The first-ever College Football Playoff bracket is set and there are some juicy matchups in the race to determine a national champion on the field for the first time. Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State made the cut, but the season-long battle to wind up in the final four told us plenty about the selection committee and its weekly top 25 rankings.
Now that the final set of committee rankings has posted, here are a few things we learned:
1. Ohio State overcame early loss with strong finish
For all the debate over who would wind up as the fourth team in the final rankings, Ohio State tried to leave as little doubt as possible down the stretch with their impressive play on the way to an undefeated Big Ten season. Committee chair Jeff Long noted several times in his press conferences that the Buckeyes moved ahead of the Big 12 teams in contention far more than the latter duo fell back.
"Ohio State has also steadily moved up all season long in our rankings," Long said. "Committee members voted decisively that Ohio State is the fourth-ranked team in the nation."
Who knows if the Buckeyes would have wound up at No. 4 if they didn't blow out a good Wisconsin team, but it clearly had an impact in them winding up in the playoff. Long noted the fact that the team played well and won big games despite losing two quarterbacks is a sign Urban Meyer's squad is one of the best four teams given that adversity. All that helped them overcome a bad early loss to Virginia Tech that didn't weight them down as much as some thought.
2. Changes are coming to the Big 12
The Big 12 had two contenders for the final spot in the playoff but went an unexpected 0-2. The swings and misses no doubt caused a ton of fans of the league to cry out, but it's clear commissioner Bob Bowlsby is looking to make changes after being the only Power Five conference to get shut out.
"Baylor and TCU were worthy of being in the four-team playoff. They have a body of work that is significant," Bowlsby said on ESPN. "The one thing I'm disappointed in is it appears that we were penalized for not having a postseason championship game. If that's the case ... I wish we would have been advised of that if it was likely we were going to be penalized. Not that we could have done anything about it, but we at least would have been aware of it."
There will be plenty of talk about the Big 12 holding a conference championship game and Bowlsby reiterated that they will continue to explore that if they get the necessary NCAA rule changed or waived. Expect it to happen sooner rather than later as we've been through the tie-break scenario quite a bit with the league over the years.
There was also plenty of debate over naming TCU and Baylor co-champions, as well, and it would surprise nobody if they adjusted their marketing plan as such in 2015 to drop the "One True Champion" slogan. Long said that having two teams winning the Big 12 didn't affect either of their chances to make the playoff, but it's clear not playing in a title game did. That's why adding another game will likely be addressed before the co-champions issue is voted on by athletic directors.
3. Baylor's non-conference slate cost them, not being "co-champions"
We heard for months coming into the season how strength of schedule would be a big factor for teams. In that case, Baylor has nobody to blame but themselves for not doing enough to overtake Ohio State. Long expressly noted the Buckeyes had a better non-league schedule and that likely helped give them the edge in a close battle for the No. 4 seed. That, more than the co-champions tiff with TCU, kept the Bears out of the playoff.
4. The MSU's flipped places at wrong time
Despite not playing a game last week, the committee flipped Michigan State and Mississippi State in the top 25. They said it was because of top 25 wins, the number of which also didn't change. It's great to start with a blank slate each week but if the committee didn't actually evaluate the Spartans vs. the Bulldogs until Sunday and look at who they beat, that's not a good sign for some teams that are hoping to get high enough in the rankings to earn a major bowl bid.
5. Committee's weekly rankings meant little
As expected, TCU being at No. 3 last week didn't mean much for their playoff hopes and only underscored that the committee's rankings during the season don't have that big of an impact on the final poll. The flipping of the MSU's (see earlier point) also underscored the fact that we don't know who the final four will be until the very end even if a ton doesn't change.
6. Conference title games weren't too much of a penalty to teams that lost
Arizona, Wisconsin, Missouri and Georgia Tech didn't drop that much in the committee's rankings after losing their respective conference championship games. That's good news for teams that are underdogs in those games going forward and hoping for a bid to a New Year's Six bowl game.
7. Group of Five teams don't need to be perfect, but they do need to play good teams
Boise State earned the Group of Five bid and wound up in the Fiesta Bowl against Arizona for winning its league and having more quality wins than any other candidate. That underscores the changes in the new system when it comes to the non-power leagues in that they don't have to be perfect -- the Broncos lost two -- but the quality of their wins will be the trump card.
8. The committee matched good offenses against good defenses
In the two marquee games that didn't have tie-ins, the committee matched a high-flying Baylor offense against a stout Michigan State defense in the Cotton Bowl and did the same with Ole Miss and TCU in the Peach Bowl. That's great news.
9. NFL scouts really will enjoy semifinals
Ohio State and Alabama are loaded with future draft picks and will be matching wits with two of the best coaches in college football running their programs. The Oregon and Florida State game, likewise, has a ton of potential pros and features the marquee matchup of top quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. These types of games could affect draft placement for some players and should draw a ton of NFL scouts to the Rose and Sugar Bowls.
10. The games will make us forget the winding road to get there
With such attractive matchups in the final four, when Jan. 1 rolls around nobody will remember all the whining over polls, rankings, wins and losses. Finally, college football is like every other sport and will determine the national champion with a playoff.