McCollough: Alabama bumps Florida State for last playoff spot; Tide to face Michigan in Rose Bowl

We knew change was coming — too much of it at one time, if we’re being honest.

The Pac-12 Conference is dead, and we just kind of move on as if it were inevitable. The College Football Playoff is expanding to 12 teams, adding eight games to the postseason grind for “student-athletes” who still don’t directly share the revenues from those highly lucrative contests. We know that the playoff expansion will make the results of the regular season matter less, as the top of the sport moves toward NFL Junior status, but we try to see the positives. Hey, who doesn’t want more college football?

Change is here, and we accept it. But we didn’t think the importance of the actual game results was on the chopping block, too.

On Sunday morning, the sanctity of the season was forever damaged.

For the first time in College Football Playoff history, an undefeated Power Five conference champion was denied a spot, as the selection committee chose 12-1 Alabama over 13-0 Florida State.

Supporters of the Seminoles, who lost starting quarterback Jordan Travis to a season-ending injury but persevered to a perfect record, will ask: Why even play the games?

“Devastated. heartbroken. In so much disbelief [right now], I wish my leg broke earlier in the season so y’all could see this team is much more than the quarterback,” Travis posted on the platform X, formerly Twitter. “I thought results matter. 13-0 and this roster matches up across any team in those top 4 rankings. I am so sorry. Go Noles!”

Travis and his teammates learned the hard way that college football has turned into a TV show above all. The Seminoles without Travis are not compelling television. They would have been major underdogs to beat No. 1 Michigan, while Alabama’s inclusion will set up a titanic matchup of blue-blood programs on the sport’s grandest stage in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

The matchup between the Wolverines and Crimson Tide might become the most watched semifinal yet.

Alabama rose from No. 8 in the rankings on the momentum of a 27-24 victory over No. 1 Georgia, the two-time defending national champions, on Saturday night in the SEC championship game. Nick Saban’s team is unquestionably deserving of a playoff spot, but at the expense of the unbeaten Seminoles, who dropped from No. 4 to No. 5?

“The consequences of giving in to a narrative of the moment are destructive, far reaching and permanent,” Florida State athletic director Michael Alford said in a statement. “Not just for Florida State, but college football as a whole. The argument of whether a team is the ‘most deserving OR best’ is a false equivalence. It renders the season up to yesterday irrelevant and significantly damages the legitimacy of the College Football Playoff. The 2023 Florida State Seminoles are the epitome of a total TEAM.

“The fact that this team has continued to close out victories in dominant fashion facing our current quarterback situation should have ENHANCED our case to get a playoff berth EARNED on the field. Instead, the committee decided to elevate themselves and ‘make history’ today by departing from what makes this sport great by excluding an undefeated Power 5 conference champion for the first time since the advent of the BCS/CFP era that began 25 years ago.”

Although Alabama beat Georgia on Saturday, this has not been a vintage Crimson Tide team. They lost at home by 10 to Texas and struggled to beat South Florida and Arkansas. As recently as last weekend, they needed a miracle 31-yard touchdown pass in the closing seconds to beat an Auburn team that lost the previous week to New Mexico State.

Was it ever considered that perhaps the SEC wasn’t up to standard this year? ACC teams went 6-4 against SEC teams. Did that even come up in the committee’s conversation?

“Florida State is a different team than they were through the first 11 weeks,” CFP committee chair Boo Corrigan said during the ESPN selection show. “Coach [Mike] Norvell, their players, their fans, an incredible season, but as you look at who they are right now as a team without Jordan Travis, without the offensive dynamic that he brings to it, they are a different team.”

The committee gave ESPN what it wanted — two unquestionably TV-friendly matchups. Michigan-Alabama under the Pasadena sunset, followed by No. 2 Washington against No. 3 Texas in the Sugar Bowl — pitting Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian against his former school.

The winners will play Jan. 8 in Houston in the last CFP championship game before the playoff expands to 12 teams next season.

The committee is rightfully taking heat today, but CFP can live with this firestorm because it gets the long-term boost of everyone being able to see why four teams was not healthy for the sport.

The debate over No. 12 against No. 13 will never make anybody’s blood boil.

The 2023 Florida State Seminoles are the final fatality of a flawed format.

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