The debate has already begun, and we haven’t even watched a single down of football for the 2014 season. There have been some prognosticators who are making the claim the new College Football Playoff will cause more controversy than the BCS. While it is a bit nerve racking to await seeing how the 13 member selection committee will handle the first year of handpicking the four teams for the playoff, can’t we agree it’s just nice to have the debate with an actual playoff system in place?
Quite a few questions have orbited around the heads of college football fans. For instance, we know, thanks to a document obtained by USA Today, the order in which the committee is expected to break ties. Strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and (conference) championships won. But a deeper inquiry remains; should whether or not a team won its conference title even factor into the decision making?
On the gold plated surface, yes conference championships should matter greatly when deciding which teams will duke it out in the playoff, however, there lies a flaw underneath the pretty conference champ argument. With four out the five major conferences housing at least 12 members, not every conference champ from the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC and Pac-12 will have played equally tough schedules.
Look at the SEC last season. Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports detailed the imbalance with the conference scheduling, pointing first to Alabama drawing 5-7 Tennessee and 2-10 Kentucky, while avoiding (not in a cynical way) Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia. Take it a step further over to the Pac-12 champion, Stanford Cardinal, who played six games against ranked teams within conference, and compare that to Big-10 champs, Michigan State, who played just two ranked teams within their conference.
If the selection committee was picking between Stanford and Michigan State last season, what would they have made their choice on? At the time the decision making for the playoff would have been taking place the Spartans had only one loss, while the Cardinal had two. But Stanford had the far tougher schedule. Remember, both were conference champs. Stanford had the best claim based on SOS, but would the committee have seen it that way?
Now, take a look at if the choice was between Alabama and Baylor. Bama didn’t win the SEC title in 2013, but played against three ranked conference foes, winning two, while the Bears faced just two ranked teams within the Big-12 and only beat one. The Tide would have a stronger argument for a spot in the final four, despite Baylor winning the Big 12.
As it stands now, the best way to pick teams for the playoff is on SOS alone, not conference title winners.
Moving forward, more teams will have to beef up their non-conference schedules. The SEC and ACC already have a jump start for their future scheduling, with both conferences requiring each team to play at least one power conference opponent each season starting within the next few years.
If SOS becomes the primary selection tool for the committee, there could be a lot of rescheduling taking place over the next few years. To make things easier the Big-10, Big-12 and Pac-12 should make the same requirement as the SEC and ACC has.
There could be a lot of moving parts with some teams’ schedules. Take the Colorado Buffaloes for example. Their non-conference schedule is already booked through 2019. The Oregon Ducks non-conference schedule is set though 2017. This isn’t the case for every team, but you get the picture.
Unless conference scheduling gets more balanced, the key, and focus to the College Football Playoff should be strength of schedule.