The proponents of an eventual eight-team College Football Playoff often point to conference championship weekend as the proper place to start remaking the sport’s highly scrutinized postseason format.
After all, since the Power Five champions aren’t guaranteed a spot in the playoff bracket, then what’s the point of staging these games on a Saturday that could easily serve as the beginning of an expanded march to the national championship?
There is plenty to critique, but the CFP selection committee sent a message Sunday that the conference championship games did matter, moving Louisiana State into the No. 1 seed Sunday morning above Ohio State, which appeared to have established itself as the committee’s top team in November.
LSU rolled Georgia 37-10 in Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game. The result was never in doubt. In the Big Ten title game, Ohio State trailed Wisconsin 21-7 at halftime before finding its footing and speeding by the Badgers on the way to a 34-21 win.
Both teams did their job, but style points were considered up until the last second.
“It was more about LSU’s strong, dominant performance over a No. 4-ranked team that elevated them to No. 1,” said CFP committee chair Rob Mullens. “These are two teams that have been really close the entire time.”
Now LSU gets to play in the Peach Bowl against No. 4 seed Oklahoma, which won the Big 12 title game Saturday 30-23 over Baylor in overtime to finish 12-1. The Tigers opened as 11.5-point favorites to advance to the CFP title game. And where is that game being held? In New Orleans at the Superdome. Well, it just so happens that LSU’s 2003 and 2007 national championships were won in that same building against none other than Oklahoma and Ohio State, respectively.
It’s all lining up for Ed Orgeron’s Bayou Bengals. And they deserve it based on going 4-0 against teams ranked in the top 13 of the CFP rankings. Ohio State went 5-0 against the top 21, but its struggle to get up on the Badgers cost the Buckeyes, who now have to play No. 3 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
The last time Ohio State and Clemson met in a CFP semifinal in Glendale, Ariz., the Tigers spanked the Buckeyes 31-0 on the way to the 2016 national championship. Sunday’s initial odds have the Tigers as two-point favorites.
Ohio State’s path to the program’s second CFP title is now blocked by one of the sport’s two behemoths, a Clemson program that is defending its 2018 national championship and has won 28 games in a row. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has spent the last few weeks convincing his players that their No. 3 seed shows nobody believes in them, when in fact the Tigers simply haven’t been able to build a competitive resume with their sub-par Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.
The winner of the Buckeyes-Tigers matchup likely will have to take on LSU in New Orleans on Jan. 13, which is far from a hearty congratulations for a spectacular 14-0 season.
This is college football’s postseason. It’s always at least a little messy. But the sport has still come a long way. Just imagine, six years ago a transcendent LSU, Ohio State or Clemson team would have been left out of the Bowl Championship Series championship game.
Four teams haven’t easily solved each season’s riddle, but it worked perfectly this year with Oklahoma the only one-loss Power Five team left to slide into the fourth slot. Utah’s loss to Oregon on Friday night relieved the committee of having to leave a resume-worthy team out of the field.
With this year’s neat and tidy four-team field, the national debate can be focused right where it should be:
Who’s going to win this potentially epic Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State or Clemson?