Column: Big tension in Texas: College Football Playoff committee has a lot on its plate

When Coach Urban Meyer and Ohio State exited Penn State with a loss on Oct. 22, it turned the Big Ten Conference race and College Football Playoff picture into a mess.
(Abby Drey / Centre Daily Times via AP)

It sounds like the perfect weekend, everyone gathered around the television to watch football.

But, in this case, the 12 men and women of the College Football Playoff selection committee have convened in Grapevine, Texas, for some potentially headache-inducing work.

With conference title games continuing across the nation through Saturday night, they will take one more look at the top teams and maybe debate into the early hours before voting on who gets to vie for the national championship.

“You know, there are number of legitimate contenders who could stake a claim to being in those top four spots,” committee Chairman Kirby Hocutt said. “The committee takes its work very seriously.”


At least one piece of the puzzle is in place.

No. 4 Washington took care of No. 8 Colorado for the Pac-12 title Friday night, the Huskies making their argument for a slot in the semifinals. But the overall picture remains fuzzy, particularly in the Big Ten.

No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan, despite their lofty rankings, did not even qualify for the conference championship game. Instead, sixth-ranked Wisconsin will face No. 7 Penn State in Indianapolis. Ohio State is 11-1; Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan are 10-2.

If the Badgers win, you could make an argument for keeping them out of the playoff in favor of Ohio State, which prevailed in Madison during the regular season.

If Penn State wins, the whole thing becomes a lot messier because the Buckeyes’ only loss was to the Nittany Lions.

One or both teams could go to the playoff. And Michigan — despite losing two of its last three games — isn’t done yet.

The committee has talked about the Wolverines’ “impressive” resume and the small separation between them and Washington.

“It’s razor-thin,” Hocutt said.

Sorting out the Big Ten could dominate the committee’s discussions as members race to issue a final ranking by 9 a.m. PST Sunday. Other issues should be easier to resolve.

No. 1 Alabama – the only undefeated team in the top 10 – will play No. 15 Florida for the Southeastern Conference title and could very well be safe even with a loss.

In the No. 3 spot, Clemson needs to get past No. 23 Virginia Tech and win the Atlantic Coast Conference. A loss by the Tigers would open the door a little wider for two Big Ten teams to squeeze through.

On the flip side, it probably doesn’t matter what happens between No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 10 Oklahoma State in a de facto Big 12 championship game.

Their conference appeared to get elbowed out of the way last week when Colorado leapfrogged the Sooners in the rankings. Now it will take a slew of upsets — by lopsided scores — for Oklahoma to make the big jump to the final four.

As for Oklahoma State, Coach Mike Gundy said: “I will address my opinion on the playoff system next week because it doesn’t matter until we play this game.”

There is a chance that committee members will have decisions to make beyond this weekend.

After selecting the top four and filling out their list of 25, they must send the highest-ranked team from the lower-echelon Group of Five conferences to a New Year’s bowl. That would be the Cotton Bowl this season, but there is some uncertainty about who should go to Dallas.

Western Michigan began the week at No. 17 and was able to stay undefeated by outlasting Ohio, 29-23, in the Mid-American Conference title game Friday night.

Navy is lurking just two slots down at No. 19. If the Midshipmen defeat Temple for the American Athletic Conference title Saturday — and the committee decides it wants to see more — the Group of Five decision might have to wait until Navy plays Army next weekend.

A delay could have a domino effect on other postseason matchups with bowl season starting Dec. 17.

Nothing would be a surprise at this point in a wild, unpredictable season. At least, not to the committee.

“We can’t look ahead,” Hocutt said. “So many things can happen on any particular weekend in college football.”

Could make for some interesting television.

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