As heated as the debate got over Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State for the final College Football Playoff spot, the selection committee did exactly what it was tasked to do.
The group decided no team was unequivocally better than the other. So it went to its list of protocols, choosing the Sooners based on their conference championship. In hindsight, it should have been fairly obvious this is what the committee would end up doing, considering it telegraphed its move last Tuesday, ranking Oklahoma ahead of Ohio State.
Georgia nearly pulling the upset on No. 1 Alabama may have complicated matters a little, but the truth is, the committee would have set a bold precedent had it put in a two-loss, nonconference champion into the playoff over two conference champions with one loss apiece.
But this is college football, so the arguments won't stop now that the top four have been selected. And that argument all starts with this: Are the No. 4 Sooners the best team among the trio?
That is where we welcome back the good old "best vs. most deserving" argument that dominates just about every playoff selection day. In this case, it took nearly an entire season to revisit what it means, exactly, to be one of the best four teams or one of the four most deserving teams to play for a national championship.
This is exactly why the selection committee has protocols to follow, starting with giving weight to conference champions. Georgia may have looked like one of the four best teams in the country for 55 minutes in the SEC championship game, but all things being equal, a conference title should matter.
If Georgia had only that one loss to No. 1 Alabama on its résumé, you could soundly make an argument that the Bulldogs were among the best and the most deserving. It's the same argument that helped nonchampion Alabama make the playoff last year ahead of Big Ten champion Ohio State.
But here is the biggest factor in all of this: Georgia, like Ohio State last year, had two losses. Georgia, unlike Ohio State last year, did not have a conference championship. So why would a two-loss nonchampion Georgia team make it in this year when a two-loss champion Ohio State team did not a year ago?
In the end, it's that second loss that was too hard to ignore.
Georgia lost on the road to No. 11 LSU by 20 points and was simply noncompetitive in the game.
Had the committee put Georgia in, three Power 5 champions (including two with one loss each) would have been left out. So what does that say about how much every game matters in college football, how the regular season is the most exciting in all of sports? It's a precedent that would have benefited only the powerful SEC, and would have more than likely driven playoff expansion to the forefront not just among those in the UCF camp but those in the Big Ten and Big 12 camps as well.
Perhaps expansion is an inevitability in the end -- at least then a team that has won 25 games in a row like UCF might actually have a shot at playing for a championship. But for right now, the committee had to follow its protocols when presented with the best vs. deserving argument. As committee chairman Rob Mullens said on ESPN, there was no argument that one team among these three was unequivocally better than the other.
So it went to its list of criteria, starting with conference championships.
"In this instance, when one team wasn't unequivocally better than the other, the one-loss conference champion carried the day," Mullens said.
The only surprise in all this was where the committee ranked Georgia, at No. 5 ahead of one-loss conference champion Ohio State. That signals there was a strong, robust debate, one that the committee felt comfortable having. Because Georgia does look like one of the best teams in the country. In fact, hypothetical spreads in Las Vegas have Georgia as a 6.5-point favorite against Ohio State, and a 3.5-point favorite against Oklahoma.
But the committee was simply not ready to make such a bold decision, that would have had ripple effects not just on this year's playoff, but for the entire sport in general. Body of work has to matter. Winning games has to matter. Perhaps one day a two-loss team will find its way into the playoff, but it's hard to make that argument without a conference championship to show for it. Ohio State tried it last year and failed.
As for the Buckeyes, there is a valuable lesson to be taken from coming up just short the past two seasons. Winning conference championships means a great deal -- as long as there isn't a blowout loss to an unranked team to go along with it. The loss to Purdue this year and Iowa last year submarined any chances the Buckeyes had at the top four.
Whether they should be ahead of Georgia is irrelevant. Only the top four matter in the race to make the playoff. And the committee made the right call once again.