So here we are, just a week into the college football season, and everyone is breathlessly trying to predict which four teams will comprise the College Football Playoff (the title game will be played at AT&T Stadium on January 12). Everyone needs to take a chill pill and realize there is a new way of doing business. Of course, the hope is that the new way is an improvement on the clearly flawed old way.
The breathlessness comes from the polls, both the AP Writers Poll and the Coaches (SIDs?) Poll. Under the old BCS system those polls counted for 2/3 of the tally for each team, with the six computer polls making up the other third. In this brave, new world we’ve entered you know how much they count for? Nothing. Nada. Zippo. A grand goose egg. They mean absolutely nothing. There’s only one poll that matters, and that’s the one that the 13 members of the College Football Playoff committee will announce starting on October 28. And yet, a reasonable person might ask why the committee needs to have a public poll at all. The selection committee for the NCAA basketball tournament never announces its thoughts prior to selection Sunday. An announcement of a poll that determines 4 teams rather than 64 teams places un-needed pressure on a process that is far more difficult, and has many more ramifications.
Perhaps fans are convinced that the CFP committee, headed by Arkansas AD Jeff Long, have their own biases built in and that their poll will operate as other polls, both human and computer, have done in the past. Call me naïve, but I believe the committee (and I believe this is the only way this process can possibly work) starts at Ground Zero. Everyone starts from the same place, and then as the reams of information starts piling up and the games are actually played, the best decisions are made and ultimately the four best teams are selected.
Anyone who watched last weekend’s games would tell you, if you’re starting from Ground Zero for all teams, that Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State and UCLA were not four of the top seven teams. Texas A&M, Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon and Michigan State frankly, all looked significantly better. Pre-season bias cannot be allowed to trump what’s out there for all to have seen, and that’s why polls right now are ridiculous, and a poll that comes out after the ninth week is even more so.
Strength of schedule is going to be huge in this new era. Early season non-conference blowout wins will not hold the same allure as they have in the past. Your conference play will always matter, but now, more then ever, your non-conference opponents will matter too. Nice to play that non-conference game on a neutral field, but if you played that game on the road and won (or played close) it will probably count more. At least one of the Power 5 conferences are going to be left out of the mix (it would be advisable for Michigan State to win, or at least play a game down to the wire tomorrow at Oregon). Perhaps there will even be two left out if another conference places two teams in that Final 4 (the SEC and Pac 12 easily could do that).
The CFP committee knows all this. It’s huge pressure. Of course, the pressure would be lessened on the committee if the playoff was eight teams rather than four (all the Power 5 champs and three at-large), and despite comments to the contrary, that eight team event could happen sooner rather than later. But all 13 members of the committee have dealt with pressure in their professional lives, and have been incredibly successful at what they do. So, for all those wringing hands over the polls after week one, get over it. They don’t count. Enjoy the season, and let’s wait until December 7 to see if these folks make a great game even better.