Monday, January 12, 2015

What Is the Real Magic Number? Try 6

The first College Football Playoff is rightly declared a success. After Ohio State's emphatic 42-20 victory over Oregon, we can finally proclaim a national champion in college football that's more substantial than mythical.

Well, almost. TCU is still out there and a legitimate argument can be made that it was unfairly excluded. The Horned Frogs likely won't finish worse than third in the final AP Poll, maybe even getting a few votes for second.

That's why well before all the golden confetti streamed down from the rafters at Jerry Jones' football palace Monday night, there was already plenty of talk about expanding the playoff. We're only in the first year of a 12-year pact for a four-team playoff, but there's already clamoring for an eight-team playoff, or even a 16-team playoff.

It's not gonna happen. Not anytime soon. And probably not going to be eight teams and certainly never 16 teams.

College football's postseason attendance scheme is like moving small cities from place to place. Each major bowl game counts on travel and displacements of up to 50,000 people. And as this year's playoff has already proved, to make those same people take two trips are difficult and hence the empty seats at the playoff bowl games and low prices on the secondary ticket markets.

But that's not to say we'll never expand beyond four teams. In fact, there's a plausible scenario for expansion, even though it probably won't happen before the 2020 season, about halfway through the current contract.

A six-team playoff is imminently achievable and reasonable.

The biggest gripe against the current four-team playoff is that there are five power conferences. In this year's case, Big 12's co-champions TCU and Baylor were both left out. Another complaint is that within this scheme no team outside of the major conferences (and Notre Dame) would ever get a chance to play for the national title.

With six teams, all five major conference champions would be guaranteed a spot with room for one more deserving team, which could come out of the Group of Five conferences or be a non-champion of the Power Five. This would greatly reduce the burden on the selection committee as its main job becomes picking one team to add to the playoff field.

This arrangement would not dilute the meaning of the regular season but in fact enhance it. Teams would be encouraged to play tough non-conference opponents knowing that it won't hurt their chances of making the playoff as long as they win their conference. And in all probability the one at-large team in the playoff field would be one that's had a challenging schedule instead of one that's filled it with cream puffs.

As for the attendance issue, this could be easily remedied by playing the first two playoff games on campus sites, with the top two seeds earning a bye. These "quarterfinals" matching teams seeded third through sixth would be played on the Saturday after conference title games (now reserved for Army-Navy), with the winners advancing to the New Years' Six semifinal games and losers still earning a place in other NY6 bowl games.

Just as the BCS altered its format halfway through its 16-year existence by going to the double-host model that created the non-bowl championship game, the CFP can easily adopt the new six-team format without making many fundamental changes to its current scheme. Bowl pairings can still be announced on the first Sunday of December, with the New Years' Six lineup to be finalized a week later.

This idea should be embraced by the everyone in the industry. ESPN, after being astonished by the high ratings of this season's semifinal games, would love to add two more games. Bowl-game host committees can breathe easy as this doesn't further disrupt their system. University administrators probably won't have an issue with the opportunity to host an extra home game that's a guaranteed sellout.

So will the expansion happen? Yes, but it will take time. Unlike the NFL or any other professional sports leagues, college football is run by a large collection of people that includes school presidents, athletic directors, conference commissioners and TV executives. New ideas are not going on the agenda tomorrow or in the immediate future.

The next two championship game sites have been selected so for certain nothing will change before the 2017 season. Also the power brokers will want to see how things shake out for awhile before signing off on any deviation from the original plan.

But change is coming, you just need to wait a few years. And remember, six should be the magic number.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Requiem for SEC's 'Decade of Dominance'

After the SEC's disastrous bowl season, college football's cognoscenti are all rushing to write the obituary of the conference's dominance. In fact, make that two disastrous bowl seasons.

The SEC is the only conference not to win a BCS/CFP bowl in the last two years, going 0-5. The much-acclaimed SEC West went 2-5 this bowl season, with only bottom dwellers Texas A&M and Arkansas winning their bowl games.

But could it be that this "SEC Dominance" is more myth than reality?

Sure, the SEC did win seven consecutive BCS titles. It even managed to stage the only BCS championship game featuring teams from the same conference. But did the SEC really "dominate" as much as it (and its media acolytes) say it did?

