They Won’t Make the College Football Playoff, but They Could Shape the Bracket

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When the four-team field for the College Football Playoff is determined, three programs will have had an outsize influence on the bracket: Louisiana State, Oklahoma State and Purdue.

That might be appear to be a surprising list: None of those teams will make the playoff, their combined record is 21-15, and this past weekend — the final games before conference championships — the three teams went 1-2.

Yet the final selection process — in which a committee considers several dozen teams from five major conferences (and five other ones seemingly, if unofficially, discounted from inclusion) and chooses four teams to play in the national semifinals on Dec. 29 — means that the fortunes of those three teams will be crucial in determining the field.

When the selection committee releases its penultimate rankings Tuesday night, they will probably go like this: No. 1 Alabama (12-0), followed by Clemson (12-0), Notre Dame (12-0), Georgia (11-1), Oklahoma (11-1) and No. 6 Ohio State (11-1), which demolished Michigan (10-2) on Saturday.

Notre Dame, which does not belong to a conference, is idle next weekend. It is almost impossible to believe one of college football’s most storied teams, after an undefeated season that included victories over four ranked teams, will be left out. Clemson, which has not played a close game since September, seems equally unlikely to lose to a Pittsburgh team that is 7-5 and was just throttled by Miami (7-5). And Alabama and Georgia will meet for the Southeastern Conference title, making it effectively a play-in game.

That leaves one spot for as many as three teams: Oklahoma, which will meet Texas (9-3) in the Big 12 title game; Ohio State, which will face Northwestern (8-4) in the Big Ten title game; and the loser of Alabama-Georgia.

And that is where L.S.U., Oklahoma State and Purdue come in.

L.S.U. gave Georgia its loss, 36-16 in Baton Rouge last month.

Oklahoma State has been the Big 12’s signature spoiler, defeating West Virginia (8-3) and Texas, and falling to Oklahoma by one point.

• And Purdue dealt Ohio State its defeat, a 49-20 drubbing in West Lafayette, Ind., last month.

The committee has said it looks at not only the number but also the quality of a team’s wins. It has slotted one-loss teams above an undefeated one (2014) and conference also-rans over conference champions (2016 and 2017).

So this year, the committee will note that Purdue defeated just two other teams with winning records, and lost to Eastern Michigan, which finished 2-10 — and it may question what that says about Ohio State.

It will have to consider Oklahoma State’s loss at home to Texas Tech (5-7) and wonder why Oklahoma struggled to beat the Cowboys.

And it will ponder why Georgia lost by 20 to L.S.U., which was shut out by Alabama in Baton Rouge — and which just lost to Texas A&M (8-4).

It is all a little absurd, though. Take L.S.U.: On Saturday night, the Tigers lost to Texas A&M at Kyle Field, dropping to 9-3. However — and leaving aside several questionable officiating decisions, such as an extremely generous pivotal ball spot that led to a first down — the fact is that the game required seven overtimes, ending 74-72. That technically made it the highest-scoring game in major college football history — in the same way, you might say, that the Aggies technically won. Had L.S.U. managed to win that game in seven overtimes instead, the playoff makeup might look very different.

The madness truly began Friday night, with two matchups that featured one of just a few remaining one-loss teams, as Oklahoma played West Virginia and Washington faced Washington State (10-1 entering Friday).

The split-screen was striking. In Morgantown, W.Va., the Sooners and the Mountaineers were playing what might be termed Peak Big 12 football: The first four possessions ended in touchdowns, and the halftime score was 35-28. In the end, West Virginia quarterback Will Grier made too many mistakes, and Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray bolstered his Heisman Trophy argument with a 55-yard scamper to the end zone.

At the same time, in Pullman, snowflakes fell onto the field, turning into large clumps of powder by the fourth quarter. Huskies running back Myles Gaskin gashed the Cougars’ defense for 170 yards and three touchdowns and Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew was kept in check as Washington won, 28-15.

The starkly different styles in the two games — almost two different sports — made one wistful for the days when there was no organized attempt to tame college football’s intrinsic sprawl. Teams tried to win their conference, and if they did, they played in a corresponding bowl game. If they won that one, too, maybe they could tell their fans they had won the national title, and so could a couple of other teams.

But college football, or at least its postseason, has been homogenized. The playoff attempts to corral these disparate teams, with their divergent styles and players, into a single bracket that can declare one champion to rule them all. It makes for great television and fun arguments.

With one weekend left, it is almost over but the shouting. But the shouting is likely to last after it is over.

Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/25/sports/college-football-playoff.html