College Football Playoff Committee Missing Opportunity


Many analysts projected, if the College Football Playoff existed today, Alabama and Auburn would play in a first-round rematch of the Tigers’ win. Mandatory Credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

The College Football Playoff committee doesn’t determine anything for another year.

Even before its chance to register a controversial call, the committee intends to fail.

Uncertainty creates outrage.

The 13-member committee has a chance to erase both.

It shows little interest in doing so.

With tonight’s release of the final BCS standings, college football analysts naturally turned their attention to “what if the College Football Playoff existed now?”

Many presumed Alabama would be a part of such a playoff – likely as the No. 3 team.

The criteria for selecting the four playoff teams lack clarity, though.

Here’s a graf from the Oct. 16 USA Today story detailing how the committee will choose four teams:

“Teams will be chosen based on several factors including conference championships, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, comparing common opponents and injuries.”

Those factors, it turns out, might not favor Alabama, which has won the last two BCS national championships.

Florida State and Auburn seem to be easy choices for a committee. The third and fourth teams would present a greater challenge.

Currently the Sagarin Ratings present the best indicator of strength of schedule. Based on the criteria stated – strength of schedule and conference championships – Stanford looks like a strong candidate.

The Cardinal, despite losses at Utah and at USC, won the Pac-12. Sagarin Ratings ranks divisions – not conferences. The SEC West ranks first with the Pac-12 North and South following at second and third. The SEC East placed fourth.

Furthermore, Stanford ranked fourth in strength of schedule. To put that into perspective, Florida State placed 63rd and Auburn 20th.

In the Sagarin Ratings, the Cardinal also led the team in top-10 wins (three – two at Arizona State and one against Oregon) and top-30 wins (6-1 record).

Auburn, widely considered to play the toughest schedule because of the strength of the SEC West, went 2-0 against top-10 teams and 4-1 against top-30 teams in the same ratings.

However, Arizona State fell out of the BCS top 10. Stanford went 1-0 against the BCS top 10 and 4-1 against the BCS top 25.

Auburn went 2-0 against the BCS top 10 and 4-1 against the top 25.

Here’s where a test run would have come in handy: How much would the committee have valued two-loss Stanford?

Other contenders seemingly would have been placed in two camps: Conference winners and non-conference winners. The league champions would have included Stanford, of course, along with Michigan State and Baylor. Sorry, UCF.

The latter camp would include Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Missouri.

(For those of you math whizzes: Yes, take one team off that list and you could put together an eight-team playoff. Let the politicking begin!)

The conference champs could easily get first shot at CFP positions. After all, that is a primary component in the selection formula.

Michigan State and Baylor’s cases hinges significantly more on the “conference champion” element. The two teams ranked 56th and 60th in strength of schedule, respectively. Baylor’s best win (in the BCS standings) came against No. 11 Oklahoma; Michigan State’s against No. 10 Ohio State. Neither team beat another top-25 opponent.

However, both teams had one loss compared to Stanford’s two.

How the rest would have shaken out would have been anyone’s guess. Ohio State and Missouri at least won their divisions. However, the Tigers finished with two losses.

Alabama went 2-1 against top-25 BCS teams, losing its lone top-10 game (at Auburn on the much-discussed missed field-goal return on the final play of regulation). LSU – No. 16 in the BCS standings – served as the Crimson Tide’s best victory.

Ohio State’s best win came over No. 19 Wisconsin. That was also the Buckeyes’ lone victory against a top-25 team, losing its other game to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Missouri finished with the 31st-toughest schedule, ranking ahead of Alabama (45th) and Ohio State (57th) but behind two-loss Oregon (28th). Missouri’s only two losses came against top-10 teams in the BCS standings. Oregon lost one of its two to a top-10 team.

Missouri went 2-2 against BCS top-25 teams. Oregon went 1-1 in the same set of circumstances.

However, Missouri also could have leaned on the last CFP criteria: Injury. The Tigers lost their lone regular-season game against South Carolina, ranked ninth in the BCS, in double overtime and without starting QB James Franklin.

USA Today ran its own 16-member committee, made up of media members, to vote on how they foresaw a hypothetical playoff unfolding in 2013. Alabama appeared on 12 of the final ballots, Michigan State on 10 and Stanford and Baylor on five each.

Ten of 16 voters pitted Auburn and Alabama against each other in a first-round Iron Bowl rematch.

How the real College Football Playoff committee would have seen this year, so far, remains unknown.

That’s a shame – and a missed opportunity for transparency.

College football fans and media members alike could have benefitted from a trial run-through with nothing on the line.

Instead, they will likely have to wait until next year – when the stakes are far higher.