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The College Football Playoff: Who’s IN

Written by Casimir Moninghoff

December 19, 2020

It’s finally here! The College Football Playoff is set! What a year it was! New and smaller schools entering the rankings, upsets, and interesting debate were the themes of the rankings each week. The eye test seemed to be the deciding factor when it came to these final rankings along with having the best resume.

The eye test showed that Alabama, Clemson, Ohio St., and Notre Dame were the top four teams. Alabama put up no fewer than 38 points all season. Granted a few of their opponents were not the best teams, they did beat the current #5, #7, and #9 teams and score no fewer than 40 points on all three of these teams. The Tide also did not give up more than 24 points to Georgia or Texas A&M. They only gave up more than 20 points three times all season.

Clemson ended up avenging their lone loss of the season. They were able to establish the run game. The defense played much better, particularly in the secondary, and they showed that they are still a National Title threat. They beat the number 2 team in the country and lost to the #4 team earlier in the season.

Ohio State has looked shaky when it comes to the eye test, but they beat the current #11 and #14 teams in the country. Justin Fields had trouble throwing the ball against those two top 15 teams, but they did win those games and in a year like 2020, that is extremely important.

Notre Dame beat the #1 team in the country (now #2) and the current #13 team in the country. Their passing game has improved due to the utilization of Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek. They have seen underclassmen step up in Kyren Williams and Michael Mayer, and their defense has played very well in the back 7 when comes to coverage. They did lose the last game of the season to Clemson and it was not a pretty loss. However, just as Clemson fans will try to take the win away from the Irish due to the absence of Trevor Lawrence and James Skalski, Notre Dame just played in the ACC title game with 2 of their 5 offensive linemen, which led to Clemson having three times as many sacks. They had 2 in the first matchup and 6 in the ACC Championship game. However, as a Notre Dame fan and a sports fan in general, I understand and believe it is next man up. Clemson lost the first game. They could not run the football. Their defense was not very good. Notre Dame had a balanced attack, but did struggle in the redzone at times settling for field goals. In the ACC title game, Clemson was clearly better. They established a running game and they had the balanced attack. Their defense played much better and Notre Dame did not play very well. They settled for field goals in the redzone while Clemson did not and it cost them momentum and they lost. Both teams won those games and no fan from either side should take away the win from either side. Understanding the impact is one thing, but the game must be played and if these coaches are as good at recruiting as they say, they will have players step up. It is a lack of fan intelligence to discredit a team for a win they worked hard for, especially with no controvery involved.

These are the top 4 teams. Iowa State had an opportunity to challenge for the 4th spot, but they could not come back against Oklahoma. Texas A&M had played well, but they needed to pass the eye test. They did not when it came to the CFP evaluation. While Notre Dame had struggled with Louisville, they won every game in the regular season. The Aggies did not. Granted that loss was against the #1 team in the country, Alabama, they had an opportunity against LSU, Auburn, and Tennessee to show that they were a potent offense. Kellen Mond did not play well against LSU, was efficient against Auburn, and was efficient against Tennessee. However, for a team that did not make their conference title game, they needed to blow the doors off of those 3 teams in order for them to take the 4th spot last weekend. Notre Dame only had one game where they looked truly shaky in the regular season: Louisville in week 4. They responded by destorying Pitt, beating Clemson, and handling the rest of the schedule with relative ease. Ian Book played very well and efficient and the Irish displayed a balanced attack that Texas A&M did not when it mattered most to end the season.

The eye test was passed by the top 4 teams and clearly that was the top factor. In the end: Notre Dame beat the #1 team and lost to #3. Texas A&M lost to #1 and beat the current #7 team. Resume wise: Notre Dame is the better team.

