<
>

Debate will continue but committee got most important CFP decision right

play
Helton really proud of his team this season (0:53)

USC head coach Clay Helton discusses his feelings about his team's performance this season, capped off with a 52-49 win over Penn State. (0:53)

The debate isn't exactly over.

Penn State fans from Pasadena to Pennsylvania will still wonder, "What if?" USC fans would like to remind everyone the Trojans beat College Football Playoff semifinalist Washington during the regular season. And Oklahoma, even though it lost to Ohio State at home, had the look of a title contender while earning its 10th straight win in a dismantling of Auburn in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Ah, hindsight.

It's as much of a college football tradition as tailgating.

The reality of the 2016 College Football Playoff is this: The committee's top two teams, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson, are playing for the national title on Jan. 9.

Teams 3, 4, 5 and 6?

They all lost.

In the end, the committee's most disputed decision to date fizzled in the fourth quarter of an epic Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual along with Penn State, which collapsed in the final five minutes and lost on a 46-yard field goal as time expired. The committee caused chaos on Dec. 4, when it chose Ohio State for the No. 3 spot at the expense of No. 5 Penn State; it was the first time in the three years of the playoff that the group had awarded a top-four slot to a team that hadn't even won its division.

As if winning the Big Ten title and beating Ohio State head-to-head wasn't enough (it wasn't), Penn State's case for the top four was further fueled after No. 3 Ohio State sank like Howard's Rock in an embarrassing 31-0 loss to Clemson in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl semifinal.

One would think, after watching Penn State rack up 49 points and 465 yards in the loss to USC, that the Nittany Lions would have mustered a wee bit more entertaining effort against Clemson than Ohio State, which was held to 215 total yards and just 3-of-14 on third downs.

Washington didn't fare much better against Alabama, with 194 total yards in its 24-7 semifinal loss. USC beat Washington 26-13 on Nov. 12, the Trojans looking then like a vastly different team than the one that got creamed by Alabama in the season opener.

After noncompetitive semifinal games, fans can continue to argue the committee's No. 3 and No. 4 teams -- or appreciate that Alabama and Clemson are again that good and have the records to prove it.

(The old Bowl Championship Series would probably agree.)

Monday's Rose Bowl was an instant classic, a thriller that featured two of the hottest teams in the country, with neither USC nor Penn State having lost since September. USC, the 52-49 victor, now has won nine straight games. The Granddaddy Of Them All was the reward, though, not the audition.

The selection committee made its decision on Dec. 4 while looking at a Penn State résumé that included a 39-point loss to Michigan and a defeat to an 8-5 Pitt team. It made that decision while looking at USC's three losses and no Pac-12 title.

How quickly we forget why those teams weren't in the top four.

Penn State had a remarkable performance for most of four quarters in the Rose Bowl, but it squandered a 14-point lead: The inability to convert on third down on the second-to-last drive, two costly penalties and an interception changed the narrative.

With a swift, 46-yard field goal attempt, USC won, making it much easier for the CFP committee to stand by its decision.

Again.

In 2014, after TCU dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final CFP ranking and Ohio State appeared in the top four for the first time all season, the general consensus outside the state of Texas was they "got it right," because the Buckeyes went on to win it all. In 2015, there was little doubt that Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma were the right choices.

This season, once again, one of the committee's top two teams will win it all.

In a subjective system that is determined by 12 people, that's as close to "right" as we're going to get. This was the first season with a vigorous national debate, but it certainly won't be the last.