When the College Football Playoff selection spokesman Jeff Long announced the four schools competing for the National Championship yesterday, the first three selections seemed solid. Alabama, with one loss, is SEC Champion and played in that hyper-competitive conference. Oregon also had one loss and is Pac 12 Champion playing in that rugged conference, displaying a high-flying offense. Florida State is undefeated, won the ACC Championship decisively, and though it squeaked through its’ schedule, hasn’t lost in two years. But when Ohio State was announced as the fourth competitor, fans of the Big 12 Conference were outraged.
What does the first year of the new system teach us?
1. There Will Never Be a Perfect System. There was controversy and outrage over the BCS computer selections. There was controversy and outrage over coaches or sports writer selections prior to the BCS. If there were eight teams, the next four teams excluded would complain. This system has objective experts combining metrics and a gut judgement on who the most competitive teams are. This is probably as good as a system can get. There are five major conferences and four slots–in the game of musical chairs, someone will be left out.
2. Conference Championships Matter. For TCU to drop in the ratings from 3 to 6 after winning its’ final game 55-3, and Baylor to be excluded after its’ outstanding season demonstrated that the lack of a Conference Championship was a decisive factor in their omission. The Big 12 is arguably a better conference than the Big 10, but their search for “one true champion” resulted in co-Champions. All four of the selections won their conference championships, and Ohio State’s decimation of Wisconsin on Saturday clearly boosted their chances.
3. Brand Matters. If it had been Oklahoma and Texas in their glory days who were co-champions instead of TCU and Baylor, one of the Big 12 teams would have been selected. Ohio State’s prestige and history as one of the five most storied programs in college football gave them an edge.
4. Controversy and Engaged Fans Helps College Football. The selection committee did an excellent job in the timing and execution of their process. It created tremendous interest and awareness and debate all year surrounding college football. Fans love to argue and push their favorite teams.
5. The System Created Intriguing Matchups. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, QB Jameis Winston of Florida State, has never lost a game. The public has doubts about the real strength of the team, but they have an uncanny ability to pull games out at the end. This year’s certain Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Mariota, will lead as fast and prolific an offense as exists in a January 1 Rose Bowl matchup that will be heavily watched. The other game pits two of the most successful coaches in modern football against each other. Nick Saban of Alabama is a strategic genius. Urban Meyer of Ohio State has won everywhere he has gone, and managed to win a decisive blowout with a third string quarterback. They will match up at the Sugar Bowl January 1st. The favorites are Oregon and Alabama, but these are classic matchups.
6. The Committee Gets A Solid Grade For An Impossible Task. To sift through endless metrics and combine that with a human touch under heavy scrutiny is not an enticing role. For the first year in a new system, they did well.