The true debate comes back to what it means to be a champion. Does being undefeated mean you should be the champion? To many and to the CFP committee, that answer is no. Once again, we saw at least one team outside the Power 5 go undefeated and they will not play for the National Championship. This year, two teams: Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina went undefeated. Coastal Carolina beat BYU, currently at #16, and both teams won their conferences. Coastal Carolina even beat the Ragin’ Cajuns who soundly defeated Iowa St. earlier in the season. Yet, both teams are behind teams with multiple losses and did not come close to making it into the top 4. The question now is: what does it mean to be the best team. Clearly going undefeated is not the only criteria anymore. Under the BCS model, Group of 5 teams had a chance. Boise State made it to #3 and I believe if that system had continued, we would have seen a Group of 5 team in a National Championship game or we would be more likely to than we are now. How do we solve this issue now though? How do we ensure that undefeated teams get their deserved opportunity to play for a championship? Because, I believe that they should have that opportunity as undefeated teams.

First, they should continue to schedule tougher non-conference teams. Strength of schedule matters. That should be the first change and we are seeing that occur for some teams. It does not matter who you are. If my favorite team: Notre Dame played FCS schools and one FBS opponent as an Independent and went undefeated vs. undefeated teams who played in tougher conferences and tougher non-conference opponents or even lost 1 game, Notre Dame should not be in because they chose to play worse teams. How do they stay relevant each year? They never play FCS opponents, they schedule to play at least 5 conferences a year and those teams are yearly contenders for their own conference championships, and they play on national television every single Saturday. That is a fact.

Second, I am not for expanding the playoff outside of one suggestion: 8 teams. All power 5 champions are in, Group of 5 teams may get 1-3 teams in, and the Independent schools may get 1-3 teams in. That is it. Outside of that, I believe we are negatively impacting the game. Multiple pundits have suggest 16 team playoffs and personally, that is not the format for deciding the best college football team in the country at the highest level. This is not college basketball. No matter how hard we try to make it similar, it is not the same. In this example from 2020: these “experts” would claim that Iowa: 6-2 (losses to Northwestern and Purdue) BYU 10-1 (weaker SOS and lost their most important game of the year), North Carolina (a good team, but with 3 losses), Iowa St. (3 losses), and Florida (3 losses including LSU) all deserve an opportunity for the national championship. Do they though? Florida and Iowa State had multiple opportunities and struggled at times. Iowa, Northwestern, and North Carolina had bad losses and clearly lost against better opponents. They had good seasons, but national championship seasons? No. They lost those games. BYU, as we just explained, strength of schedule (SOS) matters and they lost the one game that would have placed them in the top 10 at least. If the regular season matters, and I believe it does, these teams should not receive opportunities to take away the success of the top teams that already defeated them. Otherwise, just start with a playoff from the pre-season rankings and let that be the season and decide the champion that way.

Coastal Carolina and Cincinnati proved they can beat ranked opponents and win their conference. The AAC has shown they are a top conference that can hang with and defeat Power 5 teams. Coastal Carolina is having a great year and defeated a top 15 team at the time. Those seasons are deserving a championship opportunity. Either provide them opportunities to join the top 4 or expand the playoff to 8. However, I would not expand past 8 teams or I would leave it at 4 teams. Bye weeks should not exist in the playoffs and 8 teams would be the most inclusive for all parties.

So here we are. Less than a week away from the College Football Playoff. The eye test and resumes have provided us with our top 4. Debate over going undefeated remains and if we should expand the playoff slightly or simply tell teams outside the Power 5 they will never get in. Will their schedules ever be tough enough to get them in? While we discuss and attempt to solve that issue, the games are set. Alabama will play Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl and Clemson will play Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day at 4pm and 8pm. These will be great games and two teams have earned the opportunity to re-write some postseason failures and demons. Notre Dame in important bowl games and Ohio State against Clemson in postseason play. Both teams are underdogs at 19.5 and 7.5 respectively. However, both teams could easily win their games.

As a sports betting blog, I would bet these games to be great and the playoff to stay at 4. I would take Notre Dame to cover at least and Ohio State to cover. I hope you all had a Happy Holiday and are ending your year on a strong/positive note!

Featured Image Via: t4r.org

Follow me on Twitter: @CaseyMoninghoff

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