The biggest jolt of a season that saw its most famous coach and most famous player miss key games was supplied by a simple change in logistics. The Rose Bowl went on during World Wars I and II. The Rose Bowl will not be played during this pandemic. (Nor will the parade be held.)
Regarding the teams that populate the four-time field: Back in September, it was possible to envision a shortened and delayed schedule that featured different conferences playing a differing number of games yielding all manner of shocks. Wrong again. Alabama and Clemson will each grace the event for the sixth time in seven years. Ohio State has made it for a fourth time, Notre Dame for a second.
Yeah, Texas A&M had a case, but not a compelling one. Jimbo Fisher, doing the lobbying thing, noted his team had won seven SEC games in a row andhad played nine games to Ohio State’s six. What Jimbo didn’t mention: The Aggies’ second-best win came against Auburn, which just fired its coach. (Even with a 10-game conference schedule, A&M missed Georgia.) Ohio State beat Indiana and Northwestern. Notre Dame beat Clemson and North Carolina. Oh, and Alabama managed to win 11 consecutive SEC games.
It would have been intriguing to see what the committee might have done with the Irish had they lost to Clemson by 44 points, as opposed to 24. With 8:09 left in Charlotte, Notre Dame scored a touchdown that didn’t affect the game’s outcome but that might have swayed the 13 folks sitting in Grapevine, Texas. And Notre Dame’s inclusion meant a great deal to the ACC, which for the first time has dispatched two teams to the playoff, even if one is a rental.
The surprise of Selection Sunday was that Alabama, the No. 1 seed, was sent to the, er, Arlington Rose Bowl and not the closer semi. The committee’s explanation: Though Arlington is 307 miles farther from Tuscaloosa than New Orleans, only 3,000 fans will be allowed in the Superdome; at AT&T Stadium, 16,000 will be accommodated.
The shame of Selection Sunday was the short shrift shown Cincinnati. (Try saying that three times fast with a mouthful of peanut butter.) The Bearcats went unbeaten, won the American Conference, beat three ranked opponents and finished among the nation’s top 20 in total offense and defense. They finished No. 8, one spot behind three-loss Florida. But the Power 5 didn’t band together to create playoff to satisfy outsiders. So long as the field remains at four, a non-Power 5 team will never make it. The Bearcats’ consolation prize: A New Year’s date with Georgia in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Associated Press released its preseason Top 25 on Aug. 31, back when the Big Ten and Pac-12 had opted out. The top three: Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama. Notre Dame was No. 10. Even in a season when nothing was certain – the Big Ten and Pac-12 would opt back in – there can be no real surprise at its end. For the fourth time in six years, Alabama and Clemson will play for the title. Clemson won the most recent meeting. Alabama will win this time.