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Saunders: Ignore the Controversy; Playoff Gets Important Part Right

Saunders: Ignore the Controversy; Playoff Gets Important Part Right

After Saturday night’s dismantling of Notre Dame by Clemson and 11-point hurdling of Oklahoma by Alabama, the college football world will get exactly what it’s supposed to get out of the College Football Playoff: The consensus No. 1 team in the country, playing the consensus No. 2 team in the country, in front of the entire nation, in the last game of the season, for all the marbles.

Yes, there is still the usual drama involved, and yes there are probably some legitimate complaints about the process. But both of those things miss the central point of the matter.

From the time that the Bowl Coalition sprung out of the college football wasteland in the early 1990s, the idea was just that: to have a title that gets settled on the field, preferably by the top two teams playing one another.

Through the years, it hasn’t always worked. Unbeaten No. 2 Penn State was left out in 1994 because the Big Ten did not yet participate. The same was the case with No. 2 Arizona State in 1996 and No. 1 Michigan in 1997.

Even when the Big Ten and Pac-12 got on board and the BCS computers churned out a No. 1 and No. 2 that were guaranteed to face one another, there was still plenty of controversy. In 2003, AP No. 1 USC was spurned by the BCS ranking in favor of LSU and Oklahoma.

Sometimes, there’s just more than two deserving teams. That was the reasoning for going to a seeded, four-team playoff. In the years that there was more than three deserving teams, the distinction between No. 2 and No. 3 could be settled on the field.

That’s not to say that the move to the College Football Playoff hasn’t gone without drama. Georgia, of course, feels slighted after poor showings in the semifinals by Notre Dame and Oklahoma, and the Bulldogs probably have a point.

Including Georgia at the expense of perhaps Notre Dame might’ve given a bigger scare for a Dexter Lawrence-less Clemson team. An eight-team playoff certainly would have upped the viewership ante and given unbeaten UCF a chance to stake its claim. The backers of the Knights have a point, too.

But their point and Georgia’s point is beside the point.

The objective of the College Football Playoff is to identify the top two teams and have them play. It should be abundantly clear after Saturday’s results exactly who those two teams are, and they’ll play in the title game as they’re supposed to.

It’s easy to get caught up in the controversy. The inclusion of a different No. 4 team — or even teams five through eight — would not have changed the fact that Alabama and Clemson are the best teams in the country and are rightfully going to play for a championship.

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