Why Penn State finds itself in a College Football Playoff pickle – FOXSports.com

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On Monday, I wrote a column breaking down every remaining playoff scenario and explained why it’s futile to fixate on the Ohio State vs. Penn State argument because the Buckeyes are getting in regardless of who wins Saturday night.

Clearly, you didn’t listen. I could fill this entire Mailbag with questions about that particular controversy. (Don’t worry, I won’t.)

Hi Stewart: I get that Ohio State is almost a lock to get in the CFP. That being said, I think it would be an injustice if Penn State won the Big Ten and was left out of the CFP. If Ohio State truly is the second-best team in the country, shouldn’t the conference champion that handed OSU its only loss be included as well?  

— Scott Saxton, Windsor, Ontario 
 
I’ve got to imagine Barry Alvarez is not the only committee member pulling for Wisconsin on Saturday, because there’s no question that scenario would make a lot of people uncomfortable. The head-to-head aspect is one thing; how do you leave out the champion of the toughest conference in the country this year?

But it’s important to remember why we’re facing this scenario in the first place.

If Penn State, like Ohio State, was 11-1 with its only loss to Michigan, there’s no question in my mind the Nittany Lions would be ahead of the Buckeyes already. They’d be no lower than No. 3. The reason they’re not is because they also lost a non-conference game at 8-4 Pittsburgh while Ohio State went to Oklahoma, now 9-2, and won by three touchdowns. Those games count just as much as any conference games — including Ohio State at Penn State.

Trace McSorley

I understand the unease about ignoring a conference’s own standings, I do. But if, like many, you believe “if you can’t win your own division, you shouldn’t make the playoff,” then you’re basically saying September is exhibition season. Teams might as well schedule all MAC/Sun Belt opponents, because only your eight or nine conference games dictate who makes the playoff.

Furthermore, consider that if Iowa had missed a last-second field goal against Michigan, Ohio State’s in Indianapolis this week and we’re not having this discussion. Why should the Iowa-Michigan game determine whether Ohio State and/or Penn State is one of the four best teams in the country?

As for head-to-head — if these two had the same record and played the same conference schedule then yes, absolutely, Penn State should get in before Ohio State. But the committee has made clear that head-to-head is to be used as a tiebreaker, not a trump card.

The unfortunate aspect of this whole debate is that it’s caused me to spend a whole bunch of time denigrating a very good Penn State team. The Nittany Lions have morphed into an offensive juggernaut over the second half of the season behind much-improved QB Trace McSorley.

But unfortunately, they weren’t remotely close to that level in September. And there’s no preseason in college football.

Are we a Washington and Clemson upset away from the B1G East getting three teams in the playoff? 

— Scott Dean, Alabama 

Jim Harbaugh

I’d certainly place greater odds at this point on three Big Ten teams making it than I would one Big 12 team.

As I wrote Tuesday night, Kirby Hocutt seemed to be telegraphing something with his relentless repetition of the “small margin of separation” between Washington and Michigan. Either he’s pre-emptively propping up the Wolverines or setting up the possibility of the Big Ten champ passing the Huskies. But of course if Colorado beats Washington, the only question will be which Big Ten team gets the second berth. I still believe it will be the winner in Indianapolis.

But if both Washington and Clemson lose, you’re basically down to three contenders — Michigan, Colorado and the Big 12 champ. We now know the committee feels CU is better than Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, even before a possible Colorado victory over fourth-ranked Washington that should trump the Bedlam result.

So if the Big 12 is out, then you’re looking at Michigan vs. Colorado, and while clearly head-to-head is a selective criteria for this committee, I have to believe the Wolverines’ 45-28 victory won’t help the Buffs overcome Michigan’s currently superior resume.

Stewart: Mike Slive was adamant that the selection committee should take the “four best,” with a nod to Jim Delany and the Big Ten’s desire to having only conference champions in the mix. With Ohio State and possibly Michigan possibilities this year, is Slive’s desire coming to fruition this year but not in favor of the conference for which he envisioned it?  

Stan Lewis, Vidalia, GA 

It sure looks that way.

I covered every little step of the roughly six-month negotiations in 2012 leading up to the playoff’s inception, so I remember well the various commissioners’ stances. Remember, we were fresh off the 2011 LSU-Alabama BCS championship rematch. Slive was obviously going to fight to preserve the SEC’s ability to keep putting multiple teams in contention for the national championship. The Pac-12’s Larry Scott was actually the most adamant about restricting to conference champs. Delany was somewhere in between, but at one point actually said, “I don’t have a lot of regard” for a team that doesn’t win its division.

(Cough, cough, Ohio State, cough.)

The main reason we have a selection committee now instead of using polls or another BCS-type formula is that Delany for one did not think traditional pollsters paid enough credence to scheduling inequities. In particular, he and Scott did not want to see their champions rewarded for playing tough non-conference schedules and nine conference games while the SEC’s and others played eight. The entire concept of a selection committee was basically a compromise. It would provide both the freedom to pick the four best regardless of whether they won their conference, as Slive desired, but also lay out a set of criteria they should emphasize — one of which is winning your conference.

If you’ve never done so before, I highly recommend reading the official selection committee protocol document — nicknamed the “Federalist Papers” by CFP officials. Delany’s unique voice is prevalent throughout, and you’ll notice just how deliberately it essentially beats the drum for conference championships without explicitly making them a prerequisite.

Stewart: Will the 2017 college football slogan be, “Make the SEC great again?” Has Nick Saban scared away coaches from wanting to take jobs in the SEC? The league clearly is lacking star power in the coaching ranks, and it seems that coaches around the country would rather coach elsewhere else then deal with Saban and the empire he has built. Do you think the league is filled with mediocre coaches as a result of Saban? 

— John, Summit, NJ

That’s an interesting theory. I don’t know how much it’s been put to the test. Besides Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman, there’s not a long list of accomplished coaches who’ve recently turned down SEC overtures. But there’s no question the quality of the coaching roster in that conference has slipped recently.

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