The confetti is starting to settle. The trophy's been handed out. Ohio State is your national champion after defeating Oregon 42-20. The College Football Playoff was, by all accounts, a smashing success, garnering insane viewership numbers and driving interest in the sport to new heights. Last night's game closes the book on an exciting and historic season of college football. Now begins the long slog through what is sure to be the longest offseason ever endured by Baylor football fans.
The inaugural season of the College Football Playoff brought a new level of weekly excitement, frustration, and controversy to college football. The season taught us a lot about a world where computer rankings play no role, and the fate of college football's elite rests in the hands of thirteen humans. It's unfortunate that Baylor found itself at the epicenter of the season's biggest maelstrom, but I'd rather be in the center of that storm than far on the outside looking in. It was a fun ride, and we learned quite a bit. Here are a few observations about the College Football Playoff, the Selection Committee, and the Big 12's role in the whole affair.
Weekly Rankings are Stupid and Fantastic
Looking back, it's almost humorous. In our postgame podcasts Mark, Prashanth and I would caution everyone to remain calm the following Tuesday as Jeff Long announced the latest rankings put forth by the Selection Committee. Mark would again urge calm on Tuesday afternoons as the Rankings show approached, and I would always chime in with my support. Then the rankings would be announced and Jeff Long would explain the reasoning behind those rankings. Suddenly all that calm and tranquility would vanish as we found ourselves infuriated and incensed by the justifications for the latest set.
Wins against CFP Top 25! Game control! Bodies of work! The eye test! Rankings of Teams at the time they were played! Each week we learned a new justification for the rankings being what they were. Each week we hoped that we'd see the Bears make a jump in the rankings and each week we were left with explanations for why Baylor and TCU were not yet "comparable." The national writers decried the decision to release weekly rankings as a money grab before the season even began, and as the season unfolded week by week, that feeling never diminished. The Tuesday Rankings Show was a weekly bloodletting, the reopening of a wound that was never allowed to fully heal.
But that being said, I confess that I've never been more engaged in the entirety of a college football season than I was this one. Saturdays in the fall have always been reserved for college football, but in the past I may keep one eye on other games unless there was some massive, can't-miss matchup happening. This year, though, if the Bears were on the road or had a bye (and it felt like they had eight byes), I was still glued to my television, watching games that bore implications for the whole of the college football landscape. The DirecTV picture-in-picture function was fully utilized on Saturday, as I often kept two games up at the same time and sometimes would even flip to a third. I watched games that would never have interested me in the past. Ohio State vs. Penn State. Minnesota vs. Nebraska. Arizona State vs. Notre Dame. Florida State vs. Louisville. I may have watched some of these games with middling interest in the past, but this season I was glued to my television.
For that newfound fascination, I credit the Playoff and, begrudgingly, the weekly rankings. I suspect that I probably would have been just as interested in some of those matchups without the weekly rankings, but I'll never be able to say for certain. The rankings provided us with a viewing guide for teams that we didn't know we cared about beforehand, and Minnesota is the prime example. Without the weekly rankings and those wacky explanations, I wouldn't have paid close attention to a single Minnesota game. Maybe that's a good thing, but without it I wonder if we'd ever have seen Minnesota's Ice Cream Guy. I complained about it at the time, but I loved every minute of it. I've never been so engaged in a college football season as this one, and it was just the first.
One Phrase Threw Everything On Its Head
Back on August 14, I wrote that the final Selection Committee Protocol had been released and focused on the five bulleted points that were considered the guiding principles by which the playoff teams would be determined. As we prepared to listen to Jeff Long explain why the teams were ranked how they were, we expected to hear discussion and deeper dives into those five principles. Instead, we heard the words I talked about above. What we didn't realize at the beginning was that one phrase in the introductory sentence would push those five principles to the side. The sentence read: "The committee will select the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering...."
Otherwise comparable. Two seemingly innocuous words that proved to be the source of much consternation for Baylor fans everywhere. Week after week we heard that Baylor's head-to-head victory over TCU wasn't considered because the two teams' resumes simply were not comparable where they had to consider the head-to-head "tiebreaker." I think we assumed that "otherwise comparable" teams were those with the same number of losses. The Committee used that as its justification for keeping Baylor and TCU separated, and I will always wonder about that final ranking.
In its final regular season game, Ohio State lost its second-string quarterback on the eve of its Conference Championship game and looked dead in the water. The penultimate rankings came forth, putting TCU and #3 and Baylor at #6, a seemingly insurmountable gulf to insulate the Committee from ever calling the two teams "comparable." When that ranking was released, despair flooded Baylor Nation because we all saw the writing on the wall: Baylor and TCU would never be comparable to the point of head-to-head consideration. The Committee basically used two words to avoid ever having to consider the game on October 11. Then Ohio State absolutely crushed Wisconsin, stunning everyone. TCU destroys Iowa State and drops to #6 while Ohio State sneaks into the Playoff, leaving Baylor, TCU, and the head-to-head argument on the outside looking in. The Committee played its cards in such a way that it minimized the controversy of that final decision, helped out in no small way by Cardale Jones and Ohio State. Now the Committee comes out smelling like roses as Ohio State hoists the championship trophy. We'll never know if TCU would have stayed ahead of Baylor in that final ranking if Ohio State hadn't done what they did to Wisconsin, and the Committee's actions in that penultimate ranking leave us to speculate about what might have happened.
Outcomes Are Not Confirmation
After the game last night, CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said, "[Ohio State's win] validates what we've known for the past month...that the [selection] committee got it right." We saw the "Winner plays TCU" sign plastered all over social media (if you didn't see it and have a desire to get frustrated, here you go). It's easy to look back and say these sorts of things given the outcome of the bowl games and the CFP. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. But this is merely confirmation bias of the worst kind. Just because Ohio State won the whole thing doesn't mean that they should have been in the playoffs over Baylor or TCU. Just because TCU shellacked Ole Miss doesn't mean that TCU deserved to be in over Ohio State and Baylor. Baylor's soul-crushing loss to Michigan State says nothing about the Bears' worthiness to be in the Playoff. Let's be absolutely clear on this point.
Ohio State deserved to be in the Playoff.
Baylor deserved to be in the Playoff.
TCU deserved to be in the playoff.
These are three teams that were each spectacular in their own rights. Back when the Selection Committee used a Baylor bye week to have Ohio State leapfrog Baylor, I believed it to be a chess move by the Committee; I thought that the Committee would use Ohio State as a safety net to avoid having to make the hard decision between Baylor and TCU. As it turns out, that's what they did, but Ohio State absolutely earned that spot in the final few games of the regular season. They had the worst loss of the three, losing at home to Virginia Tech by 2 touchdowns. But anyone who says that the Buckeyes aren't one of the most improved teams in the country over the course of this season is being foolish. We've had the other two arguments ad nauseam. Baylor and TCU both deserved to be there also. There are no easy answers; so let's not pretend that postseason results justify the rankings being what they were.
There Will Always Be Controversy
Was there anyone that thought that the introduction of a four team playoff would prevent controversy in college football or. at the very least, alleviate some of it? If there were before, there aren't now. We're now shifting the debate to talk about the eight team playoff. At first glance, it seems like an eight team playoff would eliminate most of the controversy this season. You take the Power Five Conference champions: Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama, Florida State, and Baylor (assuming the Bears were crowned champ, we'll get to that); then you add to it the three wild cards: TCU (11-1), Mississippi State (10-2), and Michigan State (10-2). The #9 team in the final rankings was Ole Miss, who was 9-3. Controversy settled, right? Not quite. What about a team from the Group of Five Conferences? Boise State, ranked 20 in the final ranking, was 11-2. Do they deserve to be in the playoff over Michigan State or Mississippi State? Do we guarantee a Group of Five team a wild card spot, given some restrictions and caveats?
This year is probably the cleanest example you'll get for a controversy-free eight team playoff, and even it isn't without it's question marks. There will always be controversy when you have a hard cutoff and the teams don't all play each other (even the NFL had a little bit this season). It's true that moving the cutoff to the 8 spot instead of the 4 may cut down on some of the noise, but it won't solve all of it.
The Big 12 Has Work to Do
We may have beaten this horse to death three times over already, but it bears repeating once more. Bob Bowlsby, the university presidents and the athletic directors have some soul searching to do here. The One True Champion slogan was met with instant derision (we talked about it on the first podcast of the season back in July) and the furor only grew as the season drew to a close. Bowlsby stuck his foot in his mouth on multiple occasions, furthering the controversy by reinventing the slogan's meaning multiple times throughout the course of the season and culminating with his comments on December 8 where he said he would have put TCU in over Baylor. I do not care if you root for Baylor, TCU, or Oklahoma; you do not want words like that coming out of your conference commissioner's mouth. That's a PR disaster.
I hope beyond hope that the conference will put their heads together and resolve this co-champions debacle in the offseason. Whether it actually played a role in the Selection Committee's decision or not is beside the point; it needs to be fixed before next season. The idea of co-championship is absurd when all teams play one another. Big 12, you don't need to add two teams. You don't need a conference championship game. You merely need to change the bylaw that allows for co-champions. Fix it.
There was some serious frustration brought about by the Selection Committee and the weekly rankings, but there is no doubt that the system prevails, at least in part, over the BCS system that would have given us a championship game between the two semifinal losers. Whatever your thoughts on the frustrations and pains of the weekly rankings and the Big 12's PR nightmare, the season was undeniably entertaining.
Let's try and enjoy the offseason a little bit. The Bears are in a fantastic position, garnering more "way-too-early" preseason buzz than ever before. Reflect on Baylor's success this season, enjoy a nice long nap, and get ready because National Signing Day is right around the corner with spring drills to follow. Through it all, you can count on Our Daily Bears to help you manage your withdrawals.