The second edition of the College Football Playoff selections came and went without a shaking fist, a raised finger or a stamping foot. A four-team structure customized for angst and argument produced virtually none Sunday, as the selection committee followed the script and put four league champions -- Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma -- into the national semifinals.
But who wants neat and tidy with the playoff? Just because it’s difficult to argue with the selections doesn’t mean there aren’t more teams we would like to see compete for the national championship. Several teams that looked worthy in their last appearances -- Stanford and Ohio State come to mind -- won’t get the chance.
The debate for eight remains alive and well, even though more seem to be warming to four. Oddly enough, there seems to be a clear cutoff after No. 8 in the committee’s rankings, just as there is after No. 4.
First four out: Iowa, Stanford, Ohio State, Notre Dame
Next four out: Florida State, North Carolina, TCU, Ole Miss
You want to get mad, but you can’t. Try to make a case for Florida State or North Carolina. It wouldn’t be very convincing. Both teams have bad losses (Georgia Tech and South Carolina). Neither has a true signature win (neither does Notre Dame, but the Irish's losses look much better than FSU’s or UNC’s).
"If you look at the first eight, that would be a pretty good playoff," said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. "Everybody would be excited about it."
This year’s field ended up amazingly easy for the committee, but the philosophical questions about an eight-team setup remain. The common opinion is that an eight-team playoff would make room for every Power 5 champion, but tying down multiple spots, much less five of the eight, would be a big mistake.
Imagine if four-loss USC had upset Stanford in the Pac-12 championship, or if Florida had knocked off Alabama in the SEC championship. You really want to see those teams in the playoff just because they won the league? You shouldn’t.
In most seasons, all the Power 5 champions would qualify for an eight-team playoff. It would have happened in the first two years of the four-team playoff: No champion would've been left out because they all deserve to be there. But locking in all those spots would open up the playoff for some unappealing matchups and unworthy contenders. The only spot possibly worth locking in for an eight-team structure would be for the top Group of 5 squad, which this year would be Houston. But even that could create problems down the line, especially if the best Group of 5 team is on the fringe of the CFP rankings. Remember Marshall last year?
As for now, Notre Dame is in the top eight based on the committee’s final rankings. So here’s how a hypothetical eight-team playoff would look this year.
No. 1 Clemson (13-0) vs. No. 8 Notre Dame (10-2)
Sure, it’s a rematch, which could impact the committee’s seeding if the eight-team structure were actually in place. But the Irish would love another crack at the Tigers after their comeback fell just short in Death Valley. Both teams feature dynamic quarterbacks (Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer) and big-play receivers (Artavis Scott, Will Fuller). Clemson has the better defense, but Notre Dame’s offense led in most categories the first time around.
No. 2 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 7 Ohio State (11-1)
Yes, please. Arguably no game in the playoff would have more buildup than this one, a rematch of last year’s semifinal in New Orleans, which Ohio State won 42-35. Running backs Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott would take center stage after Elliott ran through Alabama for 230 yards last year. Ohio State would turn to quarterback J.T. Barrett against the Tide, who have a much stronger defense this time around.
No. 3 Michigan State (12-1) vs. No. 6 Stanford (11-2)
The teams last met in the 2014 Rose Bowl, which culminated with the ultimate man-ball play, when MSU linebacker Kyler Elsworth soared over the pile to stop Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt on fourth-and-1 with 1:46 left to seal the Spartans' victory. The teams play similar styles and both have proven winners at quarterback in Connor Cook (Michigan State) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford). The Spartans have the edge on defense, but Stanford has the best player on the field in Christian McCaffrey.
No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. No. 5 Iowa (12-1)
Talk about an advertisement for coaching longevity. While many coaches are now sent packing after three years, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz both took their posts way back in 1999. Stoops is an Iowa alum and worked alongside Ferentz on Hayden Fry’s staff from 1983 to 1987. The Sooners are arguably the nation’s hottest team, but they haven’t faced many teams with Iowa’s style. OU quarterback Baker Mayfield gets more national attention, but both he and Iowa’s C.J. Beathard are natural playmakers.