GRAPEVINE, Texas — The playoff picks are in: Top-ranked Alabama will play No. 4 Ohio State at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, and No. 2 Oregon will play No. 3 Florida State at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
And after all the discussion about whether Baylor or TCU was better, neither Big 12 team will get a chance to play for the national title.
The College Football Playoff Committee’s selections for the first playoff were released Dec. 7 after weeks of debate, setting off plenty of questions about whether the new process was fair and if it needed some tweaks.
“We’re smarting today,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.
The winners of the New Year’s Day semifinals will advance to the national championship game to be played Jan. 12 at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas.
The playoff contenders did not make it easy on the committee by all winning on Dec. 6.
Committee Chairman Jeff Long said the top three teams were clear and the final spot came down to a “spirited debate” between the Buckeyes and Big 12 co-champs Baylor and TCU.” Among those three, Long said: “It was decisive for Ohio State.”
Baylor and TCU finished fifth and sixth, respectively. The Big 12 is the only conference among the Big Five that does not play a championship game. With only 10 members, NCAA rules prohibit it, though the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference are in the process of trying to change those rules.
Long said Ohio State’s playing a quality opponent in a 13th game, the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin, and winning decisively added to the Buckeyes’ case against the Big 12 teams.
“It had an effect,” Long said. “It was an additional game that we could see Ohio State’s strength.”
Bowlsby said it appears the conference was penalized for not having a conference championship game, and will likely re-address how it decides its champion and the possibility of playing a title game.
The great debate for weeks was whether TCU or Baylor would make it into the final four. The Bears beat their Big 12 rivals 61-58 in Waco back in October, but from the start the committee ranked TCU ahead of the Bears, who lost at West Virginia by 14 and played a particularly weak nonconference schedule.
“This will be catalyst for discussion for sure,” Bowlsby said.
The College Football Playoff is replacing the Bowl Championship Series this season. The BCS matched the top two teams in the country in a national championship game.
The committee has been ranking the top 25 weekly since late October’s rankings and last week had Alabama and Oregon at the top, followed by TCU and Florida State.
The committee has said it would start each week with a blank slate and that as the bodies of work changed the ranking could change dramatically.
That’s different from the way polls traditionally work and led to some of the surprise when the Frogs dropped after a 52-point victory on Saturday against lowly Iowa State. The Big 12 further muddled the issue by not designating a champion by a tiebreaker.
The commissioners who put together the playoff thought long and hard about whether the committee should do weekly rankings, at first leaning against it. They make for good television, though, and ultimately it was decided that fans were used to having a way to track the progress of the playoff race from week-to-week.
Whether they stick with weekly rankings will be addressed. “I think that the committee will look at this year, look at this season, look how the entire process went,” Long said.
Ohio State has had the longest climb to reach the playoff, overcoming an early loss to Virginia Tech to make a strong run. The Buckeyes were 16th in the first rankings, but their final statement was a doozy: 59-0 against the Badgers.
Florida State’s unbeaten record hasn’t gotten the respect the Seminoles believe it deserves from the committee. The defending national champions are the only undefeated team in FBS. But numerous close calls and comebacks have led the committee to drop the Seminoles in the rankings.
Ultimately, though, the ‘Noles will get to defend their championship in the first playoff.
Also, the committee announced the other bowl matchups in the playoff rotation. Mississippi State will play Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl; Arizona will play Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl; TCU will play Mississippi in the Peach Bowl, and Baylor will play Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
(RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer)