There are six teams that have a legitimate argument for why they should get into the College Football Playoff.
Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State, TCU, and Baylor all have one loss or fewer, and all of them have conference championships on their résumés (technically). Four of them are going to the playoff, and two of them are going to get left out.
The guidelines the College Football Playoff committee uses to pick the four teams that make the tournament are intentionally vague.
Only five criteria are named in the official selection committee protocol: strength of schedule, conference championships, head-to-head record, record against common opponents, and “other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.”
As a result, we really have no idea what’s going to happen today at 12:45 p.m. eastern time, when the committee announces who’s in and who’s out.
We don’t know if Ohio State is going to vault into the top-four after their 59-0 win over Wisconsin, because we don’t really know how much margin of victory matters.
We don’t know if Baylor is going to be penalised for playing the softest non-conference of the six contenders, because we don’t know if the committee wants to set a precedent that you have to play good teams in the non-conference, as some assume.
We don’t even know if undefeated Florid State is safe, especially since the committee has been dropping them in recent weeks.
Everyone agrees that the main problem with the four-team playoff is that there are four spots for five major conferences. That means every year one conference champion is going to get left out. But this year it’s even worse — two conference champions are going to get left out, and they both only have one-loss.
This is a nightmare for the College Football Playoff selection committee. Without the benefit past precedent or a strict protocol to use, they’re forced to pick four out of six relatively similar teams using their own intuition.
At this point most people are assuming Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State are going to make it.
That leaves three teams (Ohio State, TCU, Baylor) for one spot. That’s an incredibly difficult decision. Some of the considerations:
- Baylor beat TCU 61-58. But the Big 12 itself has minimized that result by declaring TCU co-Big 12 champions. In addition, the committee has had TCU above Baylor all year, suggesting that they aren’t really treating that result like a clear win for Baylor and a clear loss for TCU.
- TCU is probably better than Baylor. In a strict, statistical sense, you’d pick TCU if you were picking a team based on “quality” entirely.
- Ohio State’s loss is probably the worst of any of the six teams’. OSU lost to Virginia Tech (a 6-6 team) at home by 14. That’s worse than Baylor losing by double-digits at 7-5 West Virginia, and certainly worse than TCU losing to Baylor by three on the road.
- Ohio State is on fire. They just dismantled a decent Wisconsin team 59-0, and they’re playing their best football of the season going into late December. Should this matter? Do you weight the end of the season more heavily than the beginning?
- The Big Ten isn’t as good as the Big 12. The Big Ten had the worst record against other Power 5 teams in non-conference play.
Parsing all of that out is a monumental task.
If you pick TCU, you leave out a Baylor team that beat them head-to-head.
If you pick Baylor, you leave out a TCU team that only lost one game (by three points to a top-six team on the road) and an Ohio State team that has a boatload of impressive wins in the last six weeks.
If you pick Ohio State, you leave out the Big 12 conference, even though most believe it’s better than the Big Ten.
With six one-loss conference champions to choose for, the committee couldn’t have a more difficult job in the first year of the playoff.
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