The College Football Playoff committee got the top four right, no question about it


Who finished in the top four?

Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, and Cincinnati are the top four teams in the final College Football Playoff rankings. The song is called "2:49."

2:30 PM

This is the place where a hot take was supposed to live.

The College Football Playoff committee released its first rankings on Nov. 2, and since then we've been sharpening our knives, waiting to climb atop a soapbox and defend the latest aggrieved party -- Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, heck, even Notre Dame. The tipping point was Sunday, when the outrage, frustration and second-guessing reached its peak.

The whole thing was kind of dull, but we're left with only one real complaint.

The committee got it right again. Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, and Cincinnati will play for the national championship.

There's a shred of controversy surrounding the Georgia team, who were demolished by Alabama in the SEC championship game. Georgia fans may be reluctant to return to the playoffs, but perhaps the country would be better served by giving a shot to a team such as Utah, just to make things interesting. It would be the most egregious deviation from the committee's core tenets. Georgia earned its place no matter how the SEC season ended.

Cincinnati's inclusion is a big deal for the Group of 5. It's a remarkable turn after the Bearcats were demoted to eighth in last year's final committee rankings, a year after the UCF Knights made the argument for a Cinderella.

The committee did not take a bold stand. In a conference room in Texas, no voter stood on a table to demand the inclusion of the Bearcats. Cincinnati beat its final three opponents by a combined 71 points, while others stumbled to the finish line. The committee didn't have to consider the schedule against Alabama or Oklahoma State. Adding more fuel to the fire for those who think their schedule was the ultimate advantage is what the Bearcats are doing. If Cincinnati wants to change the dynamic and land a blow for the little guy, it will need to happen against the defending national champ in the Cotton Bowl.

Alabama is the playoff's most talented star. After the Iron Bowl, there were concerns that the Tide team might sneak into the playoffs based on reputation, but that was not the case Sunday. Alabama is definitely belongs. This year's festivities are missing the Tide's most common counterparts in the playoff, which are Ohio State and Oklahoma. The current format was more frustrating for seeing the same four teams over and over than it was for the number of teams involved.

This year's playoffs truly delivered. We're not surprised to see Michigan here, not after a season of success, a triumphant moment in which Jim Harbaugh slayed the Ohio State dragon, and a dominant performance against Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. Michigan has a genuine chance to win it all. The other three playoff participants were a combined 28-1 against all other competition a year ago. Their exceptionalism was established. But the Wolverines were not the same. Their coach's job was hanging by a thread after they lost six of their last eight. Michigan needed overtime to beat Rutgers last year. The title is up for grabs. That is something new in a system that had delivered seven years of status quo.


Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh looks ahead to the game against Georgia and the College Football Playoff.

There were many ways the final meeting could have gone wrong. If Oklahoma State doesn't fold at the goal again and again Saturday, what will happen? What if the same week that the Frogs fired their coach and installed a new starting quarterback, the Bears lost to TCU? If Pitt doesn't suffer the most head-scratching loss of the season to Western Michigan in September or if Tank Bigsby doesn't step out of bounds as auburn tries to run out the clock against Alabama in the Iron Bowl, what would happen?

What if, what if?

The committee might have had to make difficult decisions in those scenarios, such as evaluating Notre Dame's role as an independent, determining the true value of a Group of 5 schedule, and deciding whether Georgia had earned a chance at redemption. There are fun hypotheticals that could have added drama to Sunday's proceedings. The outcome was rubber-stamping from the moment Michigan scored its first touchdown in the Big Ten championship game.

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The committee can't ignore the national outrage about Cincinnati's initial ranking, the Notre Dame weak schedule and the possibility of a perfect storm of two-loss teams at the end of the season.

The four best records? The four best teams? The four most deserving? The circle of the diagram was perfect.

The current process has been going on for eight years. The committee sidestepped a potential Big 12 tie-in in the playoffs, handing the 4th seed to Ohio State over the 2nd and 3rd seeds. The committee's endorsement of the wisdom of the committee helped the Buckeyes win the national championship. Alabama missed out on an SEC West title and a playoff spot after losing in the Iron Bowl. The Tide won it all, as Tua Tagovailoa led a second-half comeback. Sorry for another reminder, Georgia fans. The road map to the playoffs has been a hot take, starting with a wide berth, and ending at the narrowest point, which is clear.

If there is a real push for a change to the system, it won't be because of egregious oversight. December has always had an elegant solution for the November outrage.

This year's field might offer the best explanation for expansion. The SEC has two teams. The group cracked the code. Notre Dame was waiting in the wings even if one member of the final four had fallen short.

Three of the Power 5 leagues were left out. The Big 12, the ACC and the Pac-12 will watch the playoff from their couches, and at some point, that will be all the motivation they need to approve a new plan. Expansion would have made for more intrigue on Sunday.

The committee got it right. Again. It's easy when the answers are already filled in.