A split College Football Championship? FSU fans hold out hope
The question seemed like a valid one moments after unbeaten ACC champion Florida State was left out of the College Football Playoff. Could the fourth-ranked Seminoles, with a victory against defending national champion and No. 6 Georgia in the Orange Bowl, be voted No. 1 in the final Associated Press Top 25 college football poll?
"As a matter of principle, I'd consider ranking Florida State No. 1 regardless of whether they are in the CFP field," said ESPN's Rece Davis, a longtime AP Top 25 voter. "Much like the selection process itself, the exercise is who, in my judgment, is the best team."
In reality, though, the current state of college football's postseason all but renders the conversation moot.
Between players transferring or opting out to concentrate on NFL draft preparations and coaching staffs turned upside down by hirings and firings, the better question these days is how much consideration should poll voters give to postseason games outside the CFP at all?
"This is my 14th time as an AP voter, and I definitely think I will be less likely to vote teams considerably up or down after the bowls than I did in the past," said Scott Rabalais of The Advocate of Baton Rouge (Louisiana).
On Saturday at the Orange Bowl, Florida State will be a shell of the team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Quarterback Jordan Travis is still recovering from a broken leg, an injury that essentially kept the Seminoles out of the playoff. Many of FSU's best players, including defensive end Jared Verse, running back Tre Benson and receiver Keon Coleman, have opted out as they look toward the NFL draft.
Earlier this week, No. 2 quarterback Tate Rodemaker chose to transfer and skip the game.
Georgia is in better shape. Nineteen Bulldogs hit the transfer portal after the season, though most were backup players. It does look as if All-America tight end Brock Bowers and highly regarded tackle Amarius Mims will miss the game after seasons interrupted by injuries.
"If Florida State handles Georgia easily and the three CFP games are duds, then I'd gladly vote the Seminoles No. 1, but it's not going to happen," said AP Top 25 voter Robert Cessna of the Bryan-College Station (Texas) Eagle.
No. 1 Michigan (13-0) faces fourth-seeded Alabama (12-1) in the Rose Bowl semifinal and No. 2 Washington (13-0) plays No. 3 Texas (12-1) in Sugar Bowl semifinal on Monday. The final AP Top 25 is released a few hours after the Jan. 8 national championship game.
Rabalais covers No. 13 LSU, which will play Wisconsin in the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa on Monday without Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels, who has opted out.
"The lack of a player of Daniels' caliber has to be taken into consideration were LSU to lose and I was deciding where to put them on my final ballot," he said.
In some cases, the teams playing in the bowls barely resemble the ones that earned those postseason trips and rankings.
Take the Sun Bowl, with No. 15 Notre Dame (9-3) facing No. 21 Oregon State (8-4) in El Paso, Texas, on Friday.
Neither team will have its starting quarterback after Notre Dame's Sam Hartman (NFL draft) and Oregon State's DJ Uiagalelei (transfer) opted out.
The Irish are missing most of their starting offense, including All-America offensive tackle Joe Alt and running back Audric Estime, a second-team All-American. Offensive coordinator Gerad Parker recently took the head coaching job at Troy.
Beavers coach Jonathan Smith leave for Michigan State after the regular-season finale. Now they are down to a third-string quarterback, though one with starting experience in Ben Gulbranson, and have had several key players transfer out. Leading rusher Damien Martinez is serving a suspension.
"The stats count. It counts in the win-loss column. When people look at Notre Dame and Oregon State's record in the future it's going to include the results of this game. In that regard, well, I'll factor it in," Matt Brown from the The Athletic said on the AP Top 25 College Football Podcast. "On the other hand, if Notre Dame and Oregon State had these rosters for most of the year? The teams that take the field will really not be top-20 teams."
The Peach Bowl with No. 10 Penn State facing No. 11 Mississippi is shaping up to have fairly good representation from each team, though Nittany Lions All-American offensive lineman Olu Fashanu has said only that he will be with the team, not that he will play. Teammate and standout defensive end Chop Robinson isn't going to play.
"It's almost like we're going back in time to how bowl games are perceived," Brown said.
For a big chunk of the 20th century, bowl games were few and not taken into account in the final AP poll. Not until 1968 did the AP begin releasing a final poll after bowls were played.
As late as 1973, Alabama and Notre Dame shared the national title because the coaches' poll didn't take into account bowl games. The Fighting Irish beat the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl and finished No. 1 in the AP poll, but the coaches had already declared Alabama No. 1.
The last time there was a split national title was 2003, when Southern California was voted No. 1 by AP after being left of the BCS title game, won by LSU over Oklahoma.
The four-team playoff has all but ensured it will never happen again. The Florida State snub provide at least a chance to consider the possibility, but with a 12-team playoff coming next season, shared national championships will — like the wishbone and tear-away jerseys — be part of college football's past.