Conference championships matter. Head-to-head matters. Every game counts, though some seem to count more than others and good luck figuring out which ones count most. That may be the way it is for awhile - at least until the playoff grows up.
They'll face Washington in one of the two semifinals on January 9 with Clemson taking on Ohio State in the other on the same day. 3 MI, pushed the Buckeyes past Penn State and back to the desert.
The No. 1 Crimson Tide will face the No. 4 Huskies and the No. 2 Tigers will square off with the No. 3 Buckeyes in the playoff semifinals December 31, as announced Sunday by the CFP committee.
While Alabama, Clemson and Washington all wrapped up conference titles on Saturday, Penn State came away with the Big Ten's title with a win over Wisconsin.
Maybe these achievements are tossed aside in pursuit of the Playoff's endgame: finding the four best teams in the country, all other caveats notwithstanding.
Not only did they win their conference championship, but they also beat Ohio State in a game this past October. Ohio State beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl a year ago and is the first team in the three years of the CFP to reach the playoffs without winning its conference championship.
Penn State was not competitive in a September loss to MI, and lost to an 8-4 Pittsburgh team.
The committee favored Ohio State because of its overall body of work, which included a 3-1 record against top-eight teams (wins over Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Michigan). The Buckeyes outscored their opponents by 28.5 points per game.
The final spot came down to Penn State (11-2) and Pac-12 champion Washington.
Penn State's non-conference schedule had Pitt (8-4), AAC champ Temple (10-3) and Kent State (3-9). But you can also say that if Penn State beat Pitt it would have benefited from playing a hard nonconference schedule.
Hocutt said the committee dug deep into the Huskies and Nittany Lions.
"As we looked at those key statistics from an offensive standpoint, from a defensive standpoint, from starting field position differential, the edge was to Washington", Hocutt said. "I could see Penn State being that team that goes ahead of Washington".
After Baylor's abysmal nonconference schedule had been called into question in each of the first two years of the playoff, the Big 12 also issued a scheduling mandate throughout the league to help boost strength of schedule. The one crucial difference, though, is enormous.
June 26, 2012 - A BCS oversight committee of university presidents approves the four-team seeded postseason format presented by the BCS commissioners, to begin in the 2014 season and continue through the 2025 regular season (2026 bowl games).
What could provide more consistency, more objectivity while removing much of the subjectivity, is bigger playoff.
For better or worse, the message is this: two losses weigh more heavily than conference crowns or schedule strength. Fewer debates, plus it could put some juice back into championship weekend, which has become a little anticlimactic.
And the Playoff was made for years like this, where one team stands high above the rest - that would be unbeaten and seemingly unstoppable Alabama - but multiple contenders hold a case for being placed in a winner-take-all championship game.
Sounds interesting, but it is not happening anytime soon. The CFP is in year three of a 12-year television deal with ESPN.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney cautioned that more post-season would lessen the value of the regular season and that adding another round would require eliminating other games.
Petersen, the former Boise State coach in his third season with Washington, has never faced Saban and said he does not know him well. "Something would have to give".
College Football Playoff committee chairman Kirby Hocutt says "it was a challenging conversation" that led Washington to get the final spot in the semifinals over Penn State.