. “Ohio State’s victory over Wisconsin was complete domination, and in that regard they played their way into the position they now enjoy.”
The Big 12 doesn’t have one of those anymore. Its teams play only 12 games, compared to 13 for champions of the other Big Five conferences.
Bowlsby and his conference athletic directors are meeting in New York this week and he anticipates the topic of how best to determine a champion will come up.
“This will be a catalyst for discussion for sure,” Bowlsby said.
The Big 12 can’t hold a championship game because it only has 10 teams, but the conference, along with the Atlantic Coast Conference, is trying to change that. The leagues have proposed getting rid of NCAA rules requiring a conference have 12 teams split into two divisions to play a title game.
Holding one with 10 teams that play a nine-game round-robin schedule isn’t ideal because the game would always be a rematch, Bowlsby said.
“I don’t know with 10 it’s something that we would necessarily do,” Bowlsby said. But conference expansion is a complicated issue that goes well beyond whether to hold a championship game.
Bowlsby cautioned about making a “knee-jerk” reaction to one year’s results. He said his faith in the process has not wavered.
“We put a system in place and I helped to put it in place and I have confidence in that system. And I have confidence in the impeccable integrity of the people in that room,” he said.
Baylor coach Art Briles wasn’t so sure.
“I think the committee needs to be a little more regionalized with people that are associated with the south part of the United States,” he said. “I’m not sure there is a connection on there that is that familiar with the Big 12 Conference.”
There were five active athletic directors on the 12-member committee, one from each of the Big Five conferences. The Big 12 was represented by West Virginia’s Oliver Luck. The Mountaineers have been in the Big 12 for three seasons.
Maybe the most jarring part of Sunday’s unveiling was TCU dropping three spots from the last rankings. The Horned Frogs seemed to be secure at No. 3 last week, and then beat lowly Iowa State by 52 on Sunday.
Committee chairman Jeff Long said TCU’s drop was more about the Buckeyes than the Frogs, but it highlighted a problem with weekly rankings. Commissioners initially leaned toward not having them when they first started putting the playoff together.
While Long would emphasize every week the committee started with a clean slate, traditionally collegefootball polls create a pecking order for teams that only gets disrupted by losses.
The top six teams in last week’s rankings all won on Saturday. On Sunday, the teams were the same, but the order was very different. And it left many fans wondering why.
Long said it was too soon to say what changes the committee would recommend to the commissioners. It’s safe to say the benefit of having weekly rankings will be addressed when Long’s crew reconvenes in a couple of months.
“I think that the committee will look at this year, look at this season, look how the entire process went,” he said.
Until then, let the playoff games begin.
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