I hate Penn State football. If you regularly listen to our podcast, you might, too.
But I have to be honest…
The College Football Playoff system is going to screw over the Nittany Lions. Hard.
I don’t want this blog to be all about Penn State. They’re just at the center of a system that makes no sense.
For the most part, this will be about the system of picking four teams to play for the national championship. I’ll start with Penn State, though, because I’m confused.
If you go to the College Football Playoff’s official website, you’ll find the first piece of criteria listed under the overview is, “the selection committee ranks the teams based on conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents and other factors.”
Based on that, and a head-to-head win against Ohio State earlier in the season (fluky as it was), I’m left scratching my head as to how these rankings are supposed to come together.
Penn State’s schedule has been mostly a joke. Outside of playing Ohio State, which has bolstered their strength of schedule and is basically the one thing they have to hang their hat on, they bullied a bunch of mediocre to bad Big Ten opponents and lost their one true test in the non conference: Pitt.
Let’s all pause for a second in remembrance of 42-39.
OK, that was fun! Back to the discussion at hand.
There are certainly reasons to argue against Penn State, but if the top criteria or data point or whatever the hell the committee calls stuff is conference championships, then there is a legitimate argument. And when you look at the other three teams that are likely to be in the playoff — Alabama, Clemson, and Washington — they’ll all be conference champions as well.
So, why not Penn State?
Well, probably for reasons stated above, which I agree with. That leads me to my point.
Change what we evaluate in selecting teams.
Make it clear.
And update it every year if you have to.
This committee is fluid. Members are only part of this thing for a short period of time, and we’ve already seen some turnover. Obviously, the focus of evaluating teams will change along with that turnover.
Perhaps initially conference championships were the most important. Clearly, they’re not anymore.
If conference championships still mattered, you wouldn’t have Ohio State in there as we sit here today. You wouldn’t have Michigan currently ranked ahead of Wisconsin and Penn State, either (Wisconsin has a legitimate beef, too, by the way). And you wouldn’t have bizarre debate and speculation over other teams like, say, USC — which has three losses and by no means should be in the conversation — who won’t play for a conference championship.
And to be quite honest, I’m not sure conference championships should be the deciding factor. But when you say they’re at the top of the list, well then you open yourself up to complaints.
Let’s look at each “data point” the committee lists and point out the flaws.
Conference Championships Won
Three teams will likely fit that: Alabama, Clemson, and Washington. The fourth, it appears, will not.
The Big Ten champion — either Wisconsin or Penn State — appears like it will miss the cut for a Big Ten team that didn’t win the conference, nor even make the championship game.
You failed, committee.
Strength of Schedule
If this really mattered, Washington wouldn’t be close to the discussion, similar to Penn State. But Washington is currently “in,” so Penn State can complain.
The Huskies largely benefitted from beating a No. 7 Stanford team early in the year, before we knew Stanford wasn’t as good as we all expected (they finished the regular season with nine wins and ranked No. 18 in the College Football Playoff rankings after falling out of the rankings entirely midway through the season). Washington also won at No. 17 Utah (now No. 20).
In the end, these are two fine wins against ranked teams, but that doesn’t match up anywhere near their peers in the top five.
A win against No. 8 Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game could help their cause, but as of right now the Huskies don’t have much to lean on.
This one really doesn’t make any sense when looking at Big Ten teams.
Penn State beat Ohio State, but is ranked behind Ohio State. OK. Understandable, I suppose, when OSU has just one loss to PSU’s two. It’s when you throw that whole “potential Big Ten champion Penn State” thing into the conversation that the head-to-head item becomes a bit more of a head scratcher.
Comparison of Results Against Common Opponents
Penn State crushed Iowa and has two losses. Michigan got beat by Iowa and has two losses. Penn State beat Ohio State. Michigan lost to Ohio State. Michigan beat Penn State. Michigan is ranked two spots ahead of Penn State.
This category, in my mind, speaks to putting Pitt in the playoff. Wins over Clemson and Penn State. Penn State beat Ohio State. Therefore, Pitt is better than Ohio State.
This “data point” is like that stupid rationalization we all joke about but never truly believe to be real.
If you or I or anyone knew what these were, I suppose this whole thing might be a little bit easier to understand.
I think “overall resume” probably falls into this category, and I’m not sure why they don’t rewrite the whole thing to be based on just that.
Not all conference teams play each other, so you can’t put all of the weight into conference championships. Strength of schedule should matter, but not to the point where you’re rewarding teams for losing to good opponents, or trying to factor in the intentions of scheduling into the discussion. Head-to-head results are important, but as you see with this year’s rankings they can’t be an overall deciding factor. And comparison of results against common opponents is important to an extent, but then becomes too convoluted and confusing to take seriously.
Make is simple for everyone.
“The College Football Selection Committee will pick four teams based on their overall body of work from the entire season.”
I feel like if you state it this way, you open the committee up to having more understandable freedom to make the decisions it makes while at the same time removing some of the leverage for arguments from teams that get left out.
Overall resume isn’t perfect, either. And yeah, there’s gray area.
But I think that gray area is better than choosing teams that don’t fit into more specific criteria that you’ve laid out as a committee.
That just makes no sense.
Kind of like leaving out Big Ten Champion Penn State if it happens.
Note: All along I’ve thought they should have the playoff but use the BCS rankings to determine the four teams. I see it as a best-of-both-worlds scenario.