The BCS was very much an SEC creation, designed by former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer and refined by retiring SEC commissioner Mike Slive. It helped to raise the profile of an also-ran regional league devoid of major media markets into the premier conference in college football.

The SEC was assisted ably in this venture by ESPN, which now co-owns and operates the nascent SEC Network. ESPN has come to dominate college football - it owns the CFP broadcasting rights for its 12-year duration as well as all but one of the 38 bowl games this season. That the SEC's rise coincided with ESPN's growing monopoly on the sport was hardly an accident.

The key to the SEC's ascendancy was the relentless shaping of media perception. It began with Florida's 2006 campaign to dislodge Michigan for a spot in the BCS title game and has continued ever since. It crescendoed with the absurd 2011 title game featuring two SEC teams as Alabama became the first non-independent team to claim a national championship without winning its conference since 1936.

The strength of the SEC essentially became a self-perpetuating myth. Every year, SEC teams would crowd the top of the polls. When an SEC team lost to another, it didn't hurt the losing team much but it really buoyed the winning team. That was never more evident than earlier this season when Texas A&M vaulted into the top 10 after beating preseason top 10 South Carolina - both teams, as it turned out, struggled to be even bowl eligible.

A key ingredient in driving the SEC dominance narrative is its clever scheduling. It plays only eight conference games and almost always lards up the non-conference schedule with cupcakes. It also rarely ventures out of its footprint for any high-profile OOC games.

How much of an advantage does the SEC gain from scheduling? Enormously.

Not only does the SEC avoid seven additional losses by not playing a ninth conference game, it dramatically improves its teams' chances to stay up in the polls (on the top end) or gain bowl eligibility (on the bottom end). Compare the SEC's 2014 scheduling to that of the Pac-12, which plays nine conference games plus a title game - you can see how the SEC has rigged the system perfectly:

* Only three SEC teams (Georgia, Alabama and Missouri, the latter two with the help of being in the SEC title game), played 10 Power 5 opponents before the bowls. Ten Pac-12 teams played at least 10 games against Power 5 teams, the exceptions being Oregon State and Colorado.

* Power 5 teams constituted just 73 percent of all SEC regular-season opponents, as compared to 83 percent for the Pac-12.

* Add teams from the Mountain West and American, the two quality Group of 5 conferences to the scheduling mix and the contrast is even more stark. SEC teams played 78 percent of their games against Power 5 plus MWC and AAC teams; 92 percent of Pac-12 games were against Power 5 plus MWC and AAC opponents.

* All 14 SEC teams played one FCS opponents each, including six that did so in November, which worked out to be not much more than glorified scrimmages. Only eight Pac-12 teams faced FCS teams, and none after September. USC and UCLA (along with Notre Dame) are the only schools that have never played an FCS opponent in history.

The SEC played the scheduling and associated poll advantages to the hilt, resulting in basically guaranteed berths in the title game in the latter eight years of the BCS' 16-year run. The BCS standings were revamped in 2004 and from that point on, opinion polls accounted for two-thirds of the formula. With those standings in place, no team that finished either first or second in the two human polls ever not played in the BCS title game.

We'll never know if the 2007-08 USC teams, 2011 Oklahoma State, 2012 Oregon and 2013 Michigan State should've been the rightful champions. They never got to play in the BCS title games despite having the same number of losses as the SEC teams that got in. SEC teams won seven BCS titles in a row (including one all-SEC affair) but you can't win it unless you're in it.

The BCS went away after last season and just in the nick of time. Had it still been in place, Alabama would've faced Florida State in the title game and the Crimson Tide likely would've swiped their fourth title in six years. Oregon and Ohio State, two teams that would've played in a consolation Rose Bowl under BCS rules, instead will get to compete and see who's the legitimate national champion after getting a reprieve from the four-team playoff.

That the SEC will be missing from the inaugural title game in the Playoff era is actually a very good thing for college football. It helps to slowly unravel a myth and finally moves the sport into truly settling its champion on the field.

The toughest conference in college football, at least in 2014, isn't the SEC. We now know that for a fact.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

SEC Is History. Duck Dynasty to Begin?

PASADENA, Calif. - They could've saved us all that trouble and just had the Rose Bowl the way it's meant to be played - Pac-12 vs. Big Ten in the Granddaddy of 'em All.

Instead, Oregon and Ohio State will face off in Jerry World, a palace built for pro football, to settle who gets the biggest prize in college football.

But the combatants in the inaugural College Football Playoff should be grateful that the BCS died a timely death. If it had been around for one more year, both the Ducks and Buckeyes would've been home watching the championship game as the the BCS standings would've matched up Alabama and Florida State instead.

Now the Jan. 12 game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, not only will settle the national championship question, it will also decide just which conference will inherit the mantle of "best conference in college football" from the dearly departed SEC.

Alabama's loss to Ohio State signaled the end of an era as the SEC will be absent from the national championship game for the first time since USC faced Texas in the Rose Bowl for the 2005 title. Each of the top five teams in the SEC West lost its bowl game after being trumpeted as the best division in college football throughout the 2014 regular season.

In contrast, the Pac-12 South actually can rightfully claim the "toughest division" moniker. Five of its six teams will finish with at least nine wins despite each facing at least 10 Power 5 opponents - more than any of their SEC West counterparts. And the best team in the Pac-12 didn't even come from this division.

That would be Oregon, which has beaten every team on its schedule, avenging its only regular-season loss by massacring South champion Arizona in the Pac-12 title game. The Ducks were even more merciless in their evisceration of Florida State, which was buried under an avalanche of second-half turnovers (five) in a 59-20 rout in the Rose Bowl.

Oregon punished FSU and Jameis Winston in a matchup featuring the last two Heisman Trophy winners. Winston lost one fumble - that was returned for a touchdown - and threw two interceptions. Oregon also converted two Dalvin Cook fumbles early in the third quarter into touchdowns and turned a close game into a mauling.

But the Ducks' blowout victory won't give the Pac-12 a long-awaited shot to dethrone the SEC, which had been the undisputed best conference in the latter part of the BCS era. Instead, in their path will be Ohio State and the Big Ten, which is rebuilding suddenly and ferociously. It all began on Tuesday when Michigan made the monster hire of Jim Harbaugh as coach and continued on New Year's Day with Michigan State rallying past Baylor in a thrilling Cotton Bowl.

But the lodestar that will guide the Big Ten's revival for now is Ohio State, which scored an unlikely 42-35 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes can take it a step further by snuffing out the budding Ducks dynasty as it did in the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season.

But these Ducks appear to be a better version than that team, or the 2010 team that fell to Auburn in the BCS title game on a fluke play. Heisman winner Marcus Mariota has been nearly flawless all season, throwing for 40 touchdowns, running for 15, receiving one with just three interceptions. Oregon's defense also proved to be anything but soft, allowing FSU only one second-half touchdown as Oregon scored the final 34 points of the game.

Oregon certainly hasn't missed a beat since Mark Helfrich took over from Chip Kelly, who bolted for the NFL after the 2012 season. Helfrich, 24-3 in his two seasons, knows how good his team is and declined to state just what it has proved and will prove with one more win.

"I don't know," he said after the Rose Bowl victory, laughing. "That's up to you. You guys are the geniuses in the media. We believe a ton in our deal and we believe a ton in who we are. We got a great team, great team of guys."

For much of the second half, as Oregon was completing its demolition of Florida State, Ducks fans repeatedly chanted "We Want Bama." They probably won't mind that the Crimson Tide couldn't keep the date as their conference's dominance has already fallen into the ash heap of history.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

When Little Guys Still Had a Chance

SAN DIEGO - Thirty years ago on this field, in this bowl game, BYU became the last team not from the current power five conferences to win college football's mythical national championship. We pay tribute to that occasion because something like that probably will never happen again.

The No. 1-ranked Cougars, the only unbeaten Division I-A team not to lose a game before the bowl season in 1984, were by conference rule obligated to play in the Holiday Bowl instead of a more prestigious New Year's Day bowl game. Their opponent certainly had brand recognition, but its 1984 squad was far from vintage.

The 1984 Michigan team turned out to be the only team in the Bo Schembechler era not to post a winning record. No Michigan team in fact compiled a worse record in the 30-year period between 1968-2007 after it lost to BYU in the Holiday Bowl to finish 6-6.

Even after winning the game, 24-17, BYU had to sweat it out for 12 long days. Because of their narrow victory, there was rampant speculation that the Cougars might be jumped by No. 2 Oklahoma if the one-loss Sooners could handle No. 4 Washington in the Orange Bowl. But thanks in part to the infamous Boomer Schooner incident that wiped out an OU field goal, the Huskies went on to win 28-17, handing BYU its only national title.

The Cougars swept both the AP and UPI (coaches') polls, but the legitimacy of their "undisputed" championship has been questioned ever since. It's certainly inconceivable today to believe an undefeated mid-major team would have a chance to finish No. 1, ahead of one-loss conference champions from the Pac-10 and SEC, but that's exactly what happened in 1984.

Certainly a confluence of events helped BYU's cause. One-loss Washington was relegated to the Orange Bowl because it lost head-to-head to Pac-10 co-champion USC, which won the Rose Bowl but had three losses. Florida won the SEC with a 9-1-1 record, but it was ineligible for a bowl because of NCAA sanctions and its conference title was vacated six months later. The champions from the ACC, Big Eight, Big Ten and Southwest Conference all had at least two losses.

BYU also had worked on putting itself on the map for nearly a decade. In 1984, the Cougars were playing in their seventh consecutive Holiday Bowl, having split the previous six against major-conference opponents. And along the way, they were cementing their reputation as Quarterback U by sending their record-setting passers to the NFL, one after another.

Coached by the legendary LaVell Edwards, the Cougars had their first breakthrough in the 1980 Holiday Bowl, when they rallied from a 20-point deficit with 2:33 remaining to stun SMU on a Hail Mary pass by Jim McMahon. Three years later, Steve Young threw a TD pass, ran for a TD and then caught the game-winner in a 21-17 victory over Missouri.

In the Edwards era that spanned from 1972-2000, BYU had its share of star quarterbacks that also included Marc Wilson, Ty Detmer and current USC coach Steve Sarkisian. In fact, Sarkisian credits the grit that Detmer displayed in a Holiday Bowl loss to Texas A&M in the 1990 game as the reason why he chose to play for BYU.

"I have a lot of great, vivid memories of the Holiday Bowl," Sarkisian said before the Trojans beat Nebraska, 45-42 Saturday night in a game reminiscent of the shootouts that the bowl used to be known for. "But I especially remember Ty Detmer separating his left shoulder against A&M, and then separating his right shoulder, but he hung in there. I grew very fond of Ty after that game - he was one tough customer."

Detmer claimed BYU's only Heisman Trophy during that 1990 season, but it was Robbie Bosco who led the Cougars to their only national championship.

Like Detmer, Bosco played hurt in the Holiday Bowl, hobbled by leg and ankle injuries. But he told quarterbacks coach Mike Holmgren that he wasn't leaving the game, gutting it out with 343 passing yards and two TDs, including the game-winning 13-yard toss to Kelly Smith in the final minute.

Had the playoff committee existed in 1984, BYU wouldn't even have made its top 10 rankings, let along winning the national championship. Before the bowl game, the Cougars' best wins were 30-25 over 8-4 Air Force and 18-13 over 7-4 Hawaii. Nine of their 13 wins were against teams that finished .500 or worse.

But in 1984, "game control" and "quality loss" were lexicons that haven't been invented yet. To the voters in the two major polls, BYU passed the eye test. It helped that the Michigan team was playing out the season without sophomore quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who is now poised to return to his alma mater after it suffered a third losing season in the last seven years.

While that Holiday Bowl game was a forgettable chapter for Michigan, it was a momentous occasion in college football history, one that's unlikely ever to be repeated again.

“It’s still very special 30 years later,” Edwards told U-T San Diego in a recent interview. “They will probably still be talking about it (30 years later), and debating whether they should or shouldn’t have made us No. 1.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Breaking Down Russell Athletic Bowl

By Jesse Lawrence

As we inch closer to the December, 29th Russell Athletic Bowl between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Clemson Tigers, the ticket prices are bound to change. For this game, we are starting to see a drastic decrease in the prices of tickets to the game in the home of Disney World. 

According to Totally Tickets, the average price of a ticket to the game in Orlando Florida costs $91.23, but can cost as little as $28. This price represents a 14% decrease in price over the past 7 days for Oklahoma football tickets. This decrease in price could be due to the loss of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. 

Watson was the explosive spark that drove the Clemson offense for much of the season. When Watson was on the field, he threw 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions for the tigers. He was the catalyst to the nations 60th best scoring offense. While that rank doesn’t seem very good, they may have been more productive if Watson had played the whole season. Cole Stoudt started the year as the starting quarterback, but threw 10 interceptions on only six touchdowns. Stoudt will start on December 29th. 

The Oklahoma Sooners have performed poorly late in the season as well, especially on defense. This correlates to the price of Sooners Tickets on the secondary market. The Sooners rank 48th in the nation in points allowed, and could not contain the high-powered offenses of TCU, Baylor, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State. Despite the all-American talents of Erik Stryker and Zach Sanchez, they had huge holes in the defense and were exposed by better teams all season. 

Luckily for the Sooners, they don’t have to deal with Watson. Stoudt may lead the team in passing yards, but has been extremely inefficient. If quarterback Trevor Knight can contain his play and not make mistakes, they should be okay. Knight hasn’t played very well at times this season, but the sooners score the 11th most points in the country (38.9). Running back Samaje Perine could have trouble running into a defense that features Vic Beasley, one of the nation’s best defensive linemen. The Sooners may have to depend on the play of Knight and receiver Sterling Shepard. I wouldn’t expect Perine to be a non-factor, as he has been one of the best running backs in the Big 12 all year long. 

Both of these proud programs want to end this season on a positive note, This should be an incredibly hard-fought games by coaches and players who want to revive the image of their seasons. Both of these programs are extraordinarily proud, and this game should fire up both of these teams, especially the seniors.


Jesse Lawrence is the CEO of TiqIQ.com, a leading online ticket search engine.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Big 12: Think (Hard) Before You Act

The worst thing the Big 12 can do is going for the quick fix. When no such "fix" is needed.

Sure, the conference rightfully feels it got screwed by the selection committee after being the only Power 5 conference left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff. But before the Big 12 runs out to hastily extend an invitation to Cincinnati or BYU or whomever to join the conference - or arrange a title game between its top two teams - it needs to ...

Stop. Just stop.

The Big 12 got left out not because it didn't stage a conference title game or because its conference champion didn't play a 13th game. It got left out because the selection committee proved to be no more discerning than the average fan who watches too much ESPN.

The fact is that if you replaced TCU with TEXAS, the Big 12 doesn't lose that final playoff spot to Ohio State and the Big Ten. Or if you replaced OHIO STATE with ILLINOIS, then the Horned Frogs would be on their way to New Orleans to face Alabama in a national semifinal game.

The Big 12 lost out because the schools it had in contention were small, private, Christian colleges, not college football behemoths like the four teams that made it. And in no small part because that's the way ESPN wanted it.

Did you see Kirk Herbstreit in the last three weeks proselytizing on behalf of his alma mat ... uh, Ohio State? Even as the Buckeyes labored to beat Big Ten also-rans Indiana and Michigan, Herbstreit claimed that they were "gaining momentum" and without fail, put Ohio State in his own Final Four week after week.

With the majority of college football games televised by ESPN's networks (not to mention all of the playoff as well as all but one of the 39 bowl games), it's natural for the 12 members of the committee - at least some of them - to fall under the spell of the "Worldwide Leader." When Ohio State blasted Wisconsin, 59-0, with its preseason third-string QB in the Big Ten title game, the committee fell hook, line and sinker.

The committee got reeled in the same way the AP and coaches poll voters did. Despite its struggles against Indiana and Michigan, Ohio State steadily picked up votes during the final weeks of the regulars season, finally vaulting past both Big 12 teams at the end.

And because of that, the simulated BCS standings showed that Ohio State would've been the No. 4 team, seemingly justifying the committee's decision. But the truth is that since the polls accounted for two-thirds of the standings, the voters' inability to keep clear heads from the ESPN-driven media narrative played a key role.

As it turned out, the committee members were no better - or smarter - than these voters.

That's why the Big 12 should not beat itself up over its exclusion from this year's playoff. It's college football, where money always speaks the loudest. ESPN wanted brand names in its tournament and that's what it got. If ESPN had its way, the four-team field will always include Alabama, Ohio State, Texas and USC every year (and Notre Dame if it finally ditches its NBC contract).

TCU was the best team in the Big 12 this year, a fact that's acknowledged by commissioner Bob Bowlsby and every conference coach besides Baylor's Art Briles. The Horned Frogs were better than Ohio State and should've been in the playoff. But since TCU and Baylor shared the conference championship - with Baylor having won head-to-head - that made it convenient for the committee to discard them both.

Would it be any different had Baylor lost another game and therefore made TCU the outright Big 12 winner? Perhaps, but probably not. As one of college football's nouveau riches, the Horned Frogs were basically told to wait for their turn. And this isn't their time yet.

A conference championship game or a 13th game wouldn't have changed that. What would help the Big 12 more is to tell Texas and Oklahoma to get back up to speed, pronto.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

First Final Four in New Era

The College Football Playoff selection committee has some hard choices to make. Starting Friday night in Santa Clara, Calif., and ending Saturday night in Indianapolis, every one of its top six teams from last week won. And it only has four playoff spots to dole out.

But forget the canard that the selection committee looks at the entire picture from scratch every week; the 12 members already tipped their hand last week. The top three teams—Alabama, Oregon and TCU—all won impressively to claim a piece of their respective conference championships. No. 4 Florida State as usual labored to win its game, but as the only unbeaten team in the FBS it will get to defend its national title.

That leaves Ohio State and Baylor on the outside, but the committee can reasonably defend its decision for leaving them out. These two teams easily had the worst losses among the contenders—Ohio State to 6-6 Virginia Tech and Baylor to 7-5 West Virginia—and also the weakest schedules (according to Jeff Sagarin).

Despite Ohio State's impressive thrashing of Wisconsin, the problem remains that the committee views the Big Ten as the weakest Power Five conference, and with good reason. Each of the Big Ten's top four teams lost a nonconference game to a Power Five opponent, and Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech was actually the worst among them.

As for Baylor, its nonconference schedule and how it performed against the nine common opponents will allow the committee to overlook the Bears' head-to-head victory over TCU as both teams shared the Big 12 title with identical 11-1 records.

Of course, unlike the BCS, we can no longer project the rankings with confidence, as the final decision will be made by 12 people and nothing else. And since this is year one of the College Football Playoff, we have no precedent to go by.

That said, this is how we project the committee's final rankings, to be released at 12:45 p.m. ET Sunday.

Projected Final CFP Rankings
RankLwTeamBest Win*Losses*
11AlabamaNo. 8 Miss StateNo. 9 Ole Miss
22OregonNo. 7 Michigan StateNo. 12 Arizona
33TCUNo. 11 Kansas StateNo. 6 Baylor
44Florida StateNo. 10 Georgia TechNone
55Ohio StateNo. 7 Michigan StateVirginia Tech (6-6)
66BaylorNo. 3 TCUWest Virginia (7-5)
78Michigan State2
810Miss State2
912Ole Miss3
109Kansas State3
1111Georgia Tech3
127Arizona3
1314Georgia3
1415UCLA3
1517Arizona State3
1616Missouri3
1713Wisconsin3
1818Clemson3
1919Auburn4
2021Louisville3
2122Boise State2
2223Utah4
2324LSU4
2425USC4
25NRMinnesota4
* Projected rankings

No. 1 vs. No. 4: Alabama vs. Florida State, Sugar Bowl - The matchup of the teams that won the last three national championships will be intriguing. Florida State was wobbly all season but never lost a game, something the other 127 FBS teams couldn't do. Alabama looks primed to continue its dynasty-interrupted with Lane Kiffin calling the shots of a dynamic offense.

