It all went according to plan for the College Football Playoff selection committee until just minutes before midnight. Oklahoma took care of business against TCU for the second time this season, locking the Sooners into the field. Georgia topped Auburn to secure the SEC title and a national semifinal. Clemson cruised past Miami (Fla.) to make its third Playoff appearance in as many seasons.
And then came Wisconsin — or then came Ohio State, more accurately. The Buckeyes’ 27-21 win against the Badgers to claim the Big Ten crown makes things dramatic for the Playoff chase and for the committee, which could have rubber-stamped a four-team lineup but must now deal with what is sure to be a controversial decision.
Southern California might make an argument with its Pac-12 championship and two wins against Stanford. It likely won’t go far with the committee. When it comes to the fourth and final spot in the Playoff field, the debate will have Ohio State on one side and Alabama on the other.
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Alabama has just one loss, to Auburn, and had been viewed for the wide majority of the regular season as the best team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Crimson Tide pass the eyeball test, and that still matters. The program has received the benefit of the doubt from the committee throughout the Playoff era — this season may be no different.
The Tide aren’t helped by Auburn’s loss, however, and would have had a better case had the Tigers topped Georgia in the rematch. But it’s not a fatal blow. Besides, the Tide’s only hope for squeezing into the field after Oklahoma sealed the Big 12 title was for Ohio State to beat Wisconsin.
Alabama’s rooting interests were strange. On one hand, the Tide needed an Ohio State win. On the other hand, the win had to be close. So it couldn’t have gone much better: Alabama got a six-point win for the Buckeyes, not sealed until the Badgers’ final possession with just more than a minute left.
But that doesn’t change a key negative. Alabama didn’t win the SEC nor even the West Division, which is the missing piece from an otherwise Playoff-made résumé. That more than anything looms over the Tide’s argument for a semifinal.