1. The following sentence is going to sound strange considering I wrote Sunday and the College Football Playoff selection committee all but confirmed Tuesday that No. 2 Ohio State is in without so much as winning their division title and No. 1 Alabama could lose 42-0 to Florida on Saturday and still reach the Playoff, but, still:
We’re about to find out how much a conference championship is really worth in the College Football Playoff era.
Through two seasons of this grand experiment, eight bids have been awarded to eight conference champions. Should Washington win on Friday night and Clemson follow on Saturday, that number will jump to 11-for-12. For the second year in a row we’ll dress up a grand pronouncement on Sunday as the culmination of a 7-week refinement process as if a coven of trained chickens couldn’t have chosen the four most qualified teams in college football.
But if Washington and Clemson lose, Selection Sunday will become appointment television.
Selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said Tuesday the margin between No. 4 Washington and No. 5 Michigan is “razor thin.” The Wolverines have won one game outside the state of Michigan all season — that win came at Rutgers, by the way — and they’ve lost two of their last three. But that second loss came in a double-overtime loss by three points at No. 2 Ohio State, a game in which Michigan led most of the way, a game in which the Wolverines clearly affirmed themselves as an elite outfit.
This is an elite Michigan team that beat Wisconsin, that beat Penn State, and that beat Colorado.
One of the first two will lift the Big Ten’s champion trophy on Saturday night and Colorado has the same option in the Pac-12 title game on Friday night.
So while Michigan holds head-to-head over all three, two of the three will have a chance to hold a conference title over Michigan’s head. How much do each matter. How much does it matter that Michigan beat Colorado on Sept. 17, Penn State on Sept. 24 and Wisconsin on Oct. 1? How much does it matter that all three were in Ann Arbor? That Colorado was winning the game until quarterback Sefo Liufau was knocked out due to injury?
How much does it matter that Michigan is Michigan and the others aren’t? What happens if Clemson wins and the Big Ten winner, Colorado and Michigan are fighting for one spot?
Washington and Clemson could win this weekend and Sunday’s show could be an exercise in formality. Or the committee could be charged with providing answers that cut at the core of the CFP’s identity — best team or best resume?
For entertainment’s sake, let’s hope chaos reigns.
2. At a step below the CFP semifinals, the Group of 5’s Cotton Bowl berth could be thrown into total chaos this weekend as well. MAC favorite Western Michigan checked at No. 17 in the Tuesday’s CFP rankings, and AAC favorite Navy was No. 19.
Western Michigan’s regular season ends on Friday night in the MAC’s title game, but Navy’s does not. The Middies face Army on Dec. 10.
This matters because the CFP announced last summer that the selection committee would include the results of the Army-Navy game into its evaluation of either team, should their respective seasons factor into the New Year’s Six discussion. And Navy’s season would, provided they beat Temple in Saturday’s American Championship.
So if Navy wins, by letter of CFP law the committee would need to delay filling the Group of 5’s Cotton Bowl berth until after Army-Navy. Not only would that cause a headache for Navy and any other Group of 5 champions under consideration — that’s WMU if the Broncos win on Friday and San Diego State, Wyoming or Western Kentucky if the Broncos lose — but basically the entire Group of 5 because of bowl-filling process falls in line after the Cotton Bowl participant is chosen. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy explains:
Delaying the Group of 5’s bid to the Cotton Bowl would affect many bowl games involving Group of 5 teams. Officials would have to delay placing teams in bowls without knowing whether a conference champion could get pulled up to the Cotton Bowl. Additionally, opponents in those bowl games wouldn’t know whom they were playing in addition to the obvious logistic and financial issues involved with waiting another seven days before planning travel, buying tickets and other factors.
The bowl season begins Dec. 17 with five bowls — all involving Group of 5 teams. Teams usually arrive to those bowl sites on Wednesday, Dec. 14, so those schools would have little more than a 72-hour turnaround between learning what bowls they are in and traveling to the sites. The short time frame would also likely affect fans’ ability to travel and potentially hurt the communities hosting those games, sources said.
Would all that truly happen? It’s too soon to say. There’s no gun pointed to the heads of the Playoff saying they enforce their own arbitrary, poorly-thought-out rule.
“There have always been plans in case this happened to minimize the impact on the bowl system, so I think that’s overstated,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told the Washington Post. “That’s as far as I can say.”
It’s possible the committee could hold the Cotton Bowl decision until next week if Navy and Western Michigan win, or it’s possible the CFP could suddenly reverse course and treat Army-Navy as an exhibition like the BCS did.
But it would be easier for everyone involved if Temple just went ahead and won anyway.