The 12 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee did not need spreadsheets, calculators or Advil this time. They could have chosen their final four while sipping cocktails in a hot tub.
Let’s hope the semifinals and championship game offer more drama than Sunday’s ranking revelation.
Then again, college football can always use a break from the annual pecking-order controversy.
So it’s no surprise that No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Michigan State and No. 4 Oklahoma are the chosen ones. The only twist was that Michigan State hurdled Oklahoma for the third spot, and the Spartans probably would have preferred to stay in fourth place.
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Conspiracy theorists can argue that the committee was preserving a possible Alabama vs. Oklahoma title game, as No. 1 plays No. 4 in the first Orange Bowl semifinal, and No. 2 plays No. 3 in the second Cotton Bowl semifinal in the new, dubious Dec. 31 doubleheader format.
Ring in the new year with champagne and … that gleeful party animal Nick Saban? Not sure that’s how most people want to spend their last night of 2015.
Fourth-seed Oklahoma is already the prognosticators’ favorite to win it all on Jan. 11, with Alabama having the second best chance, Clemson third best and Michigan State fourth best.
Makes sense, as Oklahoma survived the most grueling schedule after a loss to Texas that wound up reviving its seniors and fortifying the team. Coach Bob Stoops’ Sooners have no glaring weaknesses, they’re running strong on momentum, and quarterback Baker Mayfield has thrown 35 touchdown passes with only five interceptions. Don’t forget that Oklahoma considers the Orange Bowl its favorite holiday destination; the Sooners will be playing in it for the 19th time, most by any team, and they have a 12-6 record in South Florida.
Alabama has also turned things around after a motivating loss to Mississippi. The Crimson Tide shut down Florida to win the Southeastern Conference title. Derrick Henry broke Herschel Walker’s single-season conference record in rushing for 1,986 yards. Give him the ball 50 times — he doesn’t get tired. Saban is going after his fourth national crown at Alabama and said his team learned how to treat a bowl game like a playoff game after last year’s loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl semifinal.
As for Clemson, the only unbeaten team in the FBS, South Florida fans got a thorough preview when the Tigers deconstructed the University of Miami 58-0 at Sun Life Stadium. Although Clemson is damned with the faint praise of being the Atantic Coast Conference champion and barely squeezed past North Carolina for the title, quarterback Deshaun Watson is the real thing; he’s got the third highest rating of all FBS quarterbacks.
Clemson beat Oklahoma 40-6 in last season’s Russell Athletic Bowl, “but it really doesn’t mean anything,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
If any defense can stop Alabama, it is that of Michigan State, which has not allowed a running back to gain more than 200 yards under coach Mark Dantonio and limited Iowa to 52 yards rushing. Underrated quarterback Connor Cook showed his mettle in a 22-play drive that included one fourth-down and five third-down conversions in the rally against Iowa for the Big Ten title. Michigan State is seeking its first national title since 1966.
The matchups are tasty, even without Stanford, Ohio State or Notre Dame in the mix. The New Year’s Day Six bowls — part of a record 41 total bowls — will also provide a lot of entertainment, including Florida State vs. Houston, Stanford vs. Iowa and Ohio State vs. Notre Dame.
The final-four concept is working so far. The exclusivity of Selection Sunday creates drama throughout the season. As is the case in NCAA basketball, strength of schedule is rewarded and patsy scheduling is penalized.
“We need big-time programs playing games we want to see,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said of the Power Five conference teams. “Nobody wants to see games that are layups.”
Enjoy any minor debates this year. No doubt the playoff will eventually expand to an elite eight — or more. Money might not grow on trees, but it does in stadiums. Never underestimate the appetite of college football fans — because their sponsors won’t.