The College Football Playoff Selection Committee knew it didn't have a credible playoff without Alabama.
We can get drunk on metrics or argue Nick Saban's television fashion sense (dude, that red jacket!), but the committee did not just do the right thing, it did the only thing. Leaving Alabama out would have created the first illegitimate playoff. Committee chair Kirby Hocutt will never say that. But he and his 12 peers had to have thought it.
If they had not included Alabama, one of the four best teams wouldn't have had a chance to play for it all.
And that -- right there – is what this enterprise has been about since commissioners first started talking about it more than a decade ago. It had to be about the best teams, not a ledger sheet of best wins over ranked teams at the time of kickoff on the road.
Alabama is a better sell than Ohio State to the commissioners who created the CFP, the general public and any level-minded observer of the game. If that doesn't translate, try the language of Las Vegas. Despite sneaking in at No. 4, the Tide have already been installed as the playoff favorite by some sportsbooks.
How's that for legitimacy?
This will not sit well with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. But he helped create this monster. On Sunday, it rose off the slab and destroyed the laboratory. Delany knew the day was coming when two teams from the same conference would get in, just not to the exclusion of the Big Ten -- ever.
Certainly not in this age of Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer. But Ohio State's football just wasn't as good as Alabama's.
If the Buckeyes have a complaint, they can take it up with their athletic director, Gene Smith. He was on the committee, although recused when Ohio State was being discussed.
Alabama had no such direct relative in the room. Not that they needed one. If Saban had stayed on the ESPN set stumping any longer Saturday, he should have drawn a paycheck.
Never mind the Iron Bowl essentially didn't count. (Congrats Auburn, I think.) Never mind the Big Ten title game essentially didn't mean anything to Ohio State. That is unless the Buckeyes blew out a hard-to-watch Wisconsin, which it couldn't.
The committee backed up what this deal is supposed to be about. The four best teams, everything else be damned.
That meant moving Alabama from No. 5 to No. 4 despite the Tide sitting on the couch. That meant probably swallowing hard and putting two teams from a conference (SEC) in for the first time. That did not mean giving the Buckeyes a chance to be a national champion despite losing to an unranked team by 31 points. (More on that below.)
That's never happened, nor should it ever happen.
Ohio State became champion of a Big Ten that ended the season in the discussion for the best conference in the country. The SEC, most assuredly, did not.
The Southeastern Conference continues to be a league in flux. It started the season with six coaches entering their third year or less. It ended with five schools changing coaches. Tennessee continues to search for a leader -- and a clue.
But again, that's not what Sunday was about.
There is no doubt the 800-pound red elephant in the room -- or whatever you want to call Saban -- played a role. The man, the name, the school, the program are the gold standard. Not to say Ohio State isn't, but the committee members are humans with biases.
At some level, their lasting memory of the Buckeyes is a 31-0 skunk job by Clemson earlier this year in the CFP Semifinal. That and what is now an everlasting double nickel laid on the Buckeyes by Iowa on Nov 4.
On that day, Iowa started two freshmen on the offensive line and was ranked somewhere around 100 offensively at kickoff. The Hawkeyes won 55-24. That was the most points given up by the Buckeyes in 23 years. That was most points ever given up by a Meyer-coached team.
That's not a profile of a playoff squad.
That was Ohio State at its worst. Meanwhile, Alabama at its worst came eight days ago. It lost a blood-and-guts Iron Bowl by 12 at Auburn with its top linebackers out.
The committee also had to know this wasn't Saban's best team at Alabama -- or even his second or third. But that wasn't the assignment. By the CFP's own criteria, Alabama was "unequivocally" one of the best four teams as a team that didn't win its conference.
Unequivocally and everlasting, it seems. Alabama remains the only program to play in all four CFPs.
In this age of 14-team super leagues, in any given year conference champions don't come close to playing the best teams in their league. That's why it's perfectly acceptable to see a team that finishes second in its division make the CFP for the second straight year. The first? Ohio State in 2016.
Hello, Mr. Delany.
It will happen someday, but it shouldn't have happened this year: Ohio State would have been the second two-loss team ever to have access to a national championship this late in the season. National champion LSU in 2007 was the other.
As for the matchups themselves: Clemson-Alabama III looms in the Sugar Bow. I want to see that Oklahoma offense against an elite defense. Georgia may or may not be it.
Oh yeah, we could see two SEC teams play for it all.
College athletics has not distinguished itself lately. Administrators have paid more than $60 million in buyouts just to get rid of coaches in this silly season.
Presumed Heisman Trophy winner (Baker Mayfield) absolutely grabbed his nether regions on national television. Mayfield has being accused of zinging a ball at a TCU player's unprotected head.
Saban lowered the quality of the discourse Saturday saying, "If we lost to an unranked team in our conference by 30 points, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
And he was right. Try to imagine Alabama losing 55-24 at, say, Kentucky. You can't. Neither could the CFP Selection Committee.
What they presented us with was not just the Football Four but the right final four.