It was a Selection Sunday that will not soon be forgotten.
No. 5 Florida State is the first undefeated power conference team to be left out of the College Football Playoff.
No team outside the top six in the next-to-last playoff ranking previously made the cut in the final ranking. On Sunday, what was No. 7 Texas and No. 8 Alabama ascended to No. 3 and No. 4, respectively.
Georgia, which was No. 1 in each of the five playoff rankings before losing to Alabama in the SEC championship game, became the first top-ranked team in the next-to-last ranking to tumble out of the top four in the final ranking. In fact, in falling to No. 6, the Bulldogs dropped more spots (five) than their margin of defeat (three) to the Crimson Tide. The 27-24 setback was their first defeat in nearly two years to the day when they lost to ‘Bama in the 2021 SEC title matchup. Kirby Smart’s team proceeded to rattle off 29 straight wins and win a pair of national titles.
With Michigan at No. 1, Washington No. 2 and Texas at No. 3, the final spot came down to 12-1 Alabama and 13-0 Florida State. Not that it came down to Jalen Milroe versus whoever was running the offense for the Seminoles, but it is difficult not to think about the quarterback situations with both teams and how one struggled at the position early in the season and the other late. Timing is everything, right? An eye test in September, before the initial ranking, is far different than in November or early December.
While Milroe took off following a benching and led the Tide to an SEC title, Travis was having a fantastic year for the Seminoles prior to suffering a leg injury against North Alabama on November 18. Travis’ absence became a storm cloud hovering over FSU and its playoff chances even while continuing to win.
FSU fell out of a playoff spot despite the aforementioned CFP history and the fact Mike Norvell turned in a fantastic exhibition of coaching. Three different quarterbacks started the Seminoles’ past three games resulting in a revamped playbook while leaning on the defense to be the difference.
All the while, FSU dealt with a road date with their top rival and a conference championship game with a spot at the CFP table on the line. They won with Norvell and his ‘Noles making the adjustments. The result was their first ACC title since 2014 and a perfect 13-for-13 on the season.
The selection committee, however, preferred to focus not on a perfect season, but the imperfections. To that extent, right or wrong, the committee takes into account player availability, or lack of availability, that may have affected, or will affect, a team’s performance. In this case, who was under center in Tallahassee.
The leg injury suffered by Travis immediately placed the Seminoles on shaky ground in the eyes of the selection committee as they slipped to No. 5 following the North Alabama game before returning to No. 4 last week after Ohio State lost to Michigan. Committee chair Boo Corrigan stated as much on ESPN following the revealing of the next-to-last playoff ranking “…they are a different team without Jordan Travis” — and again Sunday — “Florida State is a different team than they were through the first 11 weeks” — after the final ranking was revealed.
Tate Rodemaker’s concussion sustained in the regular-season finale against Florida, the redshirt junior’s first career start in a nine-point victory against the backdrop of a raucous atmosphere in Gainesville, only intensified the scrutiny as the Seminoles turned to Brock Glenn against Louisville. The true freshman entered the ACC title game with four career pass attempts and predictably struggled (8-for-21, 55 yards), but FSU prevailed, 16-6, by stifling a Louisville team that was averaging 33 points per game.
Alabama was a different team since leaving Tampa and won an SEC title behind Jalen Milroe, who continues to develop into a top-flight quarterback after what was an awkward couple of weeks for the sophomore and his team in September.
Milroe did not take the field at USF following a Week 2 loss against visiting Texas – which is what ultimately got the Longhorns into the playoff — in which he threw for 255 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Instead, Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner got the start. What proceeded during a weather-interrupted afternoon was a painful-to-watch 17-3 win in which the Crimson Tide totaled 310 yards against a team that finished 131st among 133 FBS teams in total defense.
Saban went back to Milroe the following week against visiting Ole Miss in the start of conference play and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. Milroe, who threw for 192 yards and two TDs with no turnovers in the win over Georgia, is fourth nationally in pass efficiency and will be a 2024 preseason Heisman contender.
Seemingly, there will be nothing on the level of drama and outrage over the selections next year, when 12 teams advance to the playoff, as was witnessed Sunday. There will be debates, for sure, but they likely will not include why an undefeated power conference team did not make the cut.