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The Hitchhiker's Guide To The College Football Playoff.

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I had always assumed the playoff committee members were more intelligent than dolphins. Then the dolphins ranked Ohio State number four and. . . screw 'em, they're dolphins. They don't know crap about college football.

Andy Lyons

Today is the day. This evening the college football playoff committee will release it's first ever rankings and many (okay most) college football fans will go nuts and do the unthinkable: start reminiscing about the good old days of the BCS. But before we all freak out we here at Dawg Sports thought it might be a good idea to provide you a calm, reasoned, fact-based explanation of exactly what to expect.

Who they are.

A crack team of time-traveling ninjas sent from the future to rid the world of evil. Not really. They're actually a gaggle of university administrators, former coaches, players and interested observers, a full list of whom can be found here. Arkansas AD Jeff Long is the chair of the committee. Archie Manning was to be on it until health concerns forced him out. This means that of the thirteen members the SEC will be the only one of the major conferences with only one committee member closely identified with the conference. When a second SEC team doesn't get in (more on that momentarily) you'll be hearing all about this on the Paul Finebaum Show.

But by and large they're people who you would think know a lot about college football, which is of course the point. Gravitas is a key component of this thing. Legitimacy will be key when the ship hits the sand tomorrow and everyone starts going berserk because OH MY GOD WHY IS TCU RANKED AHEAD OF MY TEAM YOU PEOPLE ARE IDIOTS! IDIOTS!!!!

Tommy Bowden is not on the committee. Nor is David Pollock. But former Secretary of State Condi Rice is and Tommy and Davey are both upset about this. She's never "been in the arena", which is of course the only way anyone could ever recognize that Joe Cox had the grace under pressure of a chihuahua whose Xanax prescription ran out.

Tyrone Willingham is on the committee, but at this point one just assumes he's there for the free bagels and coffee.

Lest you be concerned that Southern Cal AD Pat Haden will be politicking for the Trojans, or former Georgia Tech AD Dan Radakovich for the Jackets (LOL, just kidding, it's more realistic for him to lobby on behalf of the team for whom his son plays tight end), rest assured that committee members are barred from advocating for schools which are currently paying them. No that, doesn't solve the Radakovich issue. But no one's going to be taking a Georgia Tech candidacy seriously any time soon, and I felt it was important to point that out.

What they're doing.

Selecting four teams for the first major college football playoff in history, an event which is obviously of some significance in these parts. The playoff participants will play semifinal games in the Sugar and Rose Bowls. But the committee will also be selecting the combatants for four other major bowls: the Cotton, Orange, Fiesta, and Peach. In other words, these people will shape the college football postseason as they see fit. That's a ton of responsibility.

How they'll do it.

We have no freakin' clue really, despite a lot of explanation. The committee's task is similar to the one undertaken annually by the NCAA's basketball selection committee, only instead of hitting a target 64 teams wide they're charged with choosing the best four. There is absolutely no precedent for this. The football championship subdivision has been doing a 16 team playoff for years but a) with 16 teams the odds of leaving out a team with a legit shot at the title are pretty slim, and b) the molten hatred of Montana St. fans is probably a lot less overwhelming than that of Ohio State or Alabama or USC fans, based on sheer force of numbers.

We do know that at various times the committee and its representatives, associates, spokes pigeons and others have listed a variety of selection criteria: overall record (duh), conference record, conference championships, strength of schedule, outcomes of head-to-head competition, and results versus common opponents are among them. From there it gets murky. Margin of victory isn't explicitly among the criteria for example, though how you compare two teams' results against a common opponent without looking at margin of victory is beyond me. Want a sketch of just some of the potential pitfalls the committee will face? SB Nation's Jason Kirk did that already.

Will they consider currently established polls like the AP and coaches polls? Well they're not really supposed to, but I think it's foolish to pretend that they won't begin with those as a frame of reference. They may move teams up, down, around and back based on the above additional criteria, but saying the polls are now irrelevant is oversimplifying things.

Logistically, each committee member is allegedly going to come up with their top 25. There will be debate and pools of teams will be considered along the way. Sausage will be made and you probably wouldn't want to see how it's done. Very intelligent people will say aggressively, obscenely stupid things behind closed doors.

How we'll know what they did.

We won't. Unless individual committee members choose to make their rationales public, much like with the basketball selection committee we'll be left to divine from the tea leaves what they prioritized. Committee Chair Jeff Long will speak weekly about the rankings, for two reasons. For one, to condition the public to the rankings before the final, apocalyptic rankings come out in December. For another, ESPN is going to make a big show of the release of these rankings every week, and they need just enough controversy to keep things interesting. Grist for the mill of public opinion, if you will.

But that'll be it. No one's going to say this out loud, but part of this is to insulate these folks from people like me and you who would otherwise pick apart their every word. One of the first lessons I learned as a judicial law clerk was that the less you write the less likely you are to have an appellate court overturn any judicial opinion. In this case, the court of public opinion would rip any proffered rationale to shreds, so it's best for the committee members that they not be subjected to that. Is it in the best interest of the football public? Likely not, because transparency has a way of making people think longer and harder about things. But that's the process partner. Just let Mr. Long say his peace, then grab your torch and pitchfork.

Imponderables To Ponder/MaconDawg's Totally Unsupported Declarations Upon The Subject

  • Georgia fans have better things to worry about than these rankings. If the Bulldogs win out in the regular season then win the SEC Championship Game in December there is essentially zero chance they're not in. Ditto for Alabama, or Auburn, or any other current SEC contender.
  • The bigger question is whether the league will get a second team in, and frankly I think the odds of that are low unless other conferences have championship game upsets. It's hard to justify leaving out a one loss Big Ten champ (like say, Michigan State) in favor of a two loss SEC Championship Game loser. The politics and scrutiny involved, especially in this first year, are just going to be too much. Book it.
  • Cinderella ain't getting invited, either. I think committee members will be loathe to reach for non-power five conference teams for fear that they'll get blasted in the semifinals. It's a mistake they'll make eventually, but expect year one of this thing to be power teams from power conferences, except...
  • Notre Dame. The Irish are a bit of an elephant in the room. They're a one loss team whose only defeat followed a controversial call against the reigning national champs, who may well be in the top four themselves. Plus, whether you love them or hate them, Notre Dame brings eyeballs to the screen. And even if they have a strong résumé there'll be those who would see their inclusion as a recognition of that.
    So there you have it. A not-so-brief guide to the college football playoff, the inevitably messy beast of a process that's about to consume us. But hey, at least we got rid of those cursed computers, right?