As the college football season winds down, coaches, commissioners and fans alike begin campaigning hard for their program as a BCS-worthy team. But what makes a program deserving of championship consideration, and how will that change in the upcoming College Football Playoff?
SI.com's Zac Ellis and Martin Rickman discuss the subject in this week's Read-Option.
Zac Ellis: 'Tis the season for BCS debates, because that's what we've come to expect at this point in the year. Which one-loss team deserves to be in the BCS title game? Which unbeaten program has the weaker schedule? It's a staple of the college football season, but things are likely to change next year. With the College Football Playoff kicking into gear in 2014, the selection process for the playoff's four teams will be entirely human. How do you see that changing what's important in a team's body of work?
Martin Rickman: I think it starts to put the onus on scheduling more aggressively in the non-conference slate more than anything else. You can't really control who is and who isn't going to be good in your conference. Last year Auburn was a gimme game, and Missouri's injuries forced the Tigers to the cellar. This year they're both playing for the SEC title. So you can't base your season just on how you do in your own league. This makes marquee cross-FBS games that much more important. It's not just whether you finish the season undefeated. Chances are if you did, you're in the playoff. Only two teams are undefeated right now heading into the conference championship, and they'll both be in the top four if they win on Saturday. But it's those other two spots that become the new resume comparisons. It's ultimately a super miniaturized version of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
ZE: The non-conference slate is where we'll (hopefully) see the biggest difference, because you're right, teams have to schedule difficult games with the games they can control. The selection committee will undoubtedly look more favorably on a Georgia team that opens at Clemson rather than an Alabama team that plays Georgia State, Chattanooga and Colorado State in three of its four non-conference games. It's a joke. But that potential change would be a good thing for fans of college football. It gives us good games to watch, and it's only going to help those programs in the long run. But it's also important to remember that in 2014, the argument will switch to which teams belong among the top four teams in the country instead of just the top two. That's an easier argument for a lot of one-loss or even two-loss teams to make.
MR: So the natural progression now will be which two-loss team deserves to be in the four team playoff? It becomes starting to compare the one-loss teams who have a case to the two-loss teams who scheduled hard and maybe got snake bit. Stanford and Arizona State played two of the hardest schedules in the country and they both have two losses. If this year was the first year of the playoff, would you keep the Pac-12 champion out in favor of say Ohio State (if the Buckeyes do lose to Michigan State)?
ZE: I know talking about the "eye test" is somewhat cliché, but I think this is where that particular aspect of the selection committee will come in handy. Film study and actually watching these games will play into the selection process, and committee members might actually feel that a two-loss Stanford team deserves a spot in the playoff. I mean, the Cardinal also beat Oregon and UCLA and has a chance to beat Arizona State twice. Even with two losses, it's not impossible to think the selection committee will find that more impressive than anything Ohio State has done this year. And that's something we just wouldn't see right now. What do you think about the prospect of two-loss teams in the conversation next year?
MR: I'm fine with it if they have the season that warrants it. It reminds me of how Tom Izzo always schedules tough in the non-conference because if his team comes out largely unscathed, they're more prepared down the stretch and they are rewarded for it. And if they don't make it -- well they aren't like a 16-0 Virginia Tech team from awhile back that enters conference play and gets shellshocked (then misses the tournament) even with 20+ wins. We will have to start rethinking our plateau of what a 'good' season is. This is part of the evolution of the sport in a playoff world. It'll be trial and error, and there won't be one perfect way. I'm sure some teams will continue to load up on cupcakes and hope their conference slate (in the SEC, for instance) will be enough to get them in rather than risking getting beaten by a Kansas State or a Washington. Aside from scheduling, what other factors do you think the playoff committee will consider? Does the idea of momentum or teams finishing strong down the stretch matter at all?
ZE: I think committee members will have to consider momentum and a team's final product at the end of the season. We all know teams aren't the same at season's end as they are at the beginning or in the middle of the season. Auburn comes to mind right now. It sits just outside the BCS title game at the moment, but does anyone not think the Tigers are surging right now? They just beat the No. 1 team in the country to reach the conference championship game. That likely wouldn't be a debate next year, where Auburn would almost certainly lock in a playoff berth with an SEC title win, but an SEC title with one loss does not earn a shot at a national championship in the current system. I also think the committee will look at injuries, as well, because that's something the members touched on when they met with the media weeks ago. If Jameis Winston was sidelined with an injury in the ACC title game, but Florida State still won, that's obviously not the same Seminoles team anymore. Are they still worthy of No. 1 seed in a playoff? How the committee takes those things into consideration is unknown.
MR: We still have one more year of the BCS though, so it's only fitting there's a bit of controversy leading into Saturday. Are you hoping for absolute chaos, or are you intrigued by a possible battle of unbeatens between Ohio State and Florida State?
ZE: Chaos always makes things more fun, but I can't help but hope we see Ohio State and Florida State battle it out. The Seminoles have simply steamrolled everyone this year, Ohio State remains somewhat of an unknown in my eyes, even with an unbeaten record. I think that would be a heck of a matchup between those offense. What about you? MR: I'm torn. I like the idea of a shakeup somewhere, but I don't want it to end up being so much so that we get Missouri-Alabama or Auburn-Alabama again in the final or something. So let's say one of Ohio State and FSU goes down (still unlikely) and we get some fun. Let's send the BCS off right.