Update 01/02 – It is hard to imagine being more wrong than my predictions. The one thing that has not changed, and will not no matter who wins the National Championship. TCU should have been included in the 4 selections. Also, the playoff must change to 6, 8, 12, or even 16 spots. 4 Spots will never work with 5 Power Conferences. If you placed any stock into my predictions, shame on you as I openly admitted I bet on Spinks over Tyson! I cannot see how Oregon loses next week, so you may want to bet big on Ohio State!
It is the first day of 2015, and while many are evaluating resolutions, College Football Fans are gearing up for the long awaited College Football Playoff. The College Football Playoff Selection Committee selected four collegiate football teams to compete for the National Championship. The four schools, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State, are within two wins from a national championship and a single loss from their season conclusion. This will be the first year that the Bowl Championship Series, or better known as the BCS, system will not decide which two teams play in the national championship game. The BCS utilized a combination of polls and only selected two teams, while the College Football Playoff relies only on the human Selection Committee to select four teams. In the end, there will only be one team’s fans that celebrate, unless you include Michigan’s celebration if Ohio State fails, but there will be many lessons that result from the inaugural College Football Playoff. Some will lead to future improvements, while others are simply conclusions to consume. It may be more intelligent to provide these items on January 2nd, but intelligence has never impeded a college football fan’s edicts. It is in this spirit, we provide the top lessons from the initial College Football Playoff.
Poor Committee Performance will be Exposed
The Selection Committee made a poor decision in excluding TCU. The BCS had the luxury of resulting in a less than optimal result while having cover from accountability. Sure, all of the media that was included in the AP Poll, or the 30 plus coaches in the Coaches Poll could be blamed. If you really felt brave, you could attack the algorithms used from the computer models. Still, there was way too many points of input to truly distribute accountability. The College Playoff Selection Committee includes only 12 individuals, and they should be held directly accountable for their decisions.
More specifically, we think the Selection Committee allowed facts beyond events on the field to corrupt their decision. Earlier in the year, a friend asked my thoughts on the new system, and I responded that there was several problems. Most of these problems will result from limiting the playoff to four teams. More on that later, but the problems stemming from this limitation placed pressure on the Committee to replace TCU with Ohio State University. Ohio State University has a coast to coast alumni base, and is well represented in most industries including media. In contrast, TCU is a fairly small private religious college in Texas with a more regional alumni base, and is overshadowed by several other college programs in regional television viewers. College Football is driven by revenue, and it does not take a genius to recognize that Ohio State University will result in more viewers and merchandise than TCU. This will ultimately result in more advertising revenue for ESPN, and its corporate parent The Walt Disney Company.
Media in general has long been successful in leading public opinion instead of reflecting it, and this is more evident in sports media. Gone are the days of the “just the facts” sports media outlets such as The Sporting News holding influence. Today, influence is mostly controlled by ESPN which often tends to resemble the sports version of “The View” rather than a serious news outlet. Many credit, or blame ESPN for the disruption caused by constant conference realignment which has resulted in a financial windfall for ESPN while destroying many traditional rivalry games. In the same light, ESPN’s hands were all over pushing Ohio State into the playoff at the expense of TCU. Going back to a little past the halfway point in the season when Ohio State was ranked in the high teens by the Selection Committee, ESPN media personalities began to always speak of them as potential playoff candidates while disregarding many others that were higher ranked. This continued through the weeks, even as Ohio State was struggling to win in a weak Big 10 and had already lost to a very poor Virginia Tech team. The push became obscene in the final two weeks when it was obvious Ohio State would need help to leap several teams. This is when ESPN pulled their most dishonest card by downplaying #3 TCU’s dismantling of a bad Iowa State team 55-3, and elevating #5 Ohio State’s beating an overhyped mediocre Wisconsin squad 59-0 as the greatest feat in college football history. ESPN provided constant cover for the Selection Committee with poor excuses such as the strength of schedule for non-conference opponents. Ohio State’s “brutal” non-conference schedule included Kent State, Cincinnati, Navy, and Virginia Tech which resulted in a loss. More importantly, the Big 10 was much weaker than the Big 12 schedule that both TCU and Baylor played. I think Ohio State alumni Joey Galloway said it best when he questioned what could the committee have possibly seen in the final week in TCU’s 55-3 performance to drop them 3 spots.
