If creating conversation is part of the marketing plan for the College Football Playoff selection committee, they met the objective this year. The selection committee had six teams of Playoff caliber this season. The problem is the Playoff has just four berths. That means there would have been detractors no matter which four-team field the committee chose.

nittany-lionsPenn State and Michigan were the casualties this season, just like there were casualties in the first two years of the Playoff’s existence. Don’t let that make you believe for a second that the Nittany Lions and Wolverines, especially Penn State, were not deserving of playing for a national title.

The Big Ten looked to have a real shot at becoming the first conference to land multiple teams in a single Playoff. Instead, only Ohio State was named to the final four. Alabama, Clemson and Washington claimed the other three spots.

Here is why I felt Penn State should have gotten in over Ohio State. First of all, the Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes on the field. Secondly, Penn State won the Big Ten Championship game, a contact Ohio State did not even qualify for. Logic makes me ask how can Ohio State qualify for a national championship when it cannot even qualify for the Big Ten championship?

Heck, I would have been fine with Penn State knocking fourth seed Washington out of the playoffs. Kind of like Ohio State did two years ago when an epic performance in the Big Ten Championship Game propelled the Buckeyes into the four-team field, boxing out the champions of the Big 12. That proved the correct decision, as Ohio State won the national championship a month later. Could Penn State have done the same thing? We’ll never know.

The Nittany Lions have a strong case that they are one of the nation’s top four best teams. Penn State is riding a nine-game winning streak that includes wins over two top teams, one coming against Playoff-bound Ohio State and the other an instant-classic comeback against Wisconsin to win the Big Ten championship. Those are two sterling wins on any resume. Add in two more wins over AP top-25 teams Iowa and Temple and the fact that both losses came against top-25 teams in Michigan and Pittsburgh, and that’s a compelling case. Especially after winning arguably the best conference in the country.
It seems, in the end, Penn State’s loss to Pittsburgh cost it a spot in the Playoff. Washington, which played the second-easiest non-conference schedule in the entire FBS, edged Penn State for the final spot.

Actually, an argument could be made that a list of the top four teams in the country should contain all three of the Big Ten teams in question. After all, Washington didn’t earn its first top-10 win of the season until this past Friday night. Clemson is still without a top-10 win this season. Meanwhile, Michigan had three victories over top-ten schools that is even better than Penn State’s resume.

Coaches and athletic directors have to be wondering again what it takes. They were told when the playoff format began that strength of schedule and winning your conference were the two most important factors in earning a playoff berth. Not this year.

Winning the games on your schedule seemed to be the No. 1 factor when splitting hairs between these six elite teams. Penn State and Michigan didn’t have winning percentages comparable to Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington. Is that the best way to determine the four best teams, as the committee so often repeats is its mission? That can be argued. But that’s certainly what happened here, as 12-1 Clemson and Washington were picked over 11-2 Penn State and 10-2 Michigan.

NFL Football Fodder

Did it look to you that the Carolina Panthers have mailed in the season in its loss to Seattle last week? While I am at it, does the Cam Newton we are seeing on the field this season look like a former MVP?

There are some great matchups coming up as the race to the playoffs is officially on now that the season is 75% complete. It starts tonight (THU) when Kansas City host the Oakland Raiders. These two teams within the best conference are long time rivals. Oakland is 10-2 while Kansas City is 9-3, one game ahead of 8-4 Denver. The Raiders, with a win, would just about wrap up the division and take a huge step toward being the top seed in the AFC over New England.

eric-berry

Like I previously mentioned, it is time to start thinking playoffs. Here is how I see the wildcard race in the AFC. I see the loser of Oakland and Kansas City getting one spot. That leaves one slot open for Denver (8-4), Miami (7-5), or the Pittsburgh (7-5)-Baltimore (7-5) loser. In the NFC, I think the NFC East will dominate the playoffs this year. Dallas will win the division while the New York Giants and Washington Redskins get the two wildcard berths.

I really like the Eric Berry story last week. Berry, a safety for the Kansas City Chiefs, is in his seventh season for the Chiefs. On Sunday, he had his first game in his hometown of Atlanta, the same city where he underwent treatment in 2014 for life-threatening lymphoma. Berry became the first player in NFL history with a pick-six and a pick-two in the same game. In the 29-28 win over Atlanta, Berry returned a Matt Ryan pass 37 yards near the end of the first half, and after the Falcons took a 28-27 lead in the closing minutes, returned another Ryan pass for a two-point defensive conversion for the win. Amazing game, particularly as it was played 15 minutes from the hospital when Berry was treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

For those who think the New England Patriots will not advance far in the playoffs now that Rob Gronkowski is out for the season, you might want to think twice. Since drafting Gronk with the 42nd overall pick in 2010, the Patriots are 77-21 when he plays (.786) and 16-7 when he does not play (.696).

Photos: Cam Newton; Eric Berry