No. 2 vs. No. 3: Oregon vs. TCU, Rose Bowl - It'll be TCU's second Rose Bowl berth in five years—only Wisconsin has more appearances in that span. The last time the Horned Frogs were in Pasadena they were the gritty underdogs from the Mountain West and beat the Badgers to finish the season unbeaten. This time they'll face an explosive Oregon team piloted by the presumptive Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

Group-of-Five Bid
Boise State, the only non-Power Five team in last week's committee rankings, made things easy for the committee by taking care of Fresno State to win the Mountain West title late Saturday night. The Broncos likely will earn a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, their third in nine years. They beat Oklahoma and TCU in their two previous appearances in the BCS era.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Committee Sets Stage for Final Rankings

Sorry, Baylor.

The selection committee delivered an emphatic message Tuesday night, practically anointing the four teams that will make the inaugural College Football Playoff field. That leaves Baylor and Ohio State on the outside looking in, even if they won their respective final regular-season games.

By moving TCU up one spot to No. 3—over undefeated Florida State (12-0)—the committee is indicating that the Horned Frogs' playoff position is unassailable as long as they defeat 2-9 Iowa State at home Saturday. A Baylor victory over Kansas State will earn the Bears a co-Big 12 championship, but that, along with their 61-58 win over TCU earlier in the season, won't be enough for them to leapfrog TCU.

So that's where we stand with five days remaining before the committee's final rankings are revealed Sunday morning. Here are five other observations:

1. Head-to-head matters, sort of
While it's listed as one of the major criteria for the committee, chairman Jeff Long has consistently downplayed its value. After Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby artfully declined to name "one true champion" on Monday, Long echoed that sentiment a day later.

This gives the committee a convenient out in terms of following one of its other major criteria—conference championship—since the Horned Frogs will be able to share the Big 12 title with the Baylor-Kansas State winner as long as they beat Iowa State.

2. Florida State, undefeated, unloved
Another week, another win, and the Seminoles dropped another spot. Jameis Winston and Co. have strung together a series of ugly victories, but being the only unbeaten team in FBS somehow isn't good enough for the committee (or the Associated Press Top 25, which seems to be aping the committee of late).

The silver lining for FSU is that it's not in danger of falling out of the playoff field as long as it beats No. 11 Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game Saturday, which will account for its best win of the season, according to the current rankings.

3. How would BCS standings have looked?
If the late, great Bowl Championship Series was still in business, its standings would've yielded the same four playoff teams, though in a slightly different order. Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and TCU would be in the top four, with Ohio State and Baylor significantly behind.

A composite of over 100 computer rankings would in fact put Ohio State in the playoff field ahead of Florida State, with Baylor a long way down at No. 8.

4. If there are upsets of Top Four teams, then what?
Other than TCU, the teams currently in the playoff field are all playing conference championship games this weekend. If any of them lose, it figures to benefit Ohio State and Baylor. But because of its ranking, don't discount the possibility of No. 7 Arizona jumping into the four-team playoff with a second victory over Oregon.

5. Stay up late for Group of Five crowning
Boise State is the only team not from the Power Five conferences in the rankings. If the Broncos defeat 6-6 Fresno State for a second time this season, they will clinch their third major bowl bid in nine years, likely another Fiesta Bowl berth. It'll be a late, late show since the Mountain West Championship Game is the last game Saturday night with a 10 p.m. ET kickoff.

Playoff Committee Rankings Comparison
RankTeamB/R MockBCSvs. T25 Then*vs. T25 Now
1Alabama114-13-1
2Oregon243-03-1
3TCU424-13-1
4Florida St.333-02-0
5Ohio St.552-01-0
6Baylor662-02-0
7Arizona773-13-2
8Michigan St.1091-20-2
9Kansas St.8101-21-2
10Miss St.983-21-2
11Georgia Tech12132-02-0
12Ole Miss14113-33-2
13Wisconsin11122-10-1
14Georgia15153-23-1
15UCLA16163-13-2
16Missouri13142-10-1
17Arizona St.17184-21-2
18Clemson20200-31-3
19Auburn18193-32-3
20Oklahoma19170-30-3
21Louisville21210-10-2
22Boise St.22220-10-1
23Utah24262-32-3
24LSU23232-22-3
25USC25252-21-3
* Ranked by AP/committee at time of game

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