Dec. 3, 2017.
Because on that day the selection process for the College Football Playoff was forever changed.
Whether or not it changed for the good depends on where you sit.
The 13-member selection committee made what was, by far, its most controversial decision in the four-year history of the playoff when it chose Alabama (11-1), a non-conference champion, over Big Ten conference winner Ohio State (11-2) for the fourth and final spot in the playoffs.
And in doing so, the committee made some history:
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**--For the first time the committee placed two teams from the same conference (Georgia, Alabama) into the playoffs.
**--Alabama, ranked No. 5 before Saturday, became the first team to climb into the top four despite not playing on Championship Saturday.
But more importantly, the committee added some clarity as to what it really means when it says its No. 1 job is to select “the best four teams” for the playoffs. Here, in a nutshell, is what the committee said:
Despite Ohio State’s conference championship (beating Wisconsin 27-21), which is one of main criteria used by the committee to choose between teams, the committee invoked its “out” clause. That clause says a non-conference champion can be named over a conference champion if the former is “unequivocally better” than the latter.
“Alabama was clearly the No. 4 ranked team as a non-champion, “ said CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt on Sunday.
Obviously, opinions on that will vary.
Put in simpler terms, the committee looked at Alabama and its one loss (to No. 7 Auburn 26-14 on the road) and found the Crimson Tide to be better than an Ohio State team that had lost 31-16 at home to No. 2 Oklahoma and by a gaudy 31 (55-24) on the road at Iowa.
Because Ohio State had a conference championship and three wins in the final top 16 (Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State) while Alabama’s best win was against No. 17 LSU, conventional thinking was that the Buckeyes would prevail and become the first two-loss team to make the playoffs.
But in the final analysis the committee, which includes five former coaches, could not get that 31-point loss to Iowa (7-5) out of its collective minds. In essence, the committee said that in this case the losses mean more than the wins.
Alabama coach Nick Saban began making his pitch just moment after the Crimson Tide lost at Auburn on Nov. 25. He was speaking ti reporters but in actuality he was speaking to the selection committee when he asked that his team’s entire body of work—and not the way it had finished--be taken into consideration. And despite the fact this Alabama team doesn’t look as strong as the juggernauts of the past few years, The Crimson Tide was No. 1 in the AP poll or CFP rankings every week until the loss to Auburn.
“I just hope our team, based on what they have accomplished to date, gets that opportunity,” Saban said when asked about the playoffs after the Auburn game.
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer made his case based on the numbers cited above. But the Buckeyes’ tight win over Wisconsin combined with the loss at Iowa ultimately swung the decision to Alabama come Sunday morning.
The Big Ten, as you might imagine, is not pleased, especially with the fact that its champion was supplanted by a second team from its arch nemesis, the Southeastern Conference.
The last time we went down this road two SEC schools--LSU and Alabama-- occupied both spots in the 2011 BCS championship game in New Orleans. After that the Big Ten threw its support behind a four-team playoff, which became a reality in 2014.
Will this episode start the ball rolling toward a six or eight team playoff? Only time will tell.
But the reality is that we have some very compelling story lines for the national semifinals:
ROSE BOWL: No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. No. 3 Georgia (12-1). Georgia began playing football in 1892. Oklahoma started three years later. These two storied programs will meet for the first time on Jan. 1, 2018 in Pasadena. Oklahoma will certainly have the Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Sooners will be coached by 34-year-old Lincoln Riley, who took over last summer when Bob Stoops suddenly retired.
Georgia is led by second-year coach Kirby Smart, who led the Bulldogs their first SEC championship since 2005.
It will be the ultimate contrast in styles as Georgia’s power running game led by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will take on the high-flying passing game of Oklahoma. How will Georgia’s defense, ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring, (13.2 points per game) fare against an Oklahoma offense that is fourth in scoring (44.9 ppg)?
SUGAR BOWL: No. 1 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 4 Alabama (11-1). It is the rubber match between the teams who met for the past two national championships. Clemson won the 2016 national championship (35-31 in Tampa) by scoring with only one second left. The year before Alabama held off Clemson 45-40 in Glendale, Ariz.
In those two previous games Clemson had Deshaun Watson at quarterback. But the Tigers really haven’t missed a beat this season with Kelly Bryant and what may be the best defensive front in all of college football.
Now all we have to do is wait until Jan. 1. It can’t get here quickly enough.