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Zuba: Football playoff provides exciting finish

| Tuesday, January 13, 2015

We made it. The first College Football Playoff (CFP) happened. And now we can talk about it.

The new ranking system and postseason format unfolded with a fanfare of doubts, questions and debate. Now, finally, those discussions can shift from speculation to reflection.

The image doesn’t look half bad.

The most obvious positive: the freshly minted champions would not have made the championship game under the old system.

After the last week of the regular season, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 4 in the CFP and USA Today rankings and No. 5 in the AP poll. Even in the new playoff system, Ohio State “sneaked” into the playoffs as the lowest seed.

Vaunted No. 1 Alabama couldn’t get it done. Neither could the undefeated No. 3 Seminoles. Eventually, No. 2 Oregon’s high-octane offense fell too.

The last team standing was an Ohio State squad led essentially by its third-string quarterback. That’s a remarkable storyline for a team and quarterback who “had no business being there.”

Yet they were, and that’s thanks in largest part, of course, to the Buckeyes’ talent, preparation and execution on Monday. But the CFP deserves a healthy serving of praise as well. The new arrangement set up the opportunity, and Ohio State capitalized.

Ohio State is far from universally loved. Given college football’s intense loyalties, it’s practically impossible for any school to be. The Buckeyes, though, just finished writing a story most college football fans can appreciate, no matter what they think of the Buckeyes.

I grew up in Wheeling, Illinois, with a modest affection for the University of Illinois, family ties to the University of Iowa, my grandfather’s alma mater, and suspicion about the rest of the Big Ten. Ohio State does not occupy a warm place in most hearts I know. Outside of Ohio, there had been a lot of quacking around the Midwest since the title game matchup was announced, and there were some bitter reactions to Monday’s result.

That’s fine, as long as college football fans, even the Buckeyes’ biggest rivals, realize that Ohio State’s championship is a good thing in the broader picture. Stand far enough away and squint one eye, and you can forget it was the Buckeyes hoisting that national championship trophy.

The school that won doesn’t matter — only how they did it. The first year of the CFP provided evidence that more teams have a legitimate shot at the title. TCU might not be ready to acknowledge or accept that right now, but in the long run, teams like TCU have better chances now to win a title than they ever did before.

The top ranked team didn’t even make it to the title game, demonstrating the power of head-to-head competition over ranking systems, whether they’re generated by people or computers. There’s just no substitute to meeting on the field to determine who’s better.

Now, losing once in the regular season doesn’t end playoff hopes. Not losing in the regular season doesn’t guarantee a title game appearance either.

That’s a system that’s both interesting and a little more fair. Bickering about strength of schedule between a one-loss and a no-loss team? Sort it out head-to-head in the playoffs. As much fun as it was to debate about whether Florida State or Oregon should have been No. 2, it was way more entertaining to watch the two teams duke it out and firmly settle the question.

That’s how the playoff was predicted to work. Ohio State’s championship proved that it actually could work that way, to the benefit of schools and fans everywhere.

You don’t have to rejoice that Ohio State won, but you should rejoice that your team could be Ohio State.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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