By Seth Gruen–
(CBS) In its room filled with laptops, iPads and flat-screen televisions, the 12-person College Football Playoff selection committee aims to concoct two important things for the games over which it presides: great matchups and controversy.
Already, it has sent us its message as to which scenario it thinks might create both.
By putting Washington at No. 4 ahead of Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State in succession in the latest CFP rankings, it has told us that the Big Ten championship game on Saturday means, well, absolutely nothing. That is, if the Huskies beat the No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes in the Pac-12 championship game, which will be held Friday night.
The Big Ten will get its representative. No. 2 Ohio State is idle after beating Michigan at home last week, failing to make the conference title game by virtue of its head-to-head loss against Penn State.
Of course, that leaves Wisconsin and Penn State fans apoplectic and Big Ten proponents, at least, debating the true value of a championship game. According to the selection committee protocol, it will be “instructed to place an emphasis on winning conference championships.”
Apparently when it becomes inconvenient, that criterion is discarded.
It’s possible that Chris Peterson’s Huskies would provide the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide with a tougher matchup. Peterson’s reputation for gadget plays and his bowl history certainly provides more mystique than the meat-and-potatoes personality of, say, Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst.
The Big Ten was the toughest conference in college football this season. The committee has told us that much by ranking four of its teams in the top seven. Wisconsin had a particularly tough schedule, its two losses coming to top-five teams Michigan and Ohio State.
But for the committee, while one loss on Washington’s meager schedule is like swallowing a horse pill, putting two-loss Wisconsin in the playoff, it appears, would be like choking down a baseball.
If Washington loses to Colorado on Saturday, someone may have to give 12 people the Heimlich. The committee would have no choice but to take the winner of the Big Ten championship. Because at that point, a two-loss team would have to be one of the four, and the Big Ten’s champion would be the best among them.
Still, without forecasting the outcomes of championship Saturday, we can definitely conclude that the committee’s directives are cloudier than ever.
Is its objective to select the four most deserving teams? The four teams have proved more than any other that they deserve to play for a national championship? Or is it entirely more serendipitous than that?
Let’s be clear: Washington has a strong case to be considered among the top four teams. But when you examine the committee’s criteria — which lists “strength of schedule” right after “championships won” — the Big Ten champion would be able to make that argument too.
What has become evidently clear to me is that the committee’s real purpose it to promote the game as best it can. It needs intriguing matchups. You can see its created controversy.
It appears the College Football Playoff committee has done its job.
Seth Gruen is columnist for CBSChicago.com, focusing on college sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.