Picking final four won’t be easy

By TIM DAHLBERG

AP Sports Columnist

Jim Harbaugh went on and on, as if his incessant whining would overturn the result of what was, in effect, a playoff game before the playoffs begin.

Anyone who listened to Harbaugh in his last year in San Francisco would have easily recognized the tone. It’s what he does when things go bad, and go bad they did Saturday in a thriller at Ohio State that took two overtimes to decide.

The outburst cost Michigan $10,000 in the form of a fine Monday from the Big Ten, pocket change when the coach makes $7 million a year. What was far more costly to Michigan was blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead in a game it dearly needed.

Now Michigan waits on the outside, hoping against hope for a Hail Mary that will give the Wolverines one of the four prized spots in the College Football Playoff.

The fact that it’s not totally impossible shows how little things have changed since the five big conferences that rule college football scrapped the Bowl Championship Series three seasons ago.

Yes, the players get paid a little more, so date night may now include a movie as well as a pizza. And four teams now have a chance to prove their case on the field instead of the two anointed each year by the BCS.

But it’s still subjective, with the final four teams and pairings decided behind closed doors in a conference room in Texas. The first two years of the new system were relatively easy, but that all figures to change this week in one of the oddest years in college football.

The new rankings will be out Tuesday, and they will be read like tea leaves for an indication where the committee is going. But the real fun comes on Sunday, when the conference title games are over and the playoff teams are named.

Former Secretary of State and committee member Condoleezza Rice may need all her diplomatic skills to pacify the schools left out.

Right now, Michigan seems to be on the outside looking in, though that could change with losses by Washington and Clemson in their conference championship games. Actually, a lot of things could change if Washington or Clemson lose, though you have to figure Alabama is a playoff lock and Ohio State isn’t far behind.

What could keep committee members up all night Saturday, though, would be a win by Penn State over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. There would be a lot of unhappy people in Happy Valley if the Nittany Lions won the conference championship and were left out of the playoffs.

They’d be even unhappier if Ohio State — a team Penn State beat at home this year — got in instead. That’s despite the fact the committee has already indicated it thinks Ohio State has a better resume than the team it lost to.

That aside, it’s anyone’s guess what kind of thinking is going on behind those closed doors in Texas. Depending on the outcomes of the conference title games, there are various scenarios that could see Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State or even Colorado find their way into the playoffs.

It’s entirely possible that winning a conference championship may not be enough, which should give pause to those who insist conference title games are more than just a chance to haul in millions more in television revenue.

None of it is particularly clear. What is clear, though, is that the new way of crowning a national champion still falls short of a true playoff system.

In too many ways it still feels like the BCS, where in some years it was difficult to figure out just what the criteria for getting in the title game was. That included the 2006-07 season, where Urban Meyer, then at Florida, famously lobbied to poll voters who helped jump the Gators over Michigan into the national championship contest.

Meyer may want to do some more lobbying this week just to make sure his Buckeyes are in. Nothing is certain, though he and a lot of others can’t fathom the committee leaving Ohio State out.

“I think we’re one of the top teams in the country,” Meyer said after Ohio State escaped with an improbable win over Michigan.

As for Harbaugh, he may be incapable of putting together a coherent case for his team. He spent almost all his post-game press conference complaining about the officiating , when he should have been talking about how a team that lost by a point at Iowa and in double overtime at Ohio State could still be one of the four best teams in the country.

Not to worry, though. Leaving Michigan out of the playoff series will give him something to really whine about.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.