The College Football Playoff selection committee was given something to ponder by Penn State.
How much value does a conference championship have? How about a head-to-head victory? The Nittany Lions now have both of those over Ohio State heading into selection Sunday.
“We just won the toughest conference in college football,” Penn State coach James Franklin said Saturday after the Nittany Lions beat Wisconsin for the Big Ten title. “It’s on you now, committee.”
Championship weekend ended with a couple wild games, but mostly the field of four fell into place.
Alabama , Washington and Clemson all took care of their business — though the Tigers had to work much harder than the other two — and have to be feeling good about hearing their names called when the semifinals are set. Though Washington might not feel as comfortable as the other two.
Ohio State (11-1) was home, hoping it was safely in the field after being No. 2 in the committee’s rankings last week. But how safe are they now from a surging Penn State? The Nittany Lions (11-2) ran their winning streak to nine games by wiping out a 21-point deficit to beat Wisconsin 38-31 in the Big Ten title game .
The Nittany Lions, seventh in the last rankings, are the hottest team in the country that doesn’t call Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home. They beat Ohio State in October. They won the division they share with the Buckeyes and now they are Big Ten champions for the first time since 2008.
Ohio State has three victories against top-10 teams, including road wins against Wisconsin and Oklahoma.
The selection committee protocol states that championships won and head-to-head results should be used by the committee to separate teams that have similar resumes. Basically, they are tiebreakers. Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt has said the margin between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes the last two weeks was not all that close.
What about now?
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany was on ESPN earlier Saturday calling Ohio State a lock and lobbying for a second team from his conference. The committee has not been thrilled with Washington’s strength of schedule, but would it really dump the Huskies (12-1) for another Big Ten team after they pounded Colorado in the Pac-12 title game Friday night? And if it does, which one?
Michigan was fifth last week by a “razor thin” margin, Hocutt said, behind the Huskies.
But the Wolverines were home, too.
Only Penn State was able to make a final statement and what a statement it was.
Clemson (12-1) won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship by beating Virginia Tech 42-35, making it a lot more exciting than Tigers fans probably hoped. Deshaun Watson added to his Heisman Trophy resume and Clemson needed every one of the five touchdowns he accounted to hold off the Hokies.
Alabama (13-0) completed its rampage through the regular season earlier in the day, crushing Florida 54-16 just for the fun of it. The Crimson Tide (13-0) probably didn’t even need to win, but the machine knows nothing but destruction.
Two years ago Ohio State crashed the top four with a record-breaking rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, bumping TCU out of the playoff position it had held going into the final rankings.
The circumstances are different in so many ways this time, starting with the fact the Penn State has more ground to make up than those Buckeyes and an extra loss on its resume.
If nothing else, though, the Nittany Lions have made things interesting.
The Big 12 is about to be 1 for 3 in making the College Football Playoff.
The last time the smallest Power Five conference was left out of the semifinal was 2014. The result was an 18-month existential crisis for the Big 12 that led to the return of its conference championship game in 2017 and a rather public exploration of expansion possibilities. That won’t happen this time around.
What the Big 12 needs most of all is a healthy and humming Texas program and for coach Tom Herman too be as good as advertised.
As for Oklahoma, which ran the table in the Big 12 to win its 10th title under coach Bob Stoops, it is off to the Sugar Bowl.
ROW THE BOAT
Any drama or complications that could have come with figuring out which Group of Five champion will get a bid to the Cotton Bowl ended with Temple beating Navy 34-10 in the American Athletic conference championship game.
Barring the committee suddenly falling for Temple (10-3), Western Michigan (13-0) will be the highest-ranked G5 champion and go to the Cotton Bowl. The drama now is surrounding this question: Will P.J. Fleck still be coaching the undefeated Broncos? Fleck is going to draw interest from Purdue and maybe Oregon.
NEW YEAR’S SIX PROJECTIONS
Peach Bowl semifinal — No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington
Fiesta Bowl semifinal — No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State
Rose Bowl — USC vs. Penn State
Sugar Bowl — Oklahoma vs. Auburn
Orange Bowl — Florida State vs. Michigan
Cotton Bowl — Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org/
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