The College Football Playoff is now set, and Sunday’s selections for the final year of the four-team format were mixed with elation, heartache and controversy.
Unbeaten Michigan and Washington, along with one-loss Texas and Alabama, secured berths in the semifinal round for the national champion.
Top-ranked Michigan will play No. 4 Alabama on Jan. 1, 2024, in the Rose Bowl at 5 p.m. EST, while No. 2 Washington will square off against No. 3 Texas later that day in the Sugar Bowl at 8:45 p.m.
The winners of those two games will meet on Jan. 8 at Houston’s NRG Stadium to decide the best team in college football.
The announcement was a blow to unbeaten Florida State (13-0), who won the Atlantic Coast Conference title on Saturday. It also was a disappointment for two-time national champion Georgia (12-1), which saw its 29-game winning streak end on Saturday night against the Crimson Tide.
FSU finished No. 5 and Georgia was sixth in the final voting.
Michigan (13-0) rolled past Iowa in the Big Ten championship on Saturday to earn its third straight berth in the CFP, according to Sports Illustrated. The Wolverines are 13–0 for the second straight season.
Only two other schools have qualified in three or more consecutive playoffs, according to the magazine -- Alabama reached the semifinals five straight times from 2014 to 2018, while Clemson reached the final four six consecutive times from 2015 to 2020.
On Friday, Washington punched its ticket into the playoffs with a 34-31 victory against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.
Texas (12-1), which handed Alabama its only loss earlier in the season, topped Oklahoma State 49-21 in the Big 12 title game. The Longhorns, by defeating the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa in September, believed they belonged in the final four.
Alabama (12-1) threw a wrench into the CFP format by knocking off two-time defending national champion Georgia 27-24 in the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs (12-1) had not suffered a defeat since losing the SEC title game to the Crimson Tide on Dec. 4, 2021.
That victory gave the Tide the nod over unbeaten FSU, CFP committee chairman and North Carolina State athletic director Boo Corrigan said.
“Florida State is a different team than they were through the first 11 weeks,” Corrigan said. “Coach (Mike) Norvell, their players, their fans, had an incredible season, but as you look at who they are as a team, right now, without (quarterback) Jordan Travis without the offensive dynamic that he brings to it, they are a different team.”
“The committee voted Alabama four and Florida State five.”
Florida State (13-0) struggled against Louisville with a third-string quarterback, but clutch defensive plays in the fourth quarter allowed the Seminoles to hold off Louisville 16-6 and win the Atlantic Coast Conference title game on a rainy night in Charlotte, North Carolina.
No Power Five team had ever gone unbeaten, won its conference title and failed to make the playoff, according to The Associated Press. That record was broken on Sunday.
“It’s unfathomable that Florida State, an undefeated Power Five conference champion, was left out of the College Football Playoff,” ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said in a statement. “Their exclusion calls into question the selection process and whether the Committee’s own guidelines were followed, including the significant importance of being an undefeated Power Five conference champion.
“My heart breaks for the talented FSU student-athletes and coaches and their passionate and loyal fans. Florida State deserved better. College football deserved better.”
FSU athletic director Michael Alford released a statement after the decision, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
“The consequences of giving in to a narrative of the moment are destructive, far-reaching, and permanent. Not just for Florida State, but college football as a whole,” Alford said. “The argument of whether a team is the ‘most deserving OR best’ is a false equivalence. It renders the season up to yesterday irrelevant and significantly damages the legitimacy of the College Football Playoff.
“To eliminate them from a chance to compete for a national championship is an unwarranted injustice that shows complete disregard and disrespect for their performance and accomplishments. It is unforgivable.”
Georgia become the first No. 1 team in the next-to-last CFP rankings to fall out of the top four after losing in Championship Week, according to ESPN.
Since the CFP began, the best and most deserving teams were, for the most part, penciled into the final four slots. The exception came during the format’s first season in 2014, when the committee chose Ohio State over Baylor and Texas Christian, according to The Athletic.
However, the Buckeyes made the committee look wise by winning the national title.
The following years -- until this season -- have been smooth sailing. But this year, a few teams were left out that believed they were legitimate contenders for the national title.
The selection committee was going to make deserving teams unhappy no matter how they decided the final four teams. But CFP executive director Bill Hancock said the operative word was “best,” ESPN reported.
“Most deserving is not anything in the committee’s lexicon,” Hancock said Tuesday. “They are to rank the best teams in order, and that’s what they do. Just keep that word in mind. ‘Best’ teams.”