Sunday, October 24, 2021

College Football Playoff’s mismatch for Clemson-Alabama

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Because the College Football Playoff was not expanded, a National Championship game featuring the two best teams from the regular season will not unfold again until the early 2020s.

Since that will create openings for future playoff-eligible teams to move up and down — and because the playoff is not expanding until at least 2026 — the playoff-eligible teams always tend to cluster in the top four.

Maybe the Championship was better than usual, but the National Championship game most certainly was not — this much is clear from one indicator.

In some ways, this matchup between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers represented the most intriguing matchup in this year’s regular season: two of the top three teams in the preseason top-25.

And that is precisely what one of the two fan bases worried would happen when the decision was made to play the championship, scheduled for Monday night.

To their horror, the wise men should not have been surprised.

It seemed only a matter of time before both teams would pop up in the top four, perhaps as high as No. 2, by the end of the regular season.

By the end of October, the top three teams from the preseason top 25 were in the top five — a rare development. Alabama looked like one of the two best teams in the country, with Alabama looking like one of the two best teams in the country, with Alabama and Georgia playing the first SEC championship game in the history of college football. (Georgia won.)

Then in November, Alabama and Georgia won games that essentially assured themselves of playing for the national championship. Even after Alabama’s loss to LSU on November 10, the Crimson Tide stayed at No. 2 by virtue of having two more wins, over Mississippi State and Auburn, than Alabama did this year. (Alabama also beat Georgia. So to cover Georgia, Alabama had to beat Auburn.)

The other consensus preseason top-five team, Ohio State, went 1-2 against the Top 25 and finished No. 4.

If anything, the national championship matchup felt less like a duel and more like a coronation.

For the next few weeks, all anyone could talk about was, “I thought it would be a duel. But either way, Alabama and Clemson are going to play for the national championship.”

Who was going to win? “It really all came down to the last game of the regular season,” Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant said, weeks before the championship game. “Alabama’s too good.”

But now it is clear that Alabama has not been, in Bryant’s words, “too good” all season. Instead, Alabama has been plain old boring — the plodding winner of 12 straight games, including the SEC championship game.

The only other drama last week came from Florida State, where the Seminoles crushed an outclassed Notre Dame team, the first time this season that a game between two ranked teams had a significant effect on the College Football Playoff.

And now that the College Football Playoff has no connection to conference championships, a Clemson-Alabama team may be favored to win the national championship again as soon as next year.

But who does not keep reading? Let’s not forget that, despite Alabama and Clemson’s dominance, those two teams are still underdogs in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings.

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