By excluding Texas A&M, CFP committee shows SEC doesn't always get special treatment
The SEC has long been the industry leader in the quality of college football game and size of self, coupled with consistently impressive results. The SEC won seven straight national titles from 2006 to 2012, building a veneer of invincibility and arrogance that has made the league a juggernaut and a target. It just means more to them and they are happy to tell you all about it.
The aura of inevitable SEC supremacy failed a high-profile test on Sunday when Notre Dame No. 4 unpacked Texas A&M No. 5 for last place in the college football playoffs. According to the chairman of the committee, Gary Barta, the committee valued Notre Dame's additional win over a ranked team - then no. 19 North Carolina at Chapel Hill - the key to the Irish résumé.
Let this marinate for a few moments in the slow cookers from Auburn to Baton Rouge to Knoxville. The College Football Playoff Committee valued a win over a North Carolina team more than A & M's seven-game winning streak in the SEC, as only one of those teams was listed. (A & M's win over Florida # 4 and Notre Dame's win over senior and understaffed Clemson essentially canceled each other out.)
Basically, the entire drama of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee's decision could be summed up into one simple debate. Does it matter that Notre Dame has more than six straight wins against unrated SEC brands with two wins over high-ranking opponents - Mississippi State, Arkansas, South Carolina, LSU, Auburn and Tennessee?
The selection committee made a clear decision that could be remembered as the linchpin in the conference's endless rhetorical debate. Hoarding victories in the SEC, the committee said on Sunday, means less than it used to be.
Somebody gets Finebaum the smelling salts because Sunday was a day when winning at Chapel Hill is more important than winning at Auburn.
Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher argues a call during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas on Saturday, October 31, 2020, at College Station, Texas. (AP Photo / Sam Craft)
This is not an opinion that will go down well in SEC land. A trainer who spent time in the SEC and ACC designed it that way for Yahoo Sports.
"The general level of talent is much higher [in the SEC]," he said. "It's not that the top teams can't play in [Ohio State, Clemson], it's just that the quality of the game is so much higher than the mid-to-end Big Ten / ACC." I firmly believe there are five teams in the SEC who would be unbeaten on the Ohio State schedule. Can you imagine five teams between the two leagues that would stand 7-2 on an All-SEC schedule? "
The lack of comparative data points between the power leagues would always obscure this playoff selection process (as would the inequality in the number of games played). Perhaps what was the most surprising and least appreciated part of Sunday's development was the decision makers in the CFP, not just going back to the attitude that has been essentially a standard for the past 15 years. In case of doubt, the SEC wins the war of perception.
Sunday, however, was an indictment of the SEC's depth in the eyes of the sport's top decision-makers. They felt like Notre Dame flipping through the ACC shotgun schedule meant just as much, if not more.
This must have been particularly annoying for Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, who fought ACC lemmings for eight seasons in Florida and had difficulty getting his stance up until this season in his third year at Texas A&M to find.
When Fisher found his booth and figured out a way to write a season at a loss, it didn't matter to those who mattered. "Seven SEC victories in a row," said Fisher on Saturday in his familiar uptempo style. "Some schools didn't even play seven games."
The arguments against the state of Ohio, which ended in just six games, were ignored by the committee as much as it mocked Cincinnati's unbeaten résumé. And the argument against Fischer's seven-game argument disappeared the moment Notre Dame No. 4 flashed on the screen.
How did we get to a place where the SEC was viewed like everyone else? (Despite No. 1 Alabama, of course.)
There is a clear fulcrum where the concept of highest SEC dominance begins to waver. This happened in the Sugar Bowl of all places during the first college football playoff semifinals after the 2014 season. Ezekiel Elliott ran 85 yards through Alabama's defense in the fourth quarter of Ohio's No. 4 against Alabama No. 1 in the first college football playoff.
The SEC's seven-year national championship ended the year the Florida State team faced Auburn in their final BCS title game after the 2013 season. But Elliott's run - which lives on in Columbus in t-shirts - provided the frozen moment that revealed that the rest of the college football world had caught up with the SEC and, in some cases, passed it by.
Sunday's College Football Playoffs selection committee got to the heart of this notion of SEC supreme superiority. And it was a blow to the league's reputation that Texas A&M ended up on the wrong side of the most criminal void in all sports - 5th instead of 4th.
The SEC aura will still resonate with Alabama No. 1, which very much prefers to run away in the playoffs. But the SEC's collective ego suffered a tremendous blow on Sunday when a team standing in the moonlight at the ACC managed to top a program that crafted a fine season on the SEC.
The S-E-C chant may still ring out after this year's national title game, but the league's assumption that reputation is infallible took a hit on Sunday. This is not going to marinate well in College Station where they have cruelly found out that SEC domination means less than it used to be.
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