Alabama makes the College Football Playoff

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Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton celebrates after a win against Georgia after the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game in Atlanta, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton (3) celebrates after a win against Georgia after the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game in Atlanta, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

Mike Stewart, AP Photo

By Ralph D. Russo

The final season of the four-team College Football Playoff turned out to be the most controversial with an unprecedented snub.

Michigan, Washington, Texas and Alabama were selected Sunday and Florida State became the first unbeaten Power Five conference champion to be excluded from the field.

Michigan will face Alabama in the Rose BowlWashington will play Texas in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 and the winners will meet for the national championship Jan. 8 in Houston.

Before the CFP grows to 12 next year — an expansion that was delayed by a year because of infighting among the conference commissioners who manage the postseason system — the selection committee faced the toughest decision in the 10-year history of the format.

“Florida State is a different team than they were through the first 11 weeks,” explained Boo Corrigan, the selection committee chairman who is also the athletic director at North Carolina State, Florida State’s Atlantic Coast Conference rival.

The Seminoles (13-0) lost star quarterback Jordan Travis to a season-ending injury two weeks ago, but continued to win with a backup and then a third-string quarterback. The committee, though, is instructed to judge teams for what they are heading into the playoff and decided FSU without Travis is not among the best four in the country.

“I am disgusted and infuriated with the committee’s decision today to have what was earned on the field taken away because a small group of people decided they knew better than the results of the games. What is the point of playing games?” Florida State coach Mike Norvell said.

He added: “What happened today goes against everything that is true and right in college football. A team that overcame tremendous adversity and found a way to win doing whatever it took on the field was cheated today. It’s a sad day for college football.”

Travis is a sixth-year player whose development into one of the best quarterbacks in college football has fueled Florida State’s resurgence over the last three years.

“Devastated. heartbroken,” Travis posted on the social media platform X. “I wish my leg broke earlier in the season so y’all could see this team is much more than the quarterback. I thought results matter. 13-0 and this roster matches up across any team in those top 4 rankings. I am so sorry.”

Whichever team was left out had a good argument to get in. That created unprecedented controversy and the committee passed over FSU to pick Alabama, which upset Georgia to win the Southeastern Conference championship, and Big 12 champion Texas, which beat the Crimson Tide on the road in September.

The SEC had never missed the playoff. Alabama, which is in for the eighth time, kept that streak alive. The Crimson Tide have won the playoff three times, most recently in 2020.

Texas would have been just the second Power Five conference champion with only one loss to be left out. Instead, the Longhorns will be making their first appearance in the CFP in their last season as a member of the Big 12. Texas moves to the SEC next year.

Texas and Alabama were ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, in the committee’s penultimate rankings and are now the first teams to jump from outside the top six in the second-to-last rankings into the playoff field. Georgia became the first team to enter championship weekend No. 1 and fail to make the field.

“We’ve never had a year with eight teams at the top as good as these are. And the five conference champions (ranked) one through five, we’ve never had it come out that way,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said. “My feeling is it probably was the toughest (decision ever for the committee).”

Big Ten champion Michigan is making its third straight appearance in the CFP, still looking for its first playoff victory. The Wolverines, who have stayed unbeaten amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of in-person scouting and sign-stealing, are the favorites to win the national title, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Michigan, looking for its first national title since 1997, opened as a 1 1/2-point favorite against Alabama. The Tide have won six national titles under coach Nick Saban.

“We’re not going to go in there saying, ‘Oh, this is Alabama, a team that’s won and won and won and won and won. No. We’re that team,” Michigan running back Blake Corum told reporters.

Washington is in the CFP for the second time, breaking the Pac-12’s playoff drought after six years, and doing so the year before it leaves the conference for the Big Ten. The Huskies opened as a 4 1/2-point underdog to Texas and former Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. The two played last season in the Alamo Bowl and Washington won.

Georgia’s slim hopes of trying for a third consecutive national title also came to an end. The Bulldogs (12-1) had a 29-game winning streak snapped by the Crimson Tide, but leaving them out of the CFP didn’t seem nearly as controversial as snubbing the Seminoles — even in a system ripe for criticism.

In 2014, Ohio State, playing with its third-string quarterback, vaulted over Baylor and TCU and into the playoff with a Big Ten title game blowout of Wisconsin. The Big 12 teams still haven’t gotten over it, but the Buckeyes went on to win it all. Ohio State has been on the short end a couple of times, too, winning the Big Ten in 2017 and ’18 and not getting in. But this year, the committee faced a truly vexing problem.

Florida State, which was No. 4 in the previous CFP rankings, appeared to be on the way to its second playoff appearance in mid-November when Travis suffered a serious injury in the first quarter against North Alabama and was lost for the year.

The Seminoles beat rival Florida last week with backup quarterback Tate Rodemaker, who then missed the ACC championship game against Louisville with a concussion. Florida State stayed unbeaten with a strong defensive performance, but scored only one touchdown.

“To eliminate them from a chance to compete for a national championship is an unwarranted injustice that shows complete disregard and disrespect for their performance and accomplishments. It is unforgivable,” Florida State athletic director Michael Alford said.

ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips, who was among conference leaders who helped slow down the expansion process by a year after the SEC’s plan to add Texas and Oklahoma was revealed in 2021, called leaving out the ‘Noles “unfathomable.”

“Their exclusion calls into question the selection process and whether the committee’s own guidelines were followed, including the significant importance of being an undefeated Power Five conference champion,” Phillips said.

As the ACC champion, Florida State will head to the Orange Bowl for a showdown with Georgia.

“It’s unfortunate that some good team had to get left out,” Saban said on ESPN, “but I really think that our team earned the right to be here.”

 

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