Alabama, Oregon, TCU and Florida State came into conference championship weekend with a simple edict: Win and assume you're in. Alabama, Oregon and Florida State were each playing opponents ranked no lower than 16th in the country, and TCU had separated itself three spots from Baylor, the team with the best argument to pass the Horned Frogs.
All four teams came away this weekend with victories. Unfortunately for Baylor, its win was not deemed good enough to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. Sunday's selection show revealed that No. 1 Alabama will take on No. 4 Ohio State, while No. 2 Oregon will take a trip to the Rose Bowl against No. 3 Florida State.
TCU and Baylor, the subjects of so much discussion in recent weeks, were left as the final two teams on the outside looking in.
|Remaining Committee-Selected Bowl Games|
|Bowl Game||Matchup||Date||Time (ET)|
|Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl||Ole Miss vs. TCU||Wednesday, Dec. 31||12:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Vizio Fiesta Bowl||Boise State vs. Arizona||Wednesday, Dec. 31||4 p.m.||ESPN|
|Capital One Orange Bowl||Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech||Wednesday, Dec. 31||8 p.m.||ESPN|
|Goodyear Cotton Bowl||Michigan State vs. Baylor||Thursday, Jan. 1||12:30 p.m.||ESPN|
This season marks the first playoff system in college football's bowl subdivision. The BCS rankings determined bowl game matchups from 1998-2013, replacing the conference affiliations that previously set premier matchups.
Following Saturday's slate of games, it felt like only Alabama and Oregon had locked themselves into their respective playoff spots.
The Ducks sent a loud and clear message in their 51-13 walloping of Arizona, atoning for their lone loss and arguably turning in their best overall performance of the season. Marcus Mariota accounted for five total touchdowns and Oregon had already opened a 30-0 lead before the Wildcats could even get on the board.
"If this guy isn't what the Heisman Trophy is all about, then I'm in the wrong profession," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters. "If you want your son or daughter to have a role model, pick this guy."
Alabama had a bit more trouble with Missouri. The Tide held a 21-3 halftime lead but had allowed Missouri to climb back within a 21-13 deficit heading into the fourth quarter. Three unanswered touchdowns later, however, and Nick Saban clinched a chance to play for his fourth national title at Alabama and third in the last four years.
Running backs Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon tallied two touchdowns apiece on the ground, while Blake Sims added another pair through the air. After being held out of the initial Top Four, Alabama has earned its top seed by taking down four Top 25 teams in its last five games. By earning the top seed, the Tide were able to choose whether they wanted to make a trip to the Sugar or Rose Bowl. The national championship will be played on Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
"All everyone wants to talk about is the playoffs," Saban told reporters. "It's tough to win (in this conference). It's tough to win your division and this game."
Reputation confirmation aside, Alabama and Oregon were low on the totem pole of teams to watch. They were the two teams with win-and-you're-in lock status. Behind them, though, were four teams with anything but certain futures.
TCU had the easiest job Saturday, hosting a fangless Iowa State squad. The Horned Frogs overcame a less-than-stellar first half and put 31 points on the board in the third quarter en route to a 55-3 win. But while Trevone Boykin and Co. were ending their season with a largely anonymous game, Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor were going out with a bang.
The Buckeyes assuaged any concerns the committee should have about the loss of J.T. Barrett in their 59-0 win over Wisconsin. Ohio State's defense held Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon to 76 yards on 26 carries, and third-stringer Cardale Jones threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns. It was as dominant a single-game performance as any team has put on against a ranked opponent all season.
Selection committee chairman Jeff Long said on SportsCenter that the final score in Ohio State's win was a major factor in its selection, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:
As Ohio State was running away with the Big Ten title, Florida State was doing Florida State things in Charlotte. The Seminoles defense folded time and again versus Georgia Tech's triple-option offense, trailing at points and never holding a lead of more than a touchdown until there were under five minutes remaining.
Roberto Aguayo's third second-half field goal gave Florida State a 37-28 lead and would prove to be the game-winning score after the Yellow Jackets scored a desperation touchdown. Jameis Winston had one of his best performances of the season, throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns without a pick. Freshman running back Dalvin Cook scampered for 177 yards and a score.
The win was Florida State's seventh by a touchdown or less. For comparison, last season, Florida State did not allow a team to come closer than 14 points during the regular season. Despite only one of their final four games coming against a ranked opponent (Georgia Tech), the Seminoles closed 2014 by winning those contests by a total of 14 points.
"Last year's team was dominating, this year's team is more amazing," Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher pointed out. "It is really is...They compete together. They have had some struggles together and I think that's what makes them so tight."
Seminoles players also made waves after the game by calling out Alabama.
"We all want 'Bama," linebacker Reggie Northrup told reporters. "I'm tired of hearing all the ACC, SEC bull. It's every year. Not just that, we've played other SEC teams, but the main matchup everybody's been ranting about is us versus Alabama. So it'll be a great challenge. We would look forward to playing them."
The committee's last-second switch means Northrup's wish will have to come in a potential national championship game.
Perhaps the most boisterous person after his team's win this week was Baylor coach Art Briles. The offensive guru left no stone unturned following the Bears' 38-27 victory over Kansas State on Saturday, slamming the Big 12 for its co-champions policy and saying Baylor deserved recognition for its head-to-head win over TCU.
"You know, if you're going to slogan around and say there's 'One True Champion,' all the sudden you're gonna go out the back door instead of going out the front?" Briles said, per Max Olson of ESPN.com. "Don't say one thing and do another."
Much of the debate coming into Sunday centered on how much each individual factor should play into the decision. Florida State, a Power Five conference team without a loss, seemed impossible to keep out. Even if the Seminoles were a worse team on paper, they got out of the regular season unscathed—something Baylor and Ohio State, which each lost to mediocre teams, could not say.
The Buckeyes could say they won their conference championship outright. Neither Baylor nor TCU could. It would be impossible to come to a conclusion that would satisfy all parties involved, and it appears Ohio State's championship-game domination was enough to sway those whose opinions mattered most.
By keeping both Big 12 teams out, they avoid any appearance of downgrading head-to-head matchups. That will likely come as little solace to fans of TCU or Baylor, but it's hard to figure out the math when there are six deserving teams for four available spots.
Don't be surprised if we're hearing more clamoring than ever for a playoff expansion in the coming days.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter