As Florida State coaches, administrators and politicians bemoaned the 13-0 Seminoles’ exclusion from the four-team College Football Playoff, school trustee Drew Weatherford connected the snub to the nine-figure issue still simmering in Tallahassee.
“What this decision highlights most is that the Big Ten and SEC are viewed as superior conferences, and if you aren’t in one of those conferences, you are at a disadvantage,” Weatherford wrote on X, the platform formerly called Twitter.
The ‘Noles are not in one of those conferences. And unless (or until) they join one, their disadvantage is clear.
For months, FSU has been discussing that disadvantage relative to money. The gap between what the ACC can pay its schools and the distributions from the Big Ten/SEC is about to be around $30 million per year, according to board of trustees presentations.
“Unless something drastic changes on the revenue side at the ACC, it’s not a matter of if we leave,” Weatherford said during one of those spear-rattling discussions in August. “It’s a matter of how and when we leave.”
Since then, the ACC voted to add Cal, Stanford and SMU at discounted rates. Though the financial pie will grow (and incumbents like FSU will get larger slices), the money gap between the ACC and Power Two will shrink but not disappear.
The on-field gap, however, is not shrinking. It’s growing.
The committee’s decision to take one-loss SEC champion Alabama over undefeated ACC champion FSU is the biggest, most distressing data point. It’s not the only one.
The four semifinalists are all either in the Big Ten or SEC (Michigan and Alabama) or joining next year (Washington and Texas). With two spots in prestigious New Year’s Six bowls reserved for the next-best conference champions (FSU and Conference USA’s Liberty), the committee slotted the six at-large teams: Georgia (SEC), Ohio State (Big Ten), Oregon (joining the Big Ten next year), Missouri (SEC), Penn State (Big Ten) and Mississippi (SEC). The first two left out? Future SEC member Oklahoma and current SEC member LSU.
Though conference affiliation isn’t one of the committee’s criteria, it has an indirect effect through strength of schedule. In that way, the ACC let FSU down.
Only two of the Seminoles’ conference opponents (Clemson and Louisville) finished 8-4 or better. Alabama had four such opponents.
SP+ advanced metrics provide an imperfect but helpful ranking of every team. By those numbers, FSU faced four conference opponents worse than Alabama’s weakest one (No. 66 Mississippi State). The average ranking for FSU’s ACC opponents (52.9) was 24 spots lower than the average ranking for Alabama’s SEC foes.
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It’s not FSU’s fault that former power Virginia Tech lost to Purdue, Rutgers and Marshall. Or that another should-be heavyweight, Miami, chose not to kneel out a would-be win over Georgia Tech. Or that Louisville lost to Kentucky, Boston College lost to Northern Illinois and Wake Forest lost star quarterback Sam Hartman to Notre Dame via the transfer portal.
“You can only play the teams in front of you …” Corrigan said.
But those teams in front of FSU resulted in a strength of schedule Corrigan said was rated “significantly” lower than the one at Alabama.
Parse Corrigan’s words, and it sounds as if Jordan Travis’ injury might have kept FSU out of the playoff even with a comparable schedule. And the point would have been moot if the ACC (and its Alliance partners from the Big Ten and Pac-12) hadn’t stymied playoff expansion two years ago.
Even so, the problem will persist, just in a different way. An undefeated FSU is a lock for a future 12-team field, but what if the Seminoles win 10 games and finish second in the conference? Will the ACC’s relative weakness weigh them down as they fight for a spot against the No. 4 team from the SEC or Big Ten?
Weatherford, a former quarterback at FSU and Land O’ Lakes High, said Sunday’s decision was another reason for a consolidation into two super leagues.
“To not do so, inherently makes not being in the SEC or Big 10 a problem,” Weatherford wrote.
Which makes you wonder (again) how long it will take for FSU to figure out a solution.
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