Alabama Team News

​Alabama playoff debate may continue, but Tide can silence doubters in Sugar Bowl

Alabama vs. Vanderbilt
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

There was drama. There were questions. And many had doubts that the College Football Playoff selection committee would “get it right.”

Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia were locks to make this season’s four-team playoff field after winning their respective conference championships on Saturday.

Then, Ohio State beat previously unbeaten Wisconsin. As the Big Ten championship game concluded, just as the clock struck midnight in the eastern time zone, debate about the No. 4 spot commenced.

Would it be two-loss Ohio State coming off a conference championship? Or one-loss Alabama, which failed to win its own division? We got our answer Sunday when Alabama was the fourth team.

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ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit stood up and walked off set when the Tide was announced as the No. 4 team during the live broadcast. But he wasn’t mad: He had said he thought the committee would make the “politically correct” choice and include two-loss Ohio State because of quality wins and a Big Ten title.

“I cannot believe the committee,” Herbstreit said as he walked back on set.

Moments before the top-six teams were unveiled, five of ESPN’s analysts were asked who should be the No. 4 team. Herbstreit (a former Ohio State quarterback), Booger McFarland and David Pollack said Alabama; Joey Galloway (a former OSU wideout) and Jesse Palmer said Ohio State. But all five agreed that the committee probably would pick Ohio State because, in previous years, the committee showed an affinity to teams with impressive wins and conference championships. And Urban Meyer’s team had both. Herbstreit said he’d be “shocked” if Alabama made the field over the Buckeyes.

The varied opinions that were shared by ESPN personalities throughout the four-hour ranking show served as a microcosm of sorts. The differing sentiments among fans and other media members were highlighted on social media.

The decision to put a team that didn’t win its division and had no significant non-conference wins made a statement. It reminded us just how subjective the process can be, and that “getting it right” may lie in the eye of the beholder.

Last season, Ohio State became the first non-conference champion to make the playoff. This season, we saw two SEC teams get in while the Big Ten and Pac-12 were left out. It marked the first time two teams from the same conference made the field. While Sunday’s decision was controversial and unprecedented, we will undoubtedly experience more firsts over the next few years of the CFP era.

Ultimately, the committee viewed Alabama and Ohio State as the only teams “with legitimate claims to participate,” committee chair Kirby Hocutt told media members during a Sunday teleconference.

But while many outside the committee thought the decision could be close enough to invoke a tiebreaker – giving Ohio State the edge as a conference champion – the committee felt Alabama was “clearly” one of the four best teams.

Others felt the decision was far from clear.

“I’m OK if the selection committee believes Alabama is a better team on the field. That’s fine,” ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer said during the broadcast. “I’m just saying, all year watching film, to me – especially right now how the teams are playing in November – I think Ohio State’s a better team. I’m not talking about deserving. I’m talking about, if they played a football game, I think Ohio State’s a better team.”

Hocutt referred to the Buckeyes’ 31-point road loss against an unranked Iowa team as “damaging” and said the committee took the way teams played in both wins and losses under advisement.

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