Is the CFP Committee Afraid of the SEC?
I’m fine with Michigan at #1 overall. I think most of us are. I’m also good with Washington at #2. After that, I believe you can argue about whether FSU should have been included in the top four (yes, they should have), and in what slot, i.e. the third or fourth.
Ultimately, the two teams that slid into those third and fourth spots - Texas and Alabama - both have a single loss on the season, whereas Florida State had a perfect year, despite the season-ending injury to their star quarterback a few weeks ago.
FSU is the first unbeaten Power 5 champion in history to not make the CFP. Some say the reason they are outside looking in for the playoffs is simple: the CFP could not, would not, let the playoffs happen without a team from the SEC in the bracket. Therefore, that’s how Alabama gets in.
While I reject the idea that Alabama was gifted anything by the CFP (they did just beat the #1 team in the nation), there’s no question that the influence of the SEC and, I would argue the Big Ten, loomed large in the CFP committee’s final decisions. How did they do that? With the specter of a very different future for college football in 2024.
The Pac-12 is collapsing. Oregon, USC, UCLA, and Washington will all join the Big Ten in 2024. That’s two more top-10s and a couple of bowl teams coming to an already powerhouse conference that has a ton of influence on the rankings.
In a 12-team playoff format, the Big Ten will have multiple teams in both the CFP and New Year’s 6 bowls. The people responsible for making those matches know this and they know which side their bread is buttered on. Continuing to give preference to Big Ten teams will be standard business for the CFP committee because it’s good business for the CFP committee.
As to the idea that the CFP’s exclusion of FSU from the playoffs goes directly to its fear of irritating the powerful SEC...I believe it to some degree. Certainly, having an SEC team at or near the top of the rankings is something we have gotten used to throughout the last several years.
It is difficult to imagine a CFP that does not include Georgia or Alabama included. That does not give the SEC hereditary right to a CFP berth, but it does speak to the overwhelming influence that the conference has on the CFP committee. Again, a lot of SEC teams go to the playoffs and bowl games.
Ultimately, by selecting Alabama at #4 over FSU, the CFP committee said they valued the Tide’s one championship win vs Georgia over the Seminole’s entire season, largely because FSU had an injured QB in December. It’s not fair to FSU’s players, staff, or fans, and I don’t think they’d have ever tried the same thing outside of the ACC.
This was, however, a predictable outcome. While we all felt bad for FSU when they were excluded, we also weren’t all that shocked. That’s because, even though we know it sucks, this is the way the college football playoffs are run.
The way teams get ranked by the CFP is imperfect, and that’s not going to change. It is a shame Florida State got caught up in the sloppiness in 2023.
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