Alabama over Florida State: Right decision, wrong reason

Alabama over Florida State: Right decision, wrong reason

No way was college football staging a playoff without Bama or Georgia or one of the SEC’s periodic powers. The sport would have blown up. The committee would have been scattered to the winds.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Dec 4, 2023, 6:00am CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Dec 4, 2023, 6:00am CST

Hell stayed hot. Muhammad came to the mountain. The moon went ’round the sun.

And the Southeastern Conference placed a team in the College Football Playoff. Come on now. Did you really think the SEC would be barred at the gate? Did you really believe the CFP committee would risk life and limb by selecting teams from the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast conferences, leaving the SEC with consolation bowls at best?

Man, it lifts my spirit to think innocents still walk among us. But those innocents were not wise to the ways of the world. Not wise to the truth that the SEC/Big Ten cartel runs the sport, and SEC hype, most of it warranted, still covers college football like magnolias over the lane to Augusta National.

Unbeaten and untied Florida State, the champion of the ACC, was left out of the four-team playoff, in favor of SEC champ Alabama. If you’re surprised, you haven’t been paying attention.

No way was college football staging a playoff without Bama or Georgia or one of the SEC’s periodic powers. The sport would have blown up. The committee would have been scattered to the winds. Maybe joined by the format for the 12-team playoff that begins next season. Maybe the 12-team model itself.

Who knows the ramifications of such a meteor striking Planet SEC? Callers to the Paul Finebaum Show breaking every cell tower between Fort Smith and Myrtle Beach. Secession from the NCAA. Secession from the Union. And I don’t mean the Teamsters.

An SEC-less playoff was not going to happen. Not with a 12-1 Alabama in the mix. Had the Crimson Tide lost at Auburn a week earlier, as Bama should have, then beaten Georgia, OK. Florida State’s in. But a 12-1 Bama, the ender of Georgia’s 29-game winning streak, was too much cachet for the committee to deny.

And here’s where I stand. I agree with the committee. Just not for the reasons given.

Committee chairman Boo Corrigan cited the injury to Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis, suffered back on Nov. 18. Travis is a playmaker, and without him the Seminole offense has stumbled. Especially since Florida State backup Tate Rodemaker missed the ACC Championship Game on Saturday under apparent concussion protocol.

But the Seminoles won anyway, 16-6 over Louisville, with a big-time defensive performance. The Cardinals had 188 total yards and 10 first downs. That’s a week after Florida State struggled past arch-rival Florida 24-15. Arch-rivals are hard to beat. Just ask Alabama, which beat Auburn with a 4th-and-31 miracle on Thanksgiving Saturday.

The bumpy road didn’t impede Florida State’s argument. The bumpy road enhanced Florida State’s argument

A team loses its star quarterback, then his backup, and the offense disappears like your friends when it’s time to move, and still you keep winning? That’s supposed to be less impressive?

Yet the quarterback injury provides the committee with the ultimate crutch. Allows the committee to adopt a god complex and declare not what a team has done, but what it would do if put in the ring with a sabertooth.

It’s nonsense, of course. The committee takes great pride all autumn in telling us it doesn’t project, then we get to the end and the committee projects. A quarterback injury is just an excuse for the committee to do what it wants to do.

But in this case, I agree with the committee, even if it is for the wrong reason.

Alabama, 12-1, played a significantly stronger schedule than 13-0 Florida State. 

In the 10 years of the playoff, some of us have pleaded with the committee to stop making push-button decisions based solely on number of losses.  Emphasize strength of schedule. Reward teams for treacherous journeys.

The committee rarely has done that. Outside of the kooky pandemic season of 2020, when 5-0 Ohio State reached the playoff, and 2021, when mid-major Cincinnati crashed the party, only once has the committee produced a top five that wasn’t in order by fewest losses. In 2014, 13-0 Florida State was No. 3, behind 12-1 Alabama and 12-1 Oregon.

But the committee did it again Sunday, with the 13-0 Seminoles No. 5, behind 12-1 teams Texas (No. 3) and Bama (No. 4).

And Alabama played a tougher slate than did Florida State. Their schedules match up quite well except for two outliers — the Crimson Tide lost to Texas in September and beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Florida State had no comps to either of those teams.

The committee got it right, even if for the wrong reason. And that right decision/wrong reason came with the added benefit of not burning down the sport, which would have had happened if the committee had kept the SEC barred at the gate.

So play two heavyweights more than your competitor for the playoff, and you must beat both to get the nod? I don’t think so.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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