Neither Brad Nessler nor Gary Danielson gets a say when the College Football Playoff Committee sits down to choose the field of four this weekend. But the CBS broadcast team has seen Alabama play four times this year.
They know the case for and against Alabama that will be thoroughly debated through conference championship weekend.
Most pundits believe the winner of Saturday’s ACC championship and the SEC champion will both make the playoff. Clemson, Miami, Georgia and Auburn are all well-positioned after Tuesday’s rankings, and another quality win would bolster their cases. Stanford and Southern Cal appear too far behind for their Pac-12 championship game to be a factor.
That leaves Alabama fighting for two remaining playoff spots, along with teams from the Big 10 and the Big 12.
“I think if Ohio State beats Wisconsin, that Alabama is in,” Nessler said. “Or if TCU beats Oklahoma, then Alabama is in.”
Most conventional thinking would put No. 5 Alabama in the playoff ahead of No. 11 TCU if the Horned Frogs knock off No. 3 Oklahoma. The crux may come down to whether No. 8 Ohio State can beat No. 4 Wisconsin, and how valuable that win is to the selection committee.
Danielson said he would put Ohio State in the playoff over Alabama in that situation, valuing the conference championship. He thinks the committee may choose differently.
“No one is listening to Mr. Danielson,” he said. “The rules that they follow are ‘the four very best teams,’ so I have only one possible scenario that Alabama doesn’t win, and that’s the two conference champions (from the ACC and SEC) are in, then Wisconsin and Oklahoma wins. I had check marks for Alabama in every other scenario.”
The controversy builds because of the uncertainty about the criteria used by the selection committee, Danielson said. What the committee values seems to change too frequently.
“I don’t know what the rules are,” Danielson said. “If someone could explain to me the rules, I’d have a better understanding. I understand these people have high integrity and they have the best interest of college football, but I don’t think there are set rules. I don’t know what the agenda is for choosing the top four teams. Every time I hear it, every year it’s different. And they’re able to wiggle out of it by saying ‘We have a clean slate. We wipe our slate clean.’ I wish I could do that every time, wipe my slate clean. It doesn’t work that way. I have no idea what the rules are.”
The selection committee didn’t take the Big 10 champion last season, choosing a one-loss Ohio State team that didn’t play in the conference championship game. That could be the same situation Alabama finds itself in this year, though the teams have different resumes.
“I love all those people,” Danielson said. “They’re all great people. I honestly know they’re trying to do the right thing, but boy, the precedent they set last year is going to be a tough one for them to go in front of the camera this year and explain why they made these decisions.”