College Football’s Selection Committee Got it Right

If you will, indulge in a hypothetical with me.

The day, just like it was this past weekend, is December 7, 2014. As is the case every early December, the day has come when the teams hoping to play for a national title in January will learn their fate after 12 or 13 games on the field. The BCS is dead, and a new system has taken its place.

But it's not in a four-team playoff. Negotiations between the biggest conferences in college football collapsed in 2012. However, one mechanism discussed in those talks lives on. Instead of human pollsters and computer rankings deciding the top two teams, a basketball-esque selection committee has replaced the BCS system.

However, the first year of the selection committee and New Year's Six bowl system has been a disaster. In one of the bigger controversies in college football history, an undefeated, ACC champion Florida State team has been left out of the title game in favor of one-loss Alabama and one-loss Oregon.

Sure, the SEC and Pac-12 were the best two conferences in college football, and Alabama and Oregon dominated them, respectively, after early October losses. Florida State, meanwhile, won seven one-possession games and trailed at the half of six. Still, no undefeated major conference team since the BCS era began in 1998 had ever been passed up for a pair of one-loss teams.

In response, a crazed mob of fans from #FSUTwitter held the new system's executive committee offices in Irving, Texas, hostage. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson demanded full state and federal inquiries into "Committeeghazi."

Now, aren't you glad we have a four-team playoff to decide college football's champion?

To be clear, no system is perfect. But that's going to be the case no matter what we're talking about for a division of teams that includes 128 full members and spans from Boston to Honolulu. No matter what number of teams are selected, someone is going to be unhappy, fans will be outraged, and the world will keep on turning.

But let's not pretend as if our other favorite sports in America have perfect postseason formats. In next month's NFL playoffs, a 10-6 or 11-5 team will probably miss the playoffs so a 7-9 team can host a playoff game. In the NBA, under .500 teams are routinely allowed to compete for the title.

In the four teams selected to the inaugural College Football Playoff, we have two incredible matchups between college football powers on New Year's Day and, after Saturday, what I believe to be the best four teams in the country.

Let's quickly look at the where the committee probably went wrong. I don't totally understand the committee dropping TCU all the way from No. 3 to No. 6 after a 55-3 win against Iowa State. But if we accept the committee's assertion that every week rankings are drawn up from a blank slate, it does make more sense. Then, it's not very logical for the committee to even be releasing weekly rankings.

The only team to feel a little sorry for among TCU and Baylor is the Horned Frogs. Their only loss was at a fellow 11-1 team, with the game decided on a questionable call. However, TCU did blow a late 21-point lead in that game. Baylor lost at 7-5 West Virginia, and played an atrocious non-conference schedule. The Bears have known that the committee would be looking at scheduling, and still pushed forward with a wasteland of non-conference opponents, Duke in 2018 aside.

There's also been a lot of talk about how the Big 12 may have missed out on a playoff bid because it didn't have a conference championship game. I can't comprehend those complaints, since there's no way (even with expansion) for TCU and Baylor to be in opposite divisions with their campuses less than two hours from each other. Even if there was a Big 12 championship this year with its 10-team, full round-robin setup, it would have featured South champ Baylor against North champ Kansas State.

And while TCU beat a conference minnow by 52, it was Ohio State who beat 13th-ranked Wisconsin by 59 in its third-string quarterback's first start. In that win, the Buckeyes held once-unstoppable (former) Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon to 76 yards and just 2.9 yards a carry. Teams have been stacking the box against Wisconsin for years, but the Buckeyes did it and executed.

We've also known that the committee, for better or worse, has been using strength of schedule based on opponents' win-loss records. Ohio State's opponents had a combined record of 84-60, while Baylor and TCU's opponents each came in at 61-70. And yes, Ohio State did lose at home to Virginia Tech. But its win two weeks later against AAC co-champ Cincinnati gave it a stronger non-conference win than people are giving it credit for.

Maybe you still think that Baylor and TCU should have been included in a bigger playoff. Conventional wisdom among fans and those who cover the sport seems to be that an eight-team playoff would be the best for the sport and limit the amount of controversy. Some even think that expansion is inevitable. One version of this I've heard is to include all of the Power 5's champions, plus three at-large teams. For this year, that would effectively mean all of the top eight in the rankings would get playoff nods.

But in the era of conference title games, all five conference winners finishing in the top eight is a historical anomaly. Wisconsin even qualified for a Rose Bowl by winning the Big Ten championship two years ago after a five-loss season in which it finished unranked. Would that team deserve to play in a national championship tournament?

And if you take the top eight, the debates and issues become fuzzier. Take last week's committee rankings, for instance. Would teams like No. 8 Michigan State and No. 10 Mississippi State jump No. 7 Arizona after not playing, in effect being rewarded for not playing in their conference championship games? Would a three-loss team like Ole Miss, Kansas State, or Georgia Tech get a serious look? In select years, the inclusion of a three-loss team would be inevitable.

The four-team playoff is the one that makes the most sense for college football. Even though there have been some flaws with the weekly presentation of rankings, the selection of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State should make for an incredible January.

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