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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: College Football Playoff committee again stirs up emotions for Penn State fans

| Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, 8:39 p.m.
Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins breaks free against Wisconsin in the first half of the Big Ten championship game Dec. 2, 2017 in Indianapolis.
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Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins breaks free against Wisconsin in the first half of the Big Ten championship game Dec. 2, 2017 in Indianapolis.

A year later, Penn State fans still have reason to be angry.

Regardless of how the College Football Playoff selection committee made its Sunday afternoon decisions of who the four playoff teams would be, Nittany Lion backers could have found reasons to continue griping about being left out of the bracket a season ago.

If Ohio State had gotten in based on the premise they won the Big Ten championship Saturday night, Nittany Lion faithful could've rightfully said: “Why should they get in? Our team got left out for Ohio State last year when our team won the Big Ten title. That's a double standard!”

Alabama did get in Sunday as the fourth team, though. It joins Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia. Ohio State was the fifth team, on the outside looking in, just as Penn State was last December.

For the most part, what I saw from Penn State fans on social media was approval of the committee's decision because well, Ohio State, karma stinks, huh?

But if Penn State fans are somehow agitated about this result as well, I can't blame them.

In other words, through schadenfreude, yeah, be happy Ohio State got passed over just like you did. But obviously the argument again was ignored that a conference championship — specifically the Big Ten championship — should mean something more significant.

“It's one of the best conferences in college football, if not the best,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said Sunday during a conference call announcing Penn State's acceptance of a Fiesta Bowl bid against Washington. “I used to coach in the SEC. There are some similarities there.”

I endorsed Ohio State going into the playoff last year instead of Penn State. And I would've voted for Alabama over Ohio State this year as well.

I don't pretend to care about the conference championship games. The committee, though, pays lip service to them.

The goal is to determine a “national champion.”

Determining the national champion shouldn't have to be done through a Battle Royal of unconnected, regional conference champions.

Yet I'd argue PSU's stance in 2016 to be the fourth club was stronger than Alabama's this year because the Nittany Lions had beaten OSU head-to-head earlier in the season. Alabama didn't have such a claim this year.

I'd also advance that Alabama's argument was even further dented by its quality wins and strength of schedule against the Buckeyes. Ohio State's strength of schedule is 36th. Alabama's is 47th. Alabama only has two wins over top-25 foes. Ohio State has three wins against teams currently in the top 25, including two in the top 10.

The method of getting Alabama into the “Football Final Four” is consistent with last year's Ohio State leapfrogging of Penn State. It's just far less convincing.

“We have no influence over it,” Franklin said. “We have no control over it. So we spend very little time thinking about it.”

Maybe the coach feels he has to say something like that. But I get the sense some Penn State fans haven't stopped thinking about it since last year ended.

Even if Penn State fans wanted the make the argument this is further proof the college football playoff should be expanded to eight teams instead of four, well, they finished ninth in the poll.

So Happy Valley would've been unhappy anyway even in that expanded scenario.

The very structure of the four-team playoff is inherently unfair to at least one of the five major conference champions because only four teams are allowed to participate.

Further confusing the issue is, does the committee even know how it makes its decision when the value of conference championships are being debated?

Here's a passage from fivethirtyeight.com Sunday.

According to the selection committee's guidelines , they “will be instructed to place emphasis on winning conference championships, strength of schedule, and head-to-head competition when comparing teams with similar record and pedigree.”

Ohio State has one more loss than Alabama. But Ohio State also got one extra win because it played the extra game. Hence, there would be no tie to break with this conference championship “tiebreaker” school of thinking.

So can it be applied anyway? Or does an extra regular-season loss somehow mean more than a postseason conference championship win?

Penn State fans were asking the same question about Ohio State in the other direction a year ago. They'll probably be asking the same question 10 years from now as well.

They'll also be asking, “God! How did we lose to Pitt?”

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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