By Nathan Junk ’19

New Year’s Eve has always been a night of excitement, festivities and celebration, and football fans of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Washington, will have even more reason to celebrate. New Year’s Eve marks the day that the two semi-finals of the College Football Playoff are played. The winners of the two semi-final games will move on to play in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, which normally falls on the second Monday of January.

The CFP is entering it’s third year of existence, as it succeeds the frequently criticized Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, which only allowed the number one and two ranked teams in the country to play for a national championship, following the last week of the regular season. Much controversy arose over who deserved to be ranked number one and number two, as there were many complicated factors that played into how teams were ranked. In an effort to resolve this controversy and uncertainty, the NCAA announced that the 2014 season would be the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff. The top four teams in the country after the conference championship games have played out will be admitted into the College Football Playoff. Which teams make the playoff is decided by a committee of former athletic directors and other administrative members of various universities throughout the country. The committee has certain criteria of which each team must meet in order to make the playoff. Championships won, strength of schedule, Head-to-head competition and comparative outcomes of common opponents are the main things that the committee takes into consideration when evaluating prospective teams for the playoff.

The final rankings of the top four teams are revealed on the first Sunday of December, and on Sunday Dec. 4, the 2016 College Football Playoff rankings were released. The Alabama Crimson Tide rolled in at the number one seed in the country. The undefeated Tide are the champions of their conference, (SEC) and are riding high on an undefeated record of 13-0. The number two spot goes to the champions of the ACC conference, the Clemson Tigers. The Tigers suffered one loss during the season to ACC foe Pitt by way of a last second game winning field goal. The Ohio State Buckeyes took the number three spot in this years ranking, without winning their conference, the Big Ten. The Buckeyes suffered one loss throughout the course of the season to Big Ten Champion Penn State. Many people around the country have expressed their disagreement with the committee’s admittance of Ohio State into the top four, however even without a conference championship the Buckeyes still presented a top tier rèsumè.

With wins over top ten teams such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Nebraska, it was clear to the committee that Ohio State was one of the best four teams in the country even without a conference championship. College Football Playoff Selection Committee Chairman Kirby Hocutt explains the committee’s view on Ohio State. “The Selection Committee believes that Ohio State has put together one of the best resumes of this college football season. Three wins over CFP top-10 teams, including what possibly will be defined as the game of the year, the victory they had over Michigan. They played one of the nation’s toughest schedules. Their only loss was by a close margin, three points, to a top-10 team. As the Selection Committee discussed Ohio State over the last couple of weeks, their body of work we believed was deserving of this No. 3 spot, and believed that they are unequivocally one of the best college football teams in the country this season.”

The number four spot in the final rankings has been the one of which continues to provide the most controversy year in and year out. This year there were three obvious candidates for the number four spot. The Washington Huskies, The Penn State Nittany Lions, and the Michigan Wolverines were the teams who were hoping and praying that the committee would put them through to New Year’s Eve. Each team had their own case, however some were stronger than others. Washington are the winners of the PAC-12 conference, and are riding a 12-1 record. Their only loss came to number nine USC, however they were somewhat dominated in that game. Penn State and Michigan are both two loss teams, which made their chances of reaching the playoff very slim. Penn State won the Big Ten with a record of 10-2, and beat Ohio State, the committee’s number three team, 24-21. The conference championship and head to head win over Ohio State gives Penn State two crucial criteria achievements, and many experts believed that they deserved spot on the top four. However the committee did not view Ohio State and Penn State comparable, and felt that their two losses to Pitt and Michigan outweighed their conference championship win. Michigan, yet another two loss Big Ten team, also had a very strong case for the playoff. Michigan was viewed by the committee as one of the best teams in the country throughout the season. Riding a 10-2 record which included wins over top ten teams such as Colorado and Wisconsin, Michigan felt confident that they would earn a spot in the top four. Michigan’s two losses were an overtime thriller with Ohio State, and a last second field goal from Iowa. Michigan beat Penn State head to head by a score of 49-10 on Sept. 24 of this year, so if the number four spot down to Michigan and Penn State, Michigan felt confident that they would be they who pushed through to New Years. In the end, the number four spot went to the Washington Huskies.

Fans and experts around the country have voiced their disagreement about this decision from the committee, as they feel Washington is undeserving of their number four spot. The PAC-12 was viewed as one of the weakest conferences all year, and Washington only had one  win versus a top 15 team (they even had a loss to a top 15 team in USC). The Big Ten on the other hand was by far the strongest conference in football this year, with four teams finishing in the final top ten, so it was argued by many experts that the Big Ten deserved two teams in the College Football playoff. Ohio State, and the winner of the conference seemed poised by many to have a spot in the final four.

The matchups for the semi-finals were also released on Dec. 4 of this year. Number one Alabama will play number four Washington in the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl in Atlanta, GA on New Year’s Eve at 3:30 P.M. The game will be televised by ESPN and ABC. Alabama is favored by 14 points over Washington, and many experts are predicting them to cover that spread comfortably. The second semi-final matchup features the number two Clemson Tigers and the number three Ohio State Buckeyes. The two teams will square off in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, AR on New Year’s Eve at 7 P.M. ESPN and ABC will also be televising this semi-final matchup. The Buckeyes are favored by three points over the Tigers, and experts are predicting this game will go down to the very last second.  The winner of each of the semi-final games will move on to play in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship which will take place on Jan. 9, 2017 in Tampa, FL.

Each year, the College Football Playoff brings excitement and entertainment to the entire country, and this years field of top four is looking to be one of the most entertaining in the playoff’s history.