The field is set:
#1 Alabama vs. #4 Washington at Peach Bowl
#2 Clemson vs. #3 Ohio State at Fiesta Bowl
Close, but out: Penn State, Michigan, Oklahoma
What went wrong?
Penn State lost a non-conference game to Pitt. Had they scheduled a super weak slate like Washington and gone 3-0 in non-conference, the rest of their schedule was strong enough to leap Washington. Lesson: Schedule non-conference games that you will win. The Big Ten is strong enough that winning the conference (or not!) is good enough to get in, so long as you don’t lose out of conference.
Michigan lost two conference games in November. Margin of loss was irrelevant; two losses is too many when 4 teams have fewer than two losses. Lesson: Schedule night games at home every year. Michigan needs to re-think their ban on night games against Michigan State and Ohio State. Both are at home next year, and at least one should be played at night. The atmosphere provides a massive home-field advantage which can make the difference in a super close game.
Oklahoma lost two non-conference games. The Sooners went 9-0 in the Big XII, which was plenty good enough to earn a bid as Alabama was the only other P5 team to go unbeaten in conference play. Lesson: Ease up a bit on the non-conference scheduling. A win against a lesser mid-major instead of a loss at Houston may have been enough to jump Washington. The non-conference slate becomes even less relevant once the Big XII adds a championship game.
It is unfortunate for college football fans as a whole that Washington is rewarded for going unbeaten in a super weak non-conference schedule. Expect to see even more cupcake games among contenders going forward.