The College Football Playoff selection committee announced its four teams Sunday afternoon, picking Michigan, Washington, Texas and Alabama to vie for the 2023 national championship.
Left out of the final four-team format before it expands to 12 next season were Florida State, the undefeated champion of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Georgia, which spent most of this season ranked No. 1 and was bidding to become the first program ever to claim three consecutive Associated Press national championships. The Bulldogs (12-1) had their 29-game winning streak end Saturday with a 27-24 loss to Alabama at the Southeastern Conference championship game inside Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Michigan (13-0) was tabbed as the top seed and will play fourth-seeded Alabama (12-1) in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, while second-seeded Washington (13-0) will face third-seeded Texas (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl that night. This will be the first playoff appearance for Texas, the second for Washington, the third for Michigan and the eighth for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.
“There are a lot of good teams out there,” Saban said on an ESPN telecast. “Florida State is certainly a good team to go undefeated in their league. It’s unfortunate that some good team had to get left out, but I really think our team earned the right to be here. They beat No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game, and they’ve worked hard all year to improve.
“I’m really proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish together as a team.”
Florida State (13-0) became the first program in the four-team playoff era, which began with the 2014 season, to go undefeated in a Power Five conference and still get left out. The Seminoles had an impressive nonconference win over LSU, 45-24, on Labor Day weekend but lost star quarterback Jordan Travis for the season in their 11th game.
In Saturday night’s ACC championship game, the Seminoles struggled offensively in a 16-6 downing of Louisville in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Florida State is a different team than they were in the first 11 weeks,” CFP selection committee chair Boo Corrigan said on ESPN. “They had an incredible season, but as you look at who they are as a team right now without Jordan Travis and the offensive dynamic that he brings to it, they are a different team. We had eight really good teams this year, which made it somewhat of a unique year, and the player availability was really important.
“You can lose a running back or a wide receiver, but a quarterback as dynamic as Jordan Travis — it changes their offense in its entirety, and that was really a big factor with the committee as we went through everything.”
Corrigan, incidentally, has been athletic director at ACC member North Carolina State since 2019.
Florida State’s strength of schedule ranked 55th nationally while Alabama’s was fifth, but the Seminoles in that sense were penalized for Clemson, Florida and Miami experiencing subpar seasons. Seminoles coach Mike Norvell released a scathing statement after his team was excluded Sunday.
“I am disgusted and infuriated with the committee’s decision today to have what was earned on the field taken away because a small group of people decided they knew better than the results of the games,” Norvell said. “What is the point of playing games? Do you tell players it is okay to quit if someone goes down? Do you not play a senior on Senior Day for fear of injury? Where is the motivation to schedule challenging nonconference games? We are not only an undefeated P5 conference champion, but we also played two P5 nonconference games away from home and won both of them. I don’t understand how we are supposed to think this is an acceptable way to evaluate a team.
“I’m hurting for our players who have displayed a tremendous amount of resilience and response this season. What happened today goes against everything that is true and right in college football. A team that overcame tremendous adversity and found a way to win doing whatever it took on the field was cheated today. It’s a sad day for college football.”
The Seminoles finished fifth in the final CFP rankings and will face No. 6 Georgia in the Orange Bowl at 4 p.m. on Dec. 30. The Bulldogs suffered the biggest tumble from the top on conference championship weekend in the history of the playoff.
Georgia will head to the Orange Bowl having won six consecutive postseason games, which includes the past two national championship contests, and with the SEC having won five straight Orange Bowls with Alabama over Oklahoma, Florida over Virginia, Texas A&M over North Carolina, Georgia over Michigan and Tennessee over Clemson.
“I empathize with anybody who goes undefeated and doesn’t get in,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said on a Zoom call that included Norvell. “I empathize with our players, because I personally feel like we deserved to be in. We’ve got a really good football team and were considered No. 1 in the country all year and then fell.
“The good news is that we’ve got each other to go play, and I know they’ll be up for us and we’ll be up for them. You worry more when they have a matchup they don’t look as forward to, even though it shouldn’t be that way. I think we’ve finished fifth or sixth more than anybody, and I couldn’t imagine that while being undefeated.”
On the call, Norvell described Sunday as an emotional day and asked out of respect for the Orange Bowl that questions dealt with the matchup and not the CFP snub. This will be the highest-ranked pairing for the Orange Bowl when not a playoff semifinal, topping last year’s clash between No. 6 Clemson and No. 7 Tennessee.
The SEC placed four teams in New Year’s Six bowls, with Missouri challenging Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl and with Ole Miss facing Penn State in the Peach Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl will pit Oregon against Liberty, which was the highest-ranked Group of Five team and is quarterbacked by former Tennessee signee Kaidon Salter.
Auburn (Music City), Kentucky (Gator), LSU (Reliaquest), Tennessee (Citrus) and Texas A&M (Texas) learned their postseason destinations as well Sunday, but only Alabama remains in the national championship picture for the SEC, not that the Tide will immediately get cracking on that.
“I’ve always thought that when you have this much time off that you’ve got to give the players a little bit of time and kind of look at it more like a one-game season,” Saban said. “Psychologically you can practice too much for a game, and you can prepare too much for a game. From a coach’s perspective, we haven’t seen that much of Michigan. I’ve seen them on TV a few times.
“They’ve got a great team, and they’re well coached, so it’s going to be a challenge for our coaching staff as we recruit and do other things that we have to do to manage our roster now. Normally we start about the middle of the month, and that’s when we’ll really start practicing for the game.”
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].