Selection Sunday marked the first time we saw a certain dubious feat in 19 years.

That is, an undefeated Power 5 team didn’t get a chance to play for a national title.

That’s excluding 2012 Ohio State, which was 12-0 but was ineligible for the postseason. FSU’s omission from the Playoff was shades of the 2004 Auburn team that was a perfect 12-0 in the regular season, but didn’t get a chance to play for a BCS national title because USC and Oklahoma were also undefeated.

So it begs the question — did 2004 Auburn or 2023 FSU get the worse deal?

You can look at that from a couple of different perspectives. The subjectivity of the decision is an important element of this discussion.

In 2004, the AP and Coaches Polls both had a major impact on that 2004 poll. That was to correct the computer-focused BCS standings of 2003, which led to the last split national champs in the sport (USC and LSU). In 2023, the 13-person Playoff selection committee had the entire impact on the final poll. You could argue there was even more human impact in 2023 than in 2004; fewer people were allowed to make a totally subjective decision in 2023 than in 2004.

Point, FSU.

When Auburn got left out of the 2004 field, it wasn’t just that it was for a pair of undefeated teams. It was for the defending champ USC, which beat Auburn 23-0 in the 2003 season opener. Fair or not, there probably wasn’t a path for a 2004 Auburn squad that started unranked to get the benefit of the doubt ahead of an undefeated USC squad a year later.

USC started that 2004 season at No. 1, and Oklahoma started at No. 2. Amid their 12-0 starts, they never moved off those spots in the regular season. The Sooners only helped their case down the stretch by winning their last 3 regular season games by a combined 107-6, which included a 42-3 drubbing of unranked Colorado in the Big 12 Championship. Still, Auburn beat No. 15 Tennessee by double digits in the SEC Championship.

If you broke down their pre-bowl résumés without knowing the context of their preseason rankings, you wouldn’t see some massive variance for 2 teams with the same record:

  • Power 5 opponents faced
    • Oklahoma: 10
    • Auburn: 9
  • Average margin of victory (pre-bowl)
    • Oklahoma +21.3
    • Auburn +22.3
  • Wins vs. teams ranked in AP Top 25 after conference championships
    • Oklahoma: 3
    • Auburn: 4
  • Avg. margin of victory in those games
    • Oklahoma: +11.3
    • Auburn: +13.3
  • Wins vs. Power 5 bowl teams after conference championships
    • Oklahoma: 5
    • Auburn: 5
  • Avg. margin of victory in those games
    • Oklahoma: +15.2
    • Auburn: +12.2

Oklahoma was actually ahead of Auburn and USC in the computer rankings heading into conference championship weekend. So then where does the Auburn frustration stem from? What happened next.

USC demolished Oklahoma 55-19 in the BCS National Championship while Auburn beat a top-10 Virginia Tech squad 16-13 in a bowl game. Naturally, dots were connected and it felt like Auburn would’ve provided the better matchup in the title game. Hindsight is 20-20, and obviously, there is no guarantee that Auburn would’ve beaten a peak USC team (Tommy Tuberville admitted that it would’ve been a challenge for anyone to prepare to stop USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow with a month to prepare).

It’s ironic that foresight was the selection committee’s reason FSU wasn’t given a shot to play for a national title this season. The selection committee determined that 2 games without Jordan Travis — both of which were multi-score victories away from home — meant that FSU wasn’t the same team. It felt like a move that was made to avoid a possible repeat of 2022 TCU, which deserved to make the field and won a semifinal game, but then got blasted in a 65-7 national championship loss to Georgia.

And let’s also remember that all FSU needed to compete for a national championship was 1 of 4 spots. That’s twice as many available spots as there were in 2004. Instead, FSU watched multiple 1-loss teams get that opportunity. It didn’t matter that against FSU’s lone common opponent with Alabama (LSU), it won by 21 at a neutral site compared to the Tide’s 14-point victory at home wherein Jayden Daniels was knocked out of the game at the start of the 4th quarter.

It also didn’t matter that FSU actually played a Power 5 conference team in nonconference play, unlike 2004 Auburn, which played Louisiana-Monroe, The Citadel (Division I-AA) and Louisiana Tech. Shoot, FSU played 2 Power 5 teams in nonconference play, both SEC squads away from home, and it beat both of them by multiple scores. The Seminoles had the same number of wins vs. the final Playoff Top 25 as Texas (3), and all 3 of those victories were away from home.

FSU had its résumé thrown away because of an injury to 1 player. That’s it.

That’s why the Seminoles got robbed even worse than 2004 Auburn. FSU was held out of a 4-team Playoff because its 2nd and 3rd-string quarterbacks didn’t look like the second coming of Cardale Jones. It didn’t matter to the selection committee that FSU likely wouldn’t have trotted out a 3rd-string quarterback in a Playoff scenario and Tate Rodemaker, who won 24-15 in The Swamp in his first and only career start, would have returned.

No matter what the Playoff results are, that’ll always sting. And yeah, it’ll still sting if a Travis-less FSU gets blown out by Georgia in a non-Playoff bowl.

There was national outrage over FSU not getting into a 4-team Playoff. That’s different from the frustration Auburn fans understandably felt at the time for not edging out a fellow undefeated team to earn a title game spot.

Both situations showed flaws in the system to not have an undefeated Power 5 team playing for a national title.

But being excluded from a more inclusive national championship format tipped the scales in FSU’s favor.