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Carson: Committee deserves chaos

| Friday, December 4, 2015

If everything goes according to plan this weekend, the College Football Playoff’s Selection Committee will have about as easy of a job as it ever will.

Clemson will remain No. 1 with a win, while No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma and the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game between No. 4 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State will follow the Tigers into the four-team playoff.

With a chock full final weekend of the season, the only scrutinizing the committee can expect to face will be its decision on whether Oklahoma or the Big Ten champion will be seeded third to face the Crimson Tide.

In a way, that’d be a little unfortunate.

The playoff system we have now is inherently better than its predecessor, the much-maligned BCS, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the committee is doing its job as well as it should be.

In last week’s rankings, Oklahoma made a big jump to No. 3, remaining there this week after the conclusion of their season. The Sooners had previously been hurt by their loss to Texas — but after a win over TCU, the committee ceased its punishment of Oklahoma for the bad loss Oct. 10.

The rationale was that the Sooners had proven enough since that loss, such that the committee was willing to look past it — and more specifically at the team’s recent results.

In short, what Oklahoma did in October was no longer relevant, as it was playing so well in November to warrant its dismissal.

But on the flip side, the committee has still opted to punish North Carolina for what it did in September, starting with a loss against South Carolina and two wins over FCS opponents.

Granted, none of that looks particularly great, especially when considering those Gamecocks lost to The Citadel in November, but North Carolina’s recent play has more than proven it’s worthy of being in the picture for a playoff spot, even with its best wins coming against Pittsburgh and Miami.

And that’s not to say the committee hasn’t made the right call in putting the Tar Heels at No. 10 this week — quite frankly, I think it’s a fair spot — but if North Carolina’s able to snatch the upset Saturday, they’d be more than deserving of a spot in the four-team playoff, ahead of Clemson, who they face in Saturday’s ACC title game, Ohio State or a Pac-12 champion Stanford.

Because here’s the thing:

Michigan State has played a couple top-tier teams already — Oregon, Michigan and Ohio State — and ran the table through those games. While the Spartans might not be, or look, that great at times, they’ve proven this season they’re capable of beating the top teams in college football.

That is to say, they may be the best team in the country.

If North Carolina wins Saturday against Clemson, it will have passed its only test of the season against a top-tier team.

As surprising as it would be, that too would mean the Tar Heels may be the best team in the country. Like Michigan State would with a win over Iowa on Saturday, North Carolina would be unbeaten against top competition this season.

But would the committee throw the Tar Heels into the playoff over the same Clemson team they beat, Ohio State or Stanford, none of whom would have as good of a win as North Carolina would?

It’d come down to whether or not the committee wants to follow the same rationale used to vault Oklahoma to No. 3.

Teams like Oklahoma State, TCU and North Carolina have been punished in the rankings this year for what they did in September, playing weak nonconference schedules.

And as long as a team hasn’t done anything particularly noteworthy since, that’s completely fine.

But if North Carolina tops Clemson on Saturday, it will have amassed a win that should render its early-season adventures moot.

Over the last two seasons, the committee has exhibited its fair share of recency bias — favoring teams that are playing well at the time of the rankings — but has also punished a fair share of teams for playing weak September slates.

It shouldn’t be able to have it both ways.

So instead of watching Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney dance Saturday night, I wouldn’t mind seeing a Tar Heels win.

Just so the committee has something worthwhile to do.

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

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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