It’s not easy.
You want to know what I learned about the College Football Playoff committee’s work, which starts this week? That’s it. It’s not easy.
The CFP invited a bunch of reporters to headquarters at the Gaylord Texan in October and said, “OK, smart guys, we want you to pretend you’re the committee, sit in their seats, look at what they look at, and pick the four best teams in the country.”
Ha. No sweat.
Strength of schedule matters. Strength of schedule matters. Let me say that again: Strength of schedule matters.
Ha. In a committee format, you sweat. Everybody has an opinion. It’s hard to digest all the data available on every team. But the system is the system, and the experience does enlighten you.
Lots of things learned as the committee prepares to release its first (ultimately meaningless) rankings, but here are the main things:
1. It’s not as simple as everybody submitting a vote and then tallying up points. This is not a poll. It’s a bunch of people trying to agree on how to order 25 teams. I think it’s like a jury, except the jurors are also the prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges — they all make cases on what they’ve seen and think, try to persuade others, cross-examine each other and knock down opinions with evidence. You need to be on your toes. Truthfully, it’s a wonder 12 people can come up with something like this in two days. It’s as easy to bog down on your own trying to separate teams 15 through 20 as teams 1 through 5.
2. The committee does try to double-check itself. Three times in our mock session, we stopped to examine what’s going on — is anybody not in the top six that really, really needs to be there? Why is this team 13th when a team it beat head-to-head seventh? Can we justify that? We used the 2011 season, and Boise State got a lot of push to be considered for the top six. If any committee member can persuade three others to call for a revote or to give a team’s case another chance to be heard, it’s granted. The system is clear on procedures, but wiggle room is built in.
3. Strength of schedule matters. Strength of schedule matters. Strength of schedule matters. Let me say that again: Strength of schedule matters. When you are separating what you believe are the absolute best teams in the country, and they’ve all won their conference, and they all have great players, and big stats, and perfect records, what’s left? That old-fashioned metric: who have you played? It was consistently one of the first questions asked and consistently one of the first stats I found myself looking for. I surprised myself; I figured I’d dive into all this information we had at our fingertips. But SOS is easy to find. And a .559 opponents winning percentage looks a lot better than a .470. That’s just the way it is.
4. Not to overestimate conference championships. They’re not the No. 1 criteria. They’re the No. 1 tiebreaker. That’s a difference. If they were the No. 1 criteria, an 11-2 Pac 12 champ would be more highly regarded than an 12-1 SEC championship game loser. Or even 10-3 SEC championship game winner. Nope. Use the conference championship as an extra mark when you’re comparing two teams that look the same in every other regard. The conference championship isn’t an automatic ticket — just a big, big help.
5. The AP and coaches polls don’t even come up. They’re basically a rumor in the room, mainly because they’re unnecessary. Every meeting starts with every member submitting their 30 best teams to build a pool, and after that, every member chooses what they think are the best six teams in that pool to start the voting. By the time the deliberations start, you’re arguing numbers and evidence. An AP or coaches ranking is weak sauce — it’s going to get swatted to the third row. So don’t sweat the polls. They have zero influence. Who can remember where everybody’s ranked, anyway?
CFP rankings release
6 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN