The BCS Title Game matchup is set and while it wasn't the matchup that was the most highly expected going into Saturday afternoon, it's a matchup between what most college football fans and experts see as the two most deserving teams in the country.
As expected, Florida State played a game of "name the score" with Duke in the ACC Title Game, allowing the Blue Devils to hang for most of the first half before unleashing a 31-points-in-16 minutes assault on the poor Dukies. (Somewhere, Dick Vitale wept, and he wasn't even sure why.)
Less expected was Michigan State's 34-24 win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Title Game, in which the Spartans jumped out to a 17-0 lead, allowed 24 unanswered points, and closed out with 17 unanswered of their own to move to 12-1 on the season and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl to take on Stanford in a game that will look like a Pier Six brawl. (What was it about Pier Six that made people so ornery?)
Sparty's win allowed Auburn, a 59-42 winner over Missouri in the SEC Title Game earlier in the day, to take the spot opposite the Seminoles in Pasadena the second week of January.
Unlike some previous seasons, there was almost no debate over these two teams being the championship game participants.
In seasons past, there would be one-loss teams with a legitimate claim at a spot in the title game who would get left out, and relegated to some other BCS bowl (or worse). With the four team College Football Playoff on the horizon next season (more on this in a second), it would seem that there should be less complaining.
However, looking at the one-loss teams this season, there is no good case that can be made in taking one of them over Auburn:
ALABAMA: Lost head to head against Auburn in the final week of the regular season MICHIGAN STATE: Didn't play a single team in the Sagarin top ten. (Auburn beat #2 and #9.) OHIO STATE: Lost to Michigan State head to head. BAYLOR: Best win was over Oklahoma (Sagarin #21) and its sole loss was a blowout to Oklahoma State
(Yes, I know UCF, Louisville, Fresno State, and Northern Illinois also each lost only one game, but....yeah....anyway.)
So there's no one among that crowd that has even a reasonable claim at playing Florida State in January for all the marbles. However, let's pretend (as we did last Friday) that it's 2014 and we are looking at a four team playoff. With the entire season now in the books, we can clearly speculate what a four team playoff would look like given the results of the regular season and conference championship games.
What would the four team College Football Playoff look like? THE LOCKS
1. FLORIDA STATE (13-0) Strength of schedule (Sagarin): 63 Noteworthy wins: 10/19 at Clemson 51-14, 11/2 vs Miami (FL) 41-14, 12/7 vs Duke 45-7 (ACC Title) Losses: None The case FOR Florida State: The only undefeated team at any level of FBS football, won every game by an average score of 53-11. The case AGAINST Florida State: With everyone on the roster clear of any sexual assault allegations (that we are aware of), there is no case to be made against Jimbo Fisher's crew. Likely 4 Team Playoff Inclusion: LOCK.
2. AUBURN (12-1) Strength of schedule (Sagarin): 20 Noteworthy wins: 10/19 at Texas A&M 45-41, 11/16 vs Georgia 43-38, 11/30 vs Alabama 34-28, 12/7 vs Missouri 59-42 (SEC Title) Losses: 9/21 at LSU 35-21 The case FOR Auburn: Four wins against the Sagarin Top 30, including a head to head win over rival (and defending national champion) Alabama, and an SEC Title. Only loss was in Baton Rouge to LSU, who has won 30 of their last 31 at home. The case AGAINST Auburn: The only nitpicky thing would be the miraculous nature of two of the wins (Georgia and Alabama) but that's a total reach. A win is a win. Likely 4 Team Playoff Inclusion: 1-loss SEC Champion? LOCK.
THE NEAR LOCK
3. ALABAMA (11-1) Strength of schedule (Sagarin): 45 Notewrothy wins: 9/14 at Texas A&M 49-42, 11/9 vs LSU 38-17 Losses: 11/30 at Auburn 34-28 The case FOR Alabama: Their only loss was on a rarely seen missed field goal attempt returned 100 yards on the final play of the game on the road against the eventual conference champion. Gave up 10 or fewer points in nine of their twelve games. Also, don't discount the historical factor with the three time (in last four seasons) champion. The case AGAINST Alabama: The committee claims a conference title is not a prerequisite but is weighed into the selection decision. Alabama not winning their own division is the only real chink in their armor. Likely 4 Team Playoff Inclusion: VIRTUAL LOCK. It would seem that the wiggle room created by making a conference title a preference but not a requirement was tailor made for a team like 2013 Alabama. I'm guessing said wiggle room will be utilized.
THE BATTLE FOR SEED NUMBER FOUR
4. MICHIGAN STATE (12-1) Strength of schedule (Sagarin): 56 Noteworthy wins: 10/5 at Iowa 26-14, 11/16 at Nebraska 41-28, 12/7 vs Ohio State 34-24 (Big Ten Title) Losses: 9/21 at Notre Dame 17-13 The case FOR Michigan State: In terms of a signature trait, the Spartans are to defense what Baylor is to offense, allowing only 12.7 points per game. They went undefeated through their conference, and all 12 of their wins were by double digits. Only loss was to a decent Notre Dame team by four points on the road. The case AGAINST Michigan State: The Big Ten was at the weakest its ever been during the BCS Era this season, and that's reflected in Michigan State's strength of schedule. Also, if it came down to an "MSU vs Stanford" debate, the one common opponent is Notre Dame, who beat Sparty 17-13 and lost to Stanford 27-20. Likely 4 Team Playoff Inclusion: 50/50. The slightest of favorites among these four teams to get there on the strength of a conference title, overall record, and play down the stretch (nine wins in a row to close season).
5. STANFORD (11-2) Strength of schedule (Sagarin): 4 Noteworthy wins: 9/21 vs Arizona State 42-28, 10/5 vs Washington 31-28, 10/19 vs UCLA 24-10, 11/7 vs Oregon 26-20, 11/30 vs Notre Dame 27-20, 12/7 vs Arizona State 38-14 Losses: 10/12 at Utah 27-21, 11/16 at USC 20-17 The case FOR Stanford: Six wins against Sagarin top 30 teams, blowout win in conference title game over one of hotter teams in the country (in a rematch, no less), top ten ranked scoring defense, Handed four ranked teams their first loss of the season, and five Pac-12 teams their first conference loss. Both losses were on the last (or in the case of Utah, practical last) play of the game on the road. The case AGAINST Stanford: Two losses, neither against upper tier opponents: USC (25th in BCS rankings) and Utah (finished 5-7). Likely 4 Team Playoff Inclusion: Slightly less than 50/50. It all depends on how the committee processes two losses, and more importantly, who the losses were to.
6. BAYLOR (11-1) Strength of schedule (Sagarin): 60 Noteworthy wins: 11/7 vs Oklahoma 41-12, 12/7 vs Texas 30-10 Losses: 11/23 at Oklahoma State 49-17 The case FOR Baylor: The most prolific offensive team in the country (seven games of 59 points or more), won their first Big 12 title. The case AGAINST Baylor: Played nobody outside of the Big 12, had big variances in level of play between home and away, and was blown out by Oklahoma State in its only loss by 32 points (49-17). Likely 4 Team Playoff Inclusion: Highly unlikely. Other than being a conference champion, their resume flies in the face of the key criteria the committee claims they'll be looking for.
7. OHIO STATE (12-1) Strength of schedule (Sagarin): 57 Noteworthy wins: 9/28 vs Wisconsin 31-24 Losses: 12/7 vs Michigan State 34-24 The case FOR Ohio State: Undefeated until the very last possible day, averaged 46 points a game. Other than that, not much else. The case AGAINST Ohio State: Not only did they not win their conference, they lost head to head to one of the other teams in the "fourth seed" mix. Also, they beat one ranked team all season and played nobody outside of the conference. (Hell, they barely played anybody in conference.) Likely 4 Team Playoff Inclusion: Microscopic. Virtually no chance.
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MY COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF:
1. Florida State vs 4. Stanford 2. Auburn vs 3. Alabama
I've always been one to weigh the losses more heavily than most, but the quality of Stanford's wins (and quantity of good wins) along with the fact that I think they're simply the best team out of these four, those are the deal closers for me.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.