The College Football Playoff committee's controversial decision to put a second SEC school in the field over the Buckeyes had the backing of ESPN's two key metrics: Strength of Record and FPI. Alabama ranked fourth in SOR and first in FPI, compared to Ohio State ranking seventh and second in those same categories, respectively. And now, after the committee anointed the Crimson Tide as the No. 4 team and put them in the playoff, Alabama is the FPI favorite to win the CFP National Championship.
Though the CFP selection committee protocol requests the selection of the four best teams and, according to FPI, Ohio State is one of the four best teams in the nation, we noted recently that the committee tends to actually lean toward accomplishment over quality. The four layoff teams were also the four teams with the best Strength of Record. Fifteen of the 16 playoff teams in the current format have had a top-4 Strength of Record, with Ohio State's 2014 team being the only exception.
How did Alabama accomplish more than Ohio State if it didn't even make (let alone win) its conference championship game? Put most simply: because it had only one loss. Though the Buckeyes (32nd) had a tougher strength of schedule than Alabama (53rd), Strength of Record tells us that winning 11 of 13 games with Ohio State's slate was less difficult than winning 11 of 12 with the Crimson Tide's. Specifically, an average top-25 team would accomplish Alabama's 11-1 record 9.4 percent of the time, while that same team would have a 14.4 percent chance at Ohio State's 11-2.
"The selection committee just favored Alabama's full body of work over that of Ohio State," CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said on ESPN shortly following the rankings announcement.
It's worth keeping in mind that Strength of Record does not explicitly award extra credit for winning a conference championship, though it certainly does give plenty of credit for winning an extra game over a strong opponent (Wisconsin), like Ohio State did Saturday. The committee's protocol indicates conference championships should be used as a tiebreaker between similar teams. By selecting Alabama over Ohio State, the committee inferred it did not see those two as similar.
A frequent knock against the Buckeyes was not just that they loss to Iowa, but the way they lost to Iowa. And Hocutt confirmed that was considered by the committee.
"Obviously [Ohio State had] the one loss at home to No. 2-ranked Oklahoma but more damaging was the 31-point loss to unranked Iowa," he said.
Interestingly, that is not part of the equation for Strength of Record, which judges accomplishment purely by wins and losses, whom those results came against, and where they occurred. Despite being agnostic to the Buckeyes' defeat, SOR still considered the Crimson Tide's accomplishments more impressive. Where that margin of victory comes into play is in FPI, which rates team strength going forward largely based on performance throughout the season. Even with that loss to Iowa, FPI considered Ohio State to be the second-best team in the nation going forward and would have made the Buckeyes the playoff favorite if they had been admitted instead of Alabama.
Alabama has a 58 percent chance to beat top-seeded Clemson in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, while Georgia has a slight edge (53 percent) over Oklahoma in the other semifinal, the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual. The Crimson Tide have a 35 percent chance to win the national title, followed by Georgia (24 percent), Clemson (23 percent) and Oklahoma (18 percent).
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