College Football Playoff: What We Learned About the Selection Committee


The inaugural College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings were released Tuesday, and it has everybody clamoring and debating who belongs where. The issue is less about the rankings and more about the criteria.

With Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn, and Ole Miss in the Selection Committee’s initial Top 4, we have learned a lot about the criteria they will use going forward. And it means a lot as to how people’s College Football Playoff projections might change.

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So don’t think for a second the first week’s rankings didn’t mean anything. They revealed a lot about the 12 members collectively on the committee. Here are the most important takeaways from the night.

1. Conference Champions will not supersede an overall body of work

This is probably the biggest question we had all year, and it was answered Tuesday night. With three teams from the SEC West in the initial Top 4, two of whom have losses, and another, Alabama, at No. 6, the committee made it clear that a team won’t get bumped by another team simply because they didn’t win their conference. That may be an issue when it comes down to nitpicking between two teams at the end, but clearly it’s not going to play a role in whom the Selection Committee thinks belongs. The eye test is going to do that.

They made that clear by putting Ole Miss in. Losing to LSU on the road was obviously nothing to be ashamed of, and that was taken into account. It’s obvious that as of right now the SEC West has at least four of the Top 6 teams in the country from a talent perspective and based on how they’ve performed. That clearly wasn’t ignored. Whether or not you think it’s fair is a debate for another day.

It simply makes it that much more likely, going forward, that there will be at least two teams from the SEC in the playoff at the end of the year.

2. Strength of Schedule, quality wins, and quality losses supersede margin of victory 

Why do you think Auburn was at No. 3 despite having a loss? It’s because of who they’ve played. The Tigers beat a very good Kansas State team on the road, which is the Wildcats’ only loss, for a non-conference win, and they have a very strong win against LSU. Their only loss, meanwhile, is to the No. 1 team in the country in Mississippi State. Their resume supersedes how they’ve looked because this team got blown out by Mississippi State and struggled to put away South Carolina.

But the selection committee ignored that. This is very clear that schedule strength and the quality of a team’s wins and losses are going to matter significantly. That’s not just the case at the top. Marshall, who is undefeated and ranked in both major polls, was left out of this Top 25 completely, which could only be due to its lack of schedule strength. Notre Dame, whose only loss is a game it almost won to Florida State, is all the way down at No. 10. Why? Although Florida State is a quality loss, the Irish have no quality wins. And the fact that they played the Seminoles close isn’t enough.

This is by far the best of the criteria we realized this group has. Margin of victory should never be taken into account, and schedule strength should be a heavy factor. That looks like it will be the case here.

3. Head-to-head matters but is inconsistent

It was clear the Selection Committee took head-to-head match-ups into account by putting Ole Miss at No. 4 and Alabama at No. 6. Most people would agree Alabama is the better team, but the fact that the Tide beat Ole Miss matters to those voters. Why, then, is Oregon at No. 5 but Arizona all the way down at No. 12? Both teams have a loss, and the Wildcats beat Oregon. At the same time, why is TCU at No. 7 and Baylor all the way down at No. 13? The Horned Frogs lost to the Bears.

This is going to have to be explained a little bit further. It looks like the eye test was taken a bit into account here, whereas it wasn’t taken into account against strength of schedule. TCU’s 82 points last week and Oregon’s annihilation of other opponents likely resonated with the voters, which is the reason they are so high. But honestly, at this juncture, head-to-head should matter a little bit more.