Scheduling Should Keep Alabama Out of the College Football Playofff
Will Alabama’s scheduling philosophy be a black eye in the minds of the College Football Playoff Committee?
Let the chaos ensue in earnest …
The Domino That Fell
The one thing that needed to happen to throw a monkey wrench in this whole playoff thing happened on Saturday night. Ohio State beat an unbeaten Wisconsin team in the Big Ten Championship Game, while three other championship games more or less held serve.
The College Football Playoff Committee will now be drinking lots of coffee, going to fist-a-cuffs, and maybe even giving each other super-wedgies and toilet-swirlies in the convention center in Grapevine, Texas.
Oh to be a curious and focused fly-on-the-wall.
Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia are in. Mark it down in permanent marker. Those three did what they needed to do and there’s little case to be made against that trio this year.
Wisconsin would have made it a nice, smooth process for all the heads that are now bursting with more data points than a NASA deep-space flight plan. Why? Because Ohio State beat the Badgers and claimed the Big Ten Championship as a two-loss team.
The Great Debate
Meanwhile, everyone in Tuscaloosa with a mostly Crimson wardrobe has hope too, that its one-loss against the top ten arch-rival will be enough to keep it ahead of Ohio State.
After all, it’s Alabama, and a competitive game on the road in the Iron Bowl shouldn’t be a disqualifier for a team that has been the best program in college football for about a decade now.
But, there’s a Crimson — er, pink elephant in the room that could — and should — keep the Tide out of this year’s playoff for the first time since its inception, and it has everything to do with the schedule.
Yeah, yeah there’s the whole argument about how you beat up on a light schedule, and that does hold some water, but there’s the other side of the coin too that has everything to do with what the College Football Playoff Committee has held so dear to its proceedings in the first three years.
Ohio State’s Deficiencies
Truth be known, Ohio State would have no one to blame but itself if it gets left out tomorrow around high noon. It lost two games. That in itself is generally enough to be left on the front porch peering through the window at all the fun. Add to that how bad both those losses were, and well, Urban — we have a problem.
Ohio State lost by two touchdowns to Oklahoma early on in the year. While that’s not good, it pales in comparison to the unexplainable (other than a full moon that night) public flogging the Buckeyes took at the hands of an unranked and offensively challenged Iowa Hawkeye squad 55-24.
The Flawed Efforts
But here’s the rub. While Ohio State was scheduling a home-and-home with Oklahoma, Alabama was picking up the phone and calling the likes of Fresno State, Colorado State, and Mercer. It did play Florida State, and good on the athletic offices on that, but it was on a neutral field.
Alabama’s big non-conference games are always on a neutral field. In 2016, the Tide played USC in Arlington. Same with the 2015 game against Wisconsin. West Virginia was on the schedule in 2014, but that game was in Atlanta. Ditto for 2013 and 2012 when ‘Bama played Virginia Tech in Atlanta and Michigan in Arlington.
Notice a trend?
The last time Alabama ventured on the road to play a quality non-conference opponent was 2011 when someone twisted its arm to go to Happy Valley to play Penn State.
The Right Way
Meanwhile, Ohio State, over that same time have scheduled home-and-homes with the likes of Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Cal, and Miami. It gets one home game with each of those opponents, but these always come with the agreement to play on the road for the other in a hostile environment.
And that’s not all. The SEC has been paying FCS schools handsomely over the last few years by routinely appearing as the equivalent to an extra bye-week late in the year. This year it was Mercer. In prior years it was Chattanooga, Charleston Southern and Western Carolina.
Cupcakes are tasty and festive, but they’ll do nothing to bolster a team’s chances at impressing the minds in charge of picking the four best teams in this great country of ours.
We won’t dive too far into the Big Ten playing a nine-game conference schedule versus the SEC going with eight, but that’s another open non-conference date that Alabama hasn’t historically used to schedule teams capable of putting up more resistance than a wet paper bag.
It used to be enough to simply play in the war that is the SEC, but not any longer. The conference has become very top-heavy with a wide chasm below that has resulted in revolving coaching carousels and matchups that frankly aren’t all that interesting. Or challenging.
To that end, it has been well-publicized, but Alabama’s best win this year is against LSU — barely a top 20 team. There’s also the win against No. 24 Mississipi State, but that’s it. Fresno State will drop out after a loss to Boise, meaning Alabama will have only played three teams in the Top 25, without much of an effort to bolster what it does in-conference.
A Dangerous Precedent
So now it’s up to the playoff committee. To give Alabama the nod would be to reward less than desirable efforts at scheduling. It has rewarded scheduling in the past, and if it doesn’t do it this year, it would set a very dangerous scheduling model that none of want to see.
If Alabama is in the playoff when all the dust settles, then why schedule marquee matchups in great environments on college campuses? Why go out and agree to play a blue-blood on the road? Why use those non-conference dates to challenge yourself, and why not put a pasty on the schedule late in the year to get a breather?
Look, I’m not saying Ohio State is the better team. There’s no way to know that, just like there’s no way to know if Alabama is better. Both have looked suspect at times. Both have looked fantastic at times.
But efforts to go out and build a résumé should matter. Ohio State has tried to do that, and Alabama and nearly every other team in the SEC hasn’t.
Hopefully the playoff committee sends a message loud and clear by selecting Ohio State over Alabama as the No. 4 seed before we all get subjected to weaker scheduling and less of those cross-sectional matchups that we all love to see.
Okay CFP Committee, you are on the clock in Grapevine, Texas. Heck, they might even be eating some tasty cupcakes as the debate goes late into the night.
Phil Harrison is the lead Big Ten writer for College Football News. Get his opinion and analysis all year long. Follow him on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB