As Season Opens, a Fresh Set of Eyes and the Usual Suspects

But this is what was promised as the antidote to the much-criticized B.C.S. College football’s leaders declared in 2012 that the playoff’s selection committee “will inevitably need to select the four best teams from among several with legitimate claims.”


Clemson’s Deshaun Watson scoring against Ohio State in their College Football Playoff semifinal last season. The Buckeyes (11-1) made the playoff despite failing to win the Big Ten, then were shut out by the Tigers.

Matt Kartozian/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

As the fourth season under the playoff begins in earnest this weekend, a more analytically holistic committee could again mean a more unlikely final four. How about a two-loss team? Or two programs from the same conference?

The committee will rank its top 25, quite apart from The Associated Press’s count, for several weeks starting well into the season. From its final rankings, it will match the semifinalists: No. 1 will play No. 4, and No. 2 will play No. 3. These games will be held on New Year’s Day this season, in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The winners will meet in the championship game Jan. 8 in Atlanta.

In a new twist this season, the Big 12 will join the other four major football conferences in staging a championship game, making it less likely that the league will continue its run as the most frequent odd league out. Then again, unlike the other four conferences — which feature two divisions, all of which have been lopsided in one direction the past three years — the single-table Big 12 will pit its two best teams against each other for the title, forcing its champion to run a tougher gantlet.

Of course, there is no way to predict how the selection committee will react to any of this. The 13-member conclave — which in the off-season lost boldface names like Barry Alvarez and Condoleezza Rice, its only female member — rarely offers substantive explanations of its thinking or decision-making. It may, for instance, respond to the Buckeyes’ humiliation against Clemson by looking askance at conference nonchampions in the future.

But what if, instead, it responded to last season’s Southern California squad?

The Trojans were walloped, 52-6, by Alabama in their 2016 season opener, then lost two more games against top 25 teams before the end of September. But those…

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