Selection committee dilemma: Four best teams or ??

blau headshot square border

When former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese was asked to be part of the first College Football Playoff selection committee three years ago, he had one basic question.

""What is the definition of the four best teams,'' said Tranghese on Monday when asked about the initial committee meetings." Is it the four teams who's overall record makes them the four best or is the four best teams right now, when we make the selections. No one really answered that question.''

As the selection committee comes down to its final few weeks of vetting the pretenders from the contenders that will make the Final Four playoffs, no one still has a definitive answer to Tranghese's question.

""It's going to be interesting to see what they (the committee) does this week and then in the next two weeks,'' said Tranghese, who was on the committee for a two-year term. ""And what they do with Ohio State, if they win on Saturday.''

The morning line favorites to this week's Top 4 continues to be 1. Alabama 2. Ohio State 3. Clemson 4. Michigan.

Tranghese said the key will be to see if Ohio State drops from its' No. 2 slot after last week's escape against Michigan State.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

To understand why that is important, you have to do some projections. The Playoff has 4 slots for the best teams from the 5 Power Conferences and any other outsiders such as Notre Dame or a Group of 5 who have contending teams.

Right now, it would appear that Alabama looks solid as the SEC champion and Clemson is locked in as the ACC champion. Since ND is out of the mix and the Group of 5 conferences do not have a Top 10 contender, that leaves the Pac-12, Big Ten and Pac-12 fighting for two slots....unless one conference can place a runner up into a slot OVER a conference champion.

This is where Ohio State re-enters the picture. The Buckeyes only loss of the season has been to Penn State. If Penn State beats a 3-8 Michigan State team on Saturday and Ohio State wins its battle in Columbus with Michigan, Penn State will win the tie breaker with Ohio State and become the Big Ten East champion.

If Penn State then wins the Big Ten title (presumably with a win over Wisconsin), the selection committee is expected to give a third playoff spot to the Nittany Lions and the Big Ten.

That would leave the Big 12 and Pac 12 AND an 11-1 Ohio State contending for one spot.

Ohio State would seem to win an argument about the qualities of the Big 12 champion if it is Oklahoma. The Sooners have two losses, including a home loss to....Ohio State. The only other Big 12 contender is Oklahoma State, which also has two losses.

Without the benefit of a championship game, the Big 12 looks like it will be locked out of any playoff spot, barring some major upsets--Clemson or Alabama losing.

So then it comes down to the Pac-12 champion and Ohio State. If the Pac-12 champion is any other team than Washington, Ohio State would probably be locked in to the slot.

Although Tranghese, using what he calls the "eye ball'' test says that USC, which has 3 losses, but is probably playing better than any team in the country not named Alabama, would be on his Final Four list if it won the Pac-12 title. The Trojans need Colorado to lose a home game to Utah on Saturday for that to happen, however.

A 12-1 Washington as Pac 12 champion vs. an 11-1 Ohio State as a team that has not even won its own division, would create a dilemma for the committee. The Huskies must get past a tough game at Washington State this weekend to make the Pac-12 title game.

Adding to the spice is the stance that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany took a few years ago when LSU AND Alabama, both from the SEC West, played for the national title. Delany's contention was that conference champions should win tie breakers over non-conference champions.

Which then brings the argument back to the  best team.

Despite its loss to Penn State during the season, most people feel that Ohio State is the better team right now. But Penn State would not only be the conference champion and have won the head to head battle, so the Lions overall body of work would tilt in their favor.

To avoid this, the committee might be inclined to include BOTH Ohio State and Penn State at the expense of Washington.

Tranghese feels that is flawed logic. ""If you are not going to compare Ohio State with its own conference champion, then why should they be compared to another conference champion,'' said Tranghese. "Especially when the Big Ten champion (Penn State) would have two losses and the Pac-12 champion would have only one loss. You can't have it both ways. It would be easier (for the commitee) if Wisconsin would be the Big Ten champion, since Ohio State beat Wisconsin during the regular season.''

Tranghese says the key to the committee's thinking will be to see if Ohio State drops to No. 3 in the rankings this week. "If they do that,''' said Tranghese, "that would make it easier to justify dropping them out of the Top 4, even if they do beat Michigan and Washington wins the Pac-12 title.

There is precedent for such a movement. In 2014, the committee had TCU ranked No. 3 going into its final regular season game at Iowa State. The Frogs finished their regular season with a 55-3 win over Iowa State and DROPPED to No. 6 and out of the playoffs.

Tranghese was in the minority that year, arguing that placing the Frogs too high in the last regular season poll against an opponent they were heavily favored to beat would put the committee into an awkward position in explaining any drop after a one-sided win.

The committee lost much of its credibility in explaining that move.

A few things are clear going into the final week of the regular season and the final two week countdown before the Final Four teams are selected. Watching where Ohio State is placed in the rankings this week will be an indicator of what the committee might do if the Buckeyes beat Michigan on Saturday.

And, barring any major upsets, someone is going to be unhappy with the final rankings.[/membership]