CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Florida State coach Mike Norvell was even more animated than usual early Sunday morning as he made his final pitch for why his 13-0, ACC champion Seminoles belonged in the College Football Playoff.
He ticked through stats, raised his voice and pounded the table.
“I don’t think there’s a conversation,” Norvell said in an auditorium at Bank of America Stadium as university president Richard McCullough nodded along.
There was, apparently, a conversation inside the playoff selection committee. And it resulted in FSU’s first loss of the season.
The Seminoles finished fifth in the final CFP rankings as 12-1 Alabama took the fourth and final playoff spot. The Crimson Tide will face No. 1 Michigan in the Rose Bowl, and No. 2 Washington will play No. 3 Texas. It marks the first time an undefeated champion of a major conference has been leapfrogged by a one-loss team in the quarter-century history of the playoff and its predecessor, the BCS.
FSU is relegated to the Orange Bowl against back-to-back national champion No. 6 Georgia on Dec. 30. The program’s first appearance in a major bowl since the 2016 was not much of a consolation prize.
McCullough called the decision “shocking” and evidence “that the system is broken.” Athletic director Michael Alford deemed it “an unwarranted injustice,” “unforgiveable” and something that “has forever damaged the credibility of the institution that is the College Football Playoff.” ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said FSU and college football “deserved better.”
“Florida State deserved better. College football deserved better.”
Norvell was, according to his statement, “disgusted and infuriated.”
“What happened today goes against everything that is true and right in college football,” Norvell said. “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.”
For FSU, it was a sad day that stemmed from another sad one two weeks ago. That’s when Jordan Travis broke his leg in the first half against North Alabama. His replacement, Tate Rodemaker, rallied the Seminoles to a 58-13 win and a two-score victory at Florida the next week. Rodemaker’s replacement, Brock Glenn, quarterbacked Saturday’s 16-6 triumph over Louisville that secured FSU’s first ACC title since the 2014 playoff team.
It wasn’t enough.
“Florida State, great year,” selection committee chairperson Boo Corrigan said. “Really hard for everyone down there, but the injury to Jordan Travis is something that in the eyes of the committee changed them as a team.”
The evidence to that point is overwhelming. FSU never totaled fewer than 311 yards in Travis’ 11 starts. The Seminoles had 224 yards against a bad Florida defense and 219 Saturday. Their 16 points against the Cardinals were a season low.
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But FSU’s defense improved enough to pick up the offense. That unit held the Gators to 13 points and was the first team to keep Louisville’s offense out of the end zone. FSU forced both teams into negative yardage in the fourth quarter.
Travis took the news hard. He said on social media that he was heartbroken.
“I wish my leg broke earlier in the season so y’all could see this team is much more than the quarterback,” Travis wrote.
Other arguments between Alabama and FSU were split. They shared a common opponent (LSU); the Seminoles beat the Tigers by 21 on a neutral field, while Alabama beat them by 14 in Tuscaloosa. Corrigan said that game was “part of the discussion.”
So, too, was strength of schedule. Though no one beat more bowl-eligible Power Five teams than FSU (eight), Corrigan said the Crimson Tide’s scheduling metrics were “significantly higher.” The difference is somewhere between 40 and 50 spots, depending on the source. Alabama beat four teams in the committee’s final rankings, including Georgia. FSU beat three, none higher than No. 13 LSU.
Those final points center, in part, on conference affiliation and will likely lead to interesting conversations in Tallahassee over the coming days, weeks and months. The top four teams were one from the Big Ten (Michigan), one that will be in the Big Ten next year (Washington), one from the SEC team (Alabama) and one joining the SEC next year (Texas).
The Seminoles sit outside the Power Two in what was (this year) the worst major conference. FSU officials, including McCullough and board of trustees chairperson Peter Collins, have been vocal about the Seminoles’ need to consider leaving the ACC if the league’s finances don’t improve. Sunday’s snub should add even more uncertainty to the situation.
Corrigan said the idea of a power two “really wasn’t” a discussion point when setting the field. Instead, they simply focused on which teams were the four best. In doing so, the 13 committee members did something 13 teams tried and failed to do this season.
They gave FSU a loss.
Staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report.
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