As we near the first college football playoff, let me first say I think the committee has done a decent job selecting the best teams based on what they earned and who's the best. Football Outsiders (the football equivalent of KenPom which we reference extensively in our basketball articles) ranked Alabama #1, Ohio State #2, Oregon #3, and Florida State #8.
Before I break down the selections and how I feel they handled two of the biggest challenges in the selection process, I think it's important to refocus on the reason for having a playoff. The goal is obviously to select the four best and most deserving (which are not always the same - i.e., FSU) teams to participate. The point though, is to make sure the single most deserving team is included. It wasn't too long ago that an undefeated Auburn was left out, and we'll never know if they were truly the best team in 2004.
In 2003, Oklahoma lost to Kansas State in the conference title game (they had one back then), but remained in the National Championship game. That year, USC, Oklahoma, and LSU all could make a legitimate claim to be #1 heading into bowl season, but one had to be left out. Quagmires like those are the reason for a playoff (well, really money, but I digress).
This year, Florida State and Alabama each could make a solid argument for being the #1 team in the nation. Alabama appears to the best, while Florida State appears to be the most deserving (given their record and win streak). So ironically, in the first year of the playoff, we avoided the messes that got us here.
Still, some (like me) would argue that Oregon is the second best team in the nation, and rightfully they will also participate. So by the only truly important measurement - fulfilling the reason we have a playoff system - the committee got it right. Arguing about who the fourth team should be is a little superfluous given the purpose of the playoff has already been fulfilled, but we'll do it anyway.
The committee had two special challenges in this year. Where do you rank a Florida State team that seemed to get "lucky" even more often than '13 Auburn. They beat 6-6 Oklahoma State, 7-5 Notre Dame, 6-6 Miami, 7-5 Boston College, and 6-5 Florida all by less than a touchdown. Their best wins were come from behind victories over Louisville and Clemson, neither of which looked dominant. They enter the playoff ranked third. Coach Swinney ranked them #1 on his final Coaches poll and many feel that the committee is relying too much on the eye test. That may be the case, but outside of Tallahassee, few believe they are better than Alabama and the distinction between #2 and #3 is largely irrelevant in this system so I give the committee a thumbs up, despite a momentary brain fart in ranking them #4.
The biggest controversy though is Ohio State jumping both Big 12 co-champions, Baylor and TCU. While it may be true that Ohio State has played the best football of the trio down the stretch, they also have the worst loss (a home defeat to middling 6-6 VT). They beat Minnesota, Michigan State, and Wisconsin which is more than we can say (Clemson's best wins were over Louisville, BC, and South Carolina), but compared to the resumes of TCU or Baylor, those are small potatoes. TCU also beat Minnesota - by a larger margin - and knocked off Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kansas State, and Texas. Baylor has the best win of them all - over TCU - and also beat Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Texas. So how in the world does Ohio State get in over them?
While TCU and Baylor finished up their regular season's and argued over who was the true champion of their conference, Ohio State was busying making a statement by beating a (previously) well-respected Wisconsin team 59-0 with their third-string QB! So what was the committee to do? Do they put TCU in? They didn't even win their conference? Do they put Baylor in, maybe, but they have 11 wins and suddenly look much less impressive than the now 12-win Buckeyes who steamrolled the Badgers in a conference championship game. Rather than debate who the best Big 12 team is, they took the "out" and picked neither, giving the Buckeyes a shot at the Crimson Tide.
It's easy to blame the committee for leaving out Baylor (who I would have included), it's easy to blame the Big 12 for not having a championship game, but the real culprit is the NCAA. The ACC has petitioned the NCAA for the right to to decide their championship matchup as they choose (and for what it's worth, the Big 12 took the side of the ACC). For the ACC, this may mean removing divisions. The NCAA mandates that to hold a championship game, a conference must have 12+ teams, be split into divisions, and have each team play everyone in their division.
The Big 12 would need to add two teams or have the NCAA approve a waiver to have a conference championship game. The Big 12 has 10 teams, and a conference must have 12 teams to have a conference championship game.
Why would the NCAA impose such an unnecessary regulation? You could probably ask the same about many large, bloated governing bodies, but in this case they used their own rule to punish the conference and it's wrong. If the NCAA didn't enforce this regulation, the Big 12 could have pit Baylor vs. TCU in a neutral site rematch with the winner almost certainly earning the last playoff spot. So don't blame the committee, blame the NCAA for enforcing this arbitrary regulation. If the NCAA doesn't fix this, the Big 12 will be forced to seriously consider plucking two schools from another conference and restart the whole conference shuffling game. NCAA, please fix this.