Pac Tracks: League Should Get Fair Shake From Selection Committee
Reader "Phil K. from Eugene" writes in this week to ask whether Oregon will get a fair shake in Tuesday’s first release of the College Football Playoff ranking.
"K. Whittingham," from Greater Salt Lake, texted our TMG hot line wondering whether Utah will get the credit it deserves from the selection committee.
My best guess is: yes.
The four-team College Football Playoff system, which started in 2014, has been far better for the Pac 12 than the old Bowl Championship Series.
The fact the Pac 12 has placed only two schools in the CFP has nothing to do with west-coast bias or cooked and crooked computers.
The Pac 12, frankly, just hasn’t been good enough.
That wasn’t the case in the 16-year run of the BCS, during which the Pac did fall victim to, IMO, considerable geographic disadvantage.
Case study: In 2014, a few weeks before first-ever CFP rankings were to be revealed, I served on a mock media selection panel in Grapevine, Texas. We worked in the same room of the hotel the selection squad uses to make its weekly picks and that week I played the part of USC athletic director Pat Haden, a member of the committee.
I even sat in Haden’s chair but was not allowed to discuss USC, or run down to the field during the mock Stanford game to argue with officials.
We did a rework of the 2008 season in which Oklahoma and Florida played for the national title in the two-team BCS system.
We were asked to apply the four-team playoff model to that year’s contenders.
The top five in the final BCS standings were Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, Alabama and USC.
Using the BCS standings, USC would have been O-U-T.
However, in our mock proceedings, the Trojans beat out Alabama for the final playoff spot.
Imagine the riot that would have caused!
The Pac 12 gets a finer look in the new system simply because committee members actually take the time to study the conference, for good, bad, better or worse.
Voters in the AP and USA Today coaches’ poll, conversely, have for years been sleep-deprived by late west-coast starts and lack of access on the Pac Network.
The Washington-Cal game this year, for example, ended at 4:22 a.m. Sunday in the east.
Voting writers and coaches (by coaches I mean their sports information directors) don’t actually get to see many Pac 12 games.
Does that matter?
You be the judge.
In the five years under the new system, the Pac 12 has graded out higher by the selection committee than it has in the traditional polls.
Comparing the final CFP ranking in December, with the AP and USA Today polls of that week, here are the numbers:
The Pac has a five-year average final CFP poll ranking of 13.8 compared to 14.6 in the AP and 14.5 in the USA Today poll.
In 2014, the system's first year, six Pac schools scored a 14.5 average in the final CFP ranking compared to 15.1 (AP) and 15.6 in the coaches' poll.
This doesn’t guarantee Oregon or Utah is a cinch to make the four-team this year if either wins the Pac 12 with a 12-1 record.
There are plenty of scenarios in which the Pac 12 champion stays home.
Oregon could get boxed out if it finishes 12-1 and ends up in an argument between one-loss Oklahoma and the SEC South runner-up.
So long as Alabama versus LSU is a competitive game, the one-loss “non-champion” of the South could make a case against Oregon.
Both would have defeated Auburn, while Oregon’s only loss would have been against Auburn.
Interestingly, the CFP committee this year is chaired by Oregon AD Rob Mullens. That won't impact how the Ducks are treated in the room but his presence can assure Oregon won't be disrespected, or ignored.
The committee system provides some built-in protections the Pac 12 never enjoyed in the formulaic BCS, where champions seemed to be decided some years by spilled coffee into a computer keyboard.
All too suspiciously vagaries of computers and polls often worked against schools in the Pacific time zone.
Even this week, in the National Football Foundation poll that includes me as a voter, one of our panelists voted Utah at No. 15.
The Utes are ranked No. 8 in this week’s AP poll and No. 9 in the coaches’ index.
These kinds of "flagged" variances are less likely to occur in a room filled with fully-engaged board members.
Someone could note that Utah has a Sagarin strength of schedule rating of No. 40. For comparison, Georgia is No. 50, Clemson is 59 and Clemson is 64.
I know how the CFP process works because I’ve been in the room, did the hard work AND sampled freely from the buffet table.
The Pac 12 may fall short again this year of the four-team playoff, but I think it will get a squarer hearing than, say, USC got in the BCS in 2003.
I've always said if the Pac could ever get competitive again in football, the four-team playoff could be a blessing.
You know how many schools the Pac put into two-team BCS?
Three: USC twice (2004, 2005) and Oregon (2010).
You know how many Pac schools would have made a four-team playoff in the BCS era?
Washington (2000), Oregon (2001, 2012), USC (2002, 2003), Stanford (2010, 2011).
Oh, and the Pac finished No. 5 several other BCS times: Cal (2004), Oregon (2005, 2011), USC (2006, 2008), Stanford (2013).
But if not making this year's playoff comes down to Oregon losing to Auburn. Well, Ducks, you dominated about 59 minutes of that game, right?