ESPN will not be able to hide the Selection Committee’s poor decision after this weekend. TCU defeated Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl 42-3 last night. This is the same Ole Miss team that defeated the current #1 ranked Alabama, this year’s Fiesta Bowl Winner Boise State and Mississippi State who held the #1 ranking in 3 of the 7 Selection Committee’s released rankings. The shameful decision will receive its final punctuation when Alabama ends Ohio State’s season later tonight in the Sugar Bowl.
4 Teams is Impossible
College Presidents love the money from Bowl games. This is why we have over 30 of them, in which the majority are pointless and feature mediocre teams. Still a system that has 5 conferences considered Power Conferences cannot limit itself to 4 spots. I have always favored a 12 team playoff with bye’s for the top 4 teams. I think an 8 team playoff that includes automatic bids for the 5 Power Conference Champions and the top ranked team outside the Power 5 conferences with 2 at large bids would be acceptable. At a minimum, a 6 team playoff with a bye for the top two teams and automatic bids for the 5 Power Conference Champions and the top ranked team outside the Power 5 conferences. The lesson is 4 slots does not work in a 5 Power Conference world.
Inaccurate Early Rankings Result in Inaccurate Strength of Schedule
As in life, so much about where a football team finishes depends on where they begin. It’s not only about having to move up the rankings, but if the teams played are ranked inaccurately, the strength of schedule will also be inaccurate. Every year, we see Notre Dame ranked high and having to lose multiple games to finally go away. We also hear that Notre Dame has the toughest schedule in the country because it is full of legacy branded teams that are also ranked too high. Teams such as Michigan, Navy, Purdue, Syracuse, Northwestern and USC are big name regulars on the Notre Dame schedule, but are not very good football teams. Similar to Notre Dame, but admittedly more deserving, Ohio State is usually ranked high in the preseason with a schedule full of “ranked” opponents. Annually, the Big 10 has the most teams ranked too high because of the school brand and influence by alumni spread throughout the media. Ohio State would have lost conference games in any other Power 5 conference. The lesson is the major polls should wait until conference play has begun in week 4 before releasing any polls. If this happened this year, Ohio State would be 3-1 with wins against Kent State, Cincinnati, Navy and a loss to Virginia Tech. More importantly, they would likely not be ranked in that initial poll instead of being ranked in the Top 25 in both major polls. The Top 25 ranking is a result of being ranked #5 in the Preseason AP Poll.
College Football is a Southern Thing
This is one of those conclusions that cannot be corrected, and only consumed. As Alabama and Florida State advance, once again a southern college football team will win the national championship. It will be the 10th consecutive year that a team from either the SEC, Big 12 or ACC has won the championship. If the vacated USC championship from the 2004 season is excluded, these three conferences won every BCS championship except the 2002 season that ended with Ohio State beating Miami with the help of the delayed phantom interference call. The SEC and the Big 12 are the two most powerful football conferences, and provide the toughest road to a national title. Still, there is little doubt early season polls next year will be flooded with big brands from the Big 10, PAC 12, and the always overhyped Notre Dame.
West Virginia is Where Great Coaches are Created
Alabama Coach Nick Saban and Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher were born and raised less than 20 miles from each other with about a decade of time difference. Yes, while Florida and Texas continues to produce the best athletes, the West Virginia-Ohio-Pennsylvania region continues to churn out top tier collegiate coaches. Another College Football Playoff coach and Ohio native, Urban Myer, hails from this same area of the country. The 3 coaches combine for 7 National Championships, likely to be 8 in a few weeks. If you find yourself birthed in another region of the country and desire to be a coach, some think a heavy dose of John Denver’s “Country Roads” can be beneficial through the teen years.
Don’t Bet Against Winners
As a kid, I was not a fan of Michael Jordan. I was a Lakers fan, and it seemed every other kid my age was a fan of Jordan. Early on, I always hoped and bet lunch money on Jordan’s impending failure. Two things happened, I lost weight and learned to cease betting against winners. Actually it took my losing Double Dragon, a Nintendo Game, in a bet after Mike Tyson knocked out Michael Spinks in the first round. Good news, that early losing taught me to cheer for the underdog, but don’t always bet on them. No matter what your thoughts are on Jameis Winston, in between the goal posts, he is a winner. Actually, we are not even sure it is possible for him to lose a college football game. Until I am sure that is possible, I am not betting against Winston.