College Football Playoff Take Two

College football is upon us folks. The end, of summer, of watching your basement dweller baseball team, of late night Netflix and ice cream combo bingeing, is near.

Football is so close that it can be tasted, as if it were the eight-ounce sirloin in the final stages on the grill.

Or depending on your perspective, there is only a bitterness in the mouths of fans and a salty stinging in the wounds of players and coaches who:

  • a. Collapsed dramatically in the inaugural playoff. (Alabama, Florida State)
  • b. Missed the playoff in the newest CFB controversy. (Baylor [61], TCU [58])
  • c. Really just want to start a fresh season… you know who you are.

The debate of "who’s number one?" has morphed into "who’s in?" the newest form of college football closure. However, the debate never really ends and the playoff is merely a formality that contradicts and rewards with no rhyme, reason or logic.

Seriously, the entirety of last season came down to the rhetoric of Jeff Long with unapologetic rebuttals by head coaches. It was the unscientific science of pathos and ethos determining how great a win over Minnesota ranks, why an early season home loss to Virginia Tech is better than a mid-season conference road loss and if perfection should equal automatically qualification.

There are two schools in Texas that may respectfully disagree with basically every decision that was conjured over the course of 2014.

And that is why we love college football. And that is why we were more than nostalgic about the BCS in 2013.[1] And that is why round two of the college football playoff is imperative for the souls that have been trapped in football purgatory since early January.

While most fans view the glass half empty from last season, college football is better than it has ever been. Every game matters, just as it always has. Ever since Princeton and Rutgers played that first game in 1869, one loss can still cost a team the entire season. In the eyes of everyone: coaches, players, fans and (of course) the media.

Now the hourglass is flipped; fans look at their team through the looking glass and see it as half full.[2] They have an opportunity to be as jazzed as the youth, to dream with wonder, and to argue with vigor and venom.

So there are the standard questions entering the 2015 season:

· Will Ohio State repeat?

· Does Saban lead a rising or falling Tide?

· Baylor or TCU?

There are many more of course, there are always more. With 128 teams and then some, there are questions. Quarterback questions, defensive security questions and back-to-back, championship aspiration questions.

But what about the system questions? Questions circled the BCS as if those computers were bleeding out in shark-infested waters. Yet this new playoff committee seemed to avoid ridicule by residing safely in the cloud. There is no Internet data center secure enough, however, to insulate anybody (or thing) who holds the fate of college football in his or her hands.

They say it’s not the destination, but the journey. I will argue that the committee ultimately got the final four correct. Yet the committee painfully mishandled the avenue of reaching the final end point in Dallas.

Five questions need to be addressed about this new, current and improved system.

1. Will the rankings be handled in a similar fashion?

The ordering of the top 25 and best four teams in college football is left in the hands of 13 individuals. The CFP rankings enabled Jeff Long and company to open Pandora’s box right from the very first time the standings were unveiled on that mid-season Tuesday. The unrelenting greed of the NCAA, ESPN and anyone else receiving a check from having Long babble on those nights is the reason ruined the process.

When the committee was forced to make those 25 decisions, the fate of the inaugural playoff was set. Only a huge misstep by a top ranked team could force the committee’s hand into changing their decision. The committee’s escalation of commitment became too high as the season progressed each week. As a result the committee— yearning to be right and justify their picks— made all sorts of contradictory statements.

2. Does perfection guarantee a playoff berth?

The nation loves perfection. Florida State was the BCS darling of 2013 and played the ideal villain in 2014. When the Seminoles were ranked third in the standings, a unique wrinkle was added to the playoff. A team could be perfect although perfection no longer guarantees the top spot. Remember how the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame were ranked number one after the 2012 season? Playing Ohio State instead probably would not have equated to another national title for Florida State, but it would have been better than squaring off against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. The committee appropriately changed that structure.

3. How should non-conference games be judged?

Remember when these were just paycheck games? When Cumberland State paid Georgia Tech to get crushed 222-0? When Michigan paid Appalachian State to come to the Big House and… oh wait. What we learned last year is that the season should continue to act like an extension of the final playoff and those teams who play other power conference schools will receive more consideration than those who beat up on FBS opponents. That explains the logic of why Minnesota looked like kings and a loss to Virginia Tech was overlooked. The non-conferencing scheduling is really a gamble that is made years in advance. It was the conundrum that Boise State and TCU faced previously, and every single team now faces that same predicament.

Consider the non-conference schedule as an investment, and the college football landscape as the stock market. Conservative investments against Northwestern State and Wofford no longer pay out at season’s end. Teams do not have to make aggressive investments either; the Alabamas and the Ohio States can wait. The importance of making moderate to moderately aggressive investments in a team’s schedule is undeniable. And when the stock of the Golden Gophers rises, that moderate investment pays out huge dividends.

4. How do you factor in conference championships?

In a perfect world, win the conference and get invited to the playoff. With five major conferences and only four spots, one team and one conference are bound to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. For example, this might be a conference that does not host a conference title game and cannot even communicate their ideals clearly via their own marketing campaigns.

Ohio State did not gain the final spot due to having an extra game. They earned that spot by purely annihilating Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten championship. Compare that to the champion of the conference without a title game: Baylor gains the head to head over TCU but only beat Kansas State 38-27 on the same day as the Buckeyes’ performance. If Baylor had dominated the Wildcats, a top 10 team, then the playoff rankings would have been more interesting.

It is not whether you have a championship game; it only matters if you play on that final day. The Big 12 can strategically structure their schedule so that teams are playing on that final day. The important question is who it is against and how do you perform.

5. Was the inaugural college football playoff a success?

Yes. Is this even a question? Think about the BCS system… Florida State would be No. 1 and Alabama more than likely would have been number three and out of the playoff.[3]

The committee got it right, but the process throughout the season was extremely wrong. Ask yourself this: if the committee had unveiled the final rankings after the final games were played would you have had a problem with them? I would like to venture not.

At the end of the day, if you win you are in. But since going undefeated is a pipe dream for most programs. The key to gain access to the playoff is to have make tough scheduling investments in a volatile college football stock market, win your conference (and be supported by your conference), and play on the final day in such a way that forces the committee to put your in the Final Four.

[1] It’s also why we like Jameis Winston in 2013, but not ’14. He was the necessary evil to temporarily overthrow the SEC.

[2] Fans may never see the system—whatever determines the champion— as half full. They will always want more, such as an eight-team playoff.

[3] Or Oregon. Either way it would be tough.

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