For the College Football Playoff selection committee, there was no right answer. There was no wrong answer, either.
And that safe answer was Alabama.
In choosing the one-loss Crimson Tide over the unbeaten Florida State Seminoles, the College Football Playoff put together a set of semifinal matchups that have the potential to deliver the most thrilling New Year's Day in the history of the sport.
Alabama versus Michigan is a dream matchup. Washington versus Texas is a game pitting traditional powers that have come back from the abyss. And now, college football will move forward to a 12-team playoff starting next year, where the dilemma this committee faced won't be relevant.
That's not going to be any consolation for the Seminoles. Getting through a season of college football unbeaten is extremely difficult, and they did it not just in exciting fashion but with guts and heart. What the Seminoles had to do the last two weeks of the season to beat Florida on the road and to beat Louisville in the ACC championship game wasn't easy.
And in any other year, it would have punched their ticket to the playoff.
But given a choice among three teams for just two spots, the committee had to go with the team that it felt was better-equipped to compete in the playoff and had a better season overall. Despite having one loss, that was fairly clearly Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s third-best win, against LSU, matched Florida State's best win of the season.
The ACC did the Seminoles few favors given that Clemson, North Carolina and others did not live up to expectations. Florida State didn't get the opportunities to bank some of the massive wins that might have carried them over the finish line, even without QB Jordan Travis.
But if you're on the selection committee, and you're watching Florida State struggle to produce any offense against Louisville, you have to ask yourself: Is this really the same team going into the playoffs that it was for the first 10 weeks of the season? The answer was no.
You could also ask the same question about Alabama. Was the Crimson Tide the same team Saturday in beating Georgia for the SEC championship that had shown some significant vulnerabilities early in the year? Again, the answer was no.
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Alabama's trajectory has been fairly obvious. It's been improving week by week. And with another month to prepare for the playoff, history says Nick Saban will have his team well-positioned to compete with Michigan.
Florida State was just too big of an unknown in the end. The committee chose safety. And it probably chose the team that had a better chance to win a national championship.
Is that unfair? Yes. But anything the committee would have done Sunday would have been unfair to somebody. That's just the way it goes.
In some ways, the team that got the worst of it was Michigan. It's not much of a reward to be No. 1 in the CFP semifinals when you have to face Alabama in a playoff game. And for the Wolverines, this is going to be the ultimate litmus test for whether the way they've built their program is capable of competing with the elite of the SEC.
And yes, that matters. Clearly, it matters.
Fans of other conferences don't like to hear it. But the SEC does get a measure of privilege and benefit of the doubt. That's what happens when you win 13 of the last 17 national titles. Sometimes the SEC may be a little bit overrated. And sometimes the amount of chest-beating can be difficult to stomach.
But you can't deny that year in and year out, the top of the SEC is as good or better than what anybody else offers at the end of the season when it matters most. SEC teams usually prove that in the playoff.
It’s hard to imagine the committee didn't have that in mind as well, in trying to choose between an Alabama team that had just taken out Georgia, and a Florida State team that was going to be a bit of a mystery heading into the semifinals.
For Florida State fans, it's devastating. I sympathize with you. I hear you. I understand your outrage. But at the end of the day, it's not hard to see why the committee did what it did.
Now college football has to move on, not just to the semifinals, but to a 12-team era where we won't have situations like this anymore. There will still be complaints, but they will be far more picayune in nature.
The 10-year history of the College Football Playoff was not without its missteps and mistakes. But the last decision and the most controversial one will be difficult to criticize in the long run.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alabama over FSU was the safe choice for CFP. It's the right call.