It’s early December and college football now waits again for the final verdict from the playoff committee jury room. In the matter of felonious impersonation of a sieve by the Ohio State defense against Michigan, we the committee find the Buckeyes guilty as charged. Same routine as always, but also different, because a lot of uncommon things might be about to happen.
Consider just how unusual this postseason could be . . .
- We expect chaos. We expect controversy. We expect a fan base somewhere to feel so angry and jilted they hurl their remote controls at the TV screen. But instead, Sunday’s announcement of the field might be as serene as a carriage ride. It all seems so clear. If the fab four — Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC — don’t stumble over their league championship games, what will the members have to debate? The lunch order? They can knock off early and watch the NFL.
Now if someone in the top group loses, or if USC somehow looks really lousy winning, then the gentle breeze could turn into a squall — mostly blowing in from the direction of Columbus, Ohio. Just the way it’s supposed to be. Purdue, Utah, LSU, Kansas State . . . it’s all up to you now.
- What if they gave a playoff party and Alabama and Clemson weren’t invited? This is Year 9 of the CFP, and it will likely be the first bracket ever without either the Crimson Tide or Tigers. There have been 32 total available spots in the first eight years of the playoffs, and the dynamic duo have filled 13 of them — or nearly 41 percent. It’ll seem a little like Mount Rushmore with the faces changed on Washington and Lincoln, replaced by a Horned Frog and Traveler, the USC horse. By the way, the next most CFP appearances are from Ohio State and Oklahoma and they're also on the outside looking in. So the four programs accounting for 21 of the 32 past berths are currently off the board.
- Thirteen different programs have been in the playoffs, but not the one from USC with seven national championships. That might be about to change.
- TCU would be the first Big 12 team not named Oklahoma invited to the event.
- If Ohio State gets left out, this will be the first playoff in four years without a team from the state of Ohio. It’s been either the Buckeyes or Cincinnati. But relax. Mount Union, the victory assembly line from Alliance, Ohio that has lost 15 games in 27 years, is still unbeaten and rolling along in Division III. While on the subject, the only other state so far to have two schools participate in the CFP is Michigan.
- USC could be the first team from the western time zones in six years to get invited. And only the third ever, joining Oregon and Washington. That’s why the West Coasters can be a little touchy about the national respect issue.
- TCU the first team from the football-worshiping state of Texas to get a spot? Odd, but true. Not Texas, not Baylor, not the Dallas Cowboys. The school that changed its name a long time ago, and a good thing. Michigan vs. AddRan Male and Female College doesn’t sound quite right, does it?
- This could be only the third time that three of the teams are unbeaten, joining 2018 and '19. If Utah didn’t pull a two-point conversion out of its Utes bag to get by USC, we could have been looking at a perfect quartet for the first time ever.
- Georgia and Michigan would be repeat playoffers from 2021. But this time last season, USC and TCU were limping away with losing records. Wouldn’t that be a novel championship matchup, from a combined 9-15 to the title game in 12 months?
- Assuming Georgia is the lone SEC team in the field, if the Bulldogs fall in the semifinals it would be only the second CFP championship game ever without a card-carrying member of the SEC. You have to go back to the 2014 season to find the other. For that matter, throw in the dearly departed BCS, and SEC teams have played in 15 of the past 16 national title games, winning 12 of them.
Trivia time. Who’s the only CFP national champion that wasn’t either an SEC team or Clemson? Time’s up. Ohio State in 2014.
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- Michigan could win its first national championship since 1997 and only its second in 74 years.
- TCU could win its first in 84 seasons.
- Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh could be the first man to ever coach a team in the Super Bowl and CFP national championship game. In the old world of mythical champions, Pete Carroll, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer all won both national titles and Super Bowls.
- There could be a close finish, and wouldn’t that be a nice change? Of the 12 semifinal and final games played the past four seasons, only one was decided by fewer than 11 points. The average winning margin those four years is 19.9.
When it comes to playing tight games, the top four are a varied lot. Michigan and Georgia have won all their games by averages of 27 points. USC lost by one point and won two games by a field goal. TCU is the first team in 47 years to win seven consecutive games by 10 points or less.
What’s that all mean? Nobody knows yet. What we do know is it will very likely soon be proven that, yes, they can have a football playoff without Alabama or Clemson.