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Lessons learned from the college football playoff selection: 2018 edition

The college football playoff field is set. Following conference championship weekend, the college football selection committee released its final rankings on Sunday afternoon. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma will be playing in the four-team playoff Dec. 29 for a chance to play in the Jan. 7 National Championship game.

Alabama and Oklahoma will be playing in the Orange Bowl, followed by Clemson and Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. Following the selection, here’s some thoughts on what that committee values, as taught us by their decisions, and some discussion on whether or not they got it right.

Lesson no. 1: Don’t get blown out

The Ohio State rule. Ohio State, at 12-1, was the first team left out of the playoff, according to the final rankings. The Buckeyes have the same record as Oklahoma. They have wins against two top-10 and four top-20 teams. So what’s the difference between OSU and OU? Oklahoma’s loss came to a top-15 team, rival Texas, by three points. Ohio State’s loss came in an October defeat at Purdue. The Buckeyes lost the game by 29 points. Playoff teams will occasionally have a loss on their record, but you better not get ran out of a building.

Lesson no. 2: Schedule better teams

The UCF rule. Central Florida is 12-0. They’ve won their last 25 games. Saturday, without their starting quarterback, the Knights came back from a 17-point deficit to beat Memphis 56-41. It didn’t matter – the committee ranked them no. 8. Here’s the problem for UCF: Their best win was against Cincinnati. In UCF’s 25-game win streak, they’ve beaten three ranked teams, one of which was Auburn in last year’s Peach Bowl, a game they didn’t even schedule. When you don’t play in a power-5 league – UCF is in the American Athletic Conference – you need to schedule tough, non-conference games to prove to the committee you belong.

Lesson no. 3: Wins still matter

The Georgia rule. Winning football games matters. Shocking concept, right? A handful of media pundits who spent their Saturday evening trying to make a case for 11-2 Georgia to be in the playoff over 12-1 Oklahoma. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstriet went as far to say Georgia should move up to no. 3 after losing to Alabama. But here’s the thing with Georgia, they lost the two toughest games on their schedule. Yes, Alabama is really good and losing to the no. 1 team by one touchdown shouldn’t hurt your case, but Georgia also lost in Death Valley to LSU by 20. If Georgia beats LSU back in October, they’re likely in the playoff.

Conclusion: Committee scared to work outside the box

The committee went with Alabama-Oklahoma. Georgia has two losses, Oklahoma has one. As mentioned, the committee showed that winning matters. It was the easy decision, but also the decision least likely to draw criticism. Herbstriet trying to push Georgia up above an undefeated Notre Dame into the third slot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but his big-picture point does. Georgia is likely one of the four best teams in college football.

A four-team playoff produces just as much selection drama as the BCS ever did. Putting Georgia in would have caused a riot that the committee would have to answer to. How can you put in a two-loss Georgia over a one-loss (to a rival, by three points) Oklahoma? The Big-12 commissioner would have lost it. It’s the right decision from a public relations standpoint, but if the goal of a playoff is to find, and crown, the best team, Georgia probably should have had a shot.