Regarding the Penn State or Ohio State debate . . .

. . . I found this to be a pretty good description of my feelings about it (Cliff Notes - they got it right). … ayoff-2016

The conference championships shouldn’t be the end-all for making the playoff. Penn State won the Big Ten and beat Ohio State, yes, but it also lost one more game.

Not only did they lose one more game, their losses were to a four-loss Pitt team (which also beat Clemson, FWIW), and they got absolutely hammered by Michigan. That PSU-Michigan game was about as bad as our performance at Auburn. That game alone might have disqualified them even if they were 12-1.

I agree with you. You take the four best teams, not four conference champs. If two of the four best teams are in one league, take both. If for some reason the best team doesn’t win its conference (OSU lost the tiebreaker to PSU in the East), you take that team anyway.

I’m kinda reminded of what happened to my brother’s team his senior year in high school. At the time, Arkansas playoffs were limited to district champs. There was a three-way tie in our district at 6-1, and the three took turns beating each other. But my brother’s team lost its one game by one point, while the other two head-to-heads were more decisive. Arkansas then (and still does) use a net point system for such tiebreakers, and losing by one and beating the other team by 17 was enough to get his team through. They won the state championship, easily (allowed 0 points in three playoff games). The other two teams stayed home. The next year, the playoffs were expanded to take second-place teams. I don’t expect the CFP to expand next year though.


What many people fail to get is that while there are many different points of comparison, some only come into play if the teams are deemed to be “on the same level”. Number of losses is right at if not the top of the list of qualifying criteria. If you have 3 losses, it doesn’t matter WHO you played, what conference you’re in, if you won the conference championship, etc. If it were a 12 or 16 team tournament, such a team might be considered. But at 4 teams, a two loss team will only be considered if there are not 4 other Power Five teams with one loss or less.

And that’s as it should be, IMO.

Now, among “similar” teams, I think a LOT of weight should be given to conference champions. But a two loss team (with the teams Penn State lost to, and the margin of score) is not overcome by a victory, at home, by the narrowest of margins over a one-loss team - which was (obviously) that team’s only loss.

You take the Big 5 conference champions and 3 wild cards to keep a committee happy by giving them some input. This takes care of the Ohio St./Penn St. issue. This adds 1 more week to the playoff with most of the slots determined on the field. Common sense.

In the past I’ve not been in favor of an 8 team playoff but I think you’re on to something here. Much like the NCAA basketball tourney, conference champs and conference tourney champs have an automatic in. I lean toward the same because I think if you win your conference that should count for something.

Counterargument: What about a couple of years ago when Florida State was the only team in the ACC worth a darn? Should steamrolling a weak league like that count more than going 11-1 in a league like the SEC or Big Ten?

I’m completely comfortable with picking the top four teams, wherever they might be. There was one year in the 1970s ('71, I think) when the top three in the post-bowl polls was Nebraska, OU and Colorado, all in the Big 8. That hasn’t happened since, and probably won’t happen in the CFP era, but if it did (and with divisions, two of the three might not have played each other), then take all three. We’re trying to identify a national champion, not give a trophy for everybody who won a conference.

BTW, I did a conference breakdown of this week’s CFP rankings. Five teams from SEC, ACC and Pac-12. Four from Big Ten, three from Little Dozen, two from American (and neither one was Houston), plus Western Michigan.

In this scenario, are you going to reward OU for steamrolling the weakest Power 5 league when they got clobbered by a playoff team AND a team that finished third in a Group of Six conference?

The March Madness comparison doesn’t quite fit because it was conference champs and leading independents only for its first 30+ years. Then they got smart, provoked in part because #2 NC State beat #3 South Carolina in the 1974 ACC tournament final one year. Game went to OT, NC State won, went on to win the national championship, and SoCar was left out of the Dance entirely. Next year, they changed the rules. But point is, conference champions were always part of the mix. Here, they aren’t. I have no problem with considering conference titles as a way to differentiate between two similar teams (Washington doesn’t get in without that Pac-12 title, for instance). But making it a hard and fast win-and-you’re-in? Naw.

Valid points Swine. And that’s why I could go along with a 5+3 format. I know we’ve seen years where the SEC would deserve a couple of spots theoretically so I think the +3 gives some room for that.

Hitting a little closer to home: I went back and looked at the 2010 BCS standings. You remember that year; we wound up in New Orleans and might have won the Sugar if Julian Horton had just scooped and scored (and would have won handily if tOSU had declared all of its ineligible players ineligible for the game).

But let’s say that an eight-team playoff were in place for 2010, and they used the 5+3.

In the final 2010 BCS rankings, we were eighth at 10-2.

Here were the 2010 conference winners:
ACC – Virginia Tech (#13 in final BCS ranking)
Big East (Power 6 league at the time) – UConn, not ranked
Big Ten – Wisconsin, coached by BB, #5.
Big Twelve – OU, #7.
SEC – Auburn, duh.
Pac-12 – Oregon, lost to Auburn in NCG.
And, key point. The Mountain West winner was TCU. Not a Power 6 school, but was #3 in BCS ranking. They are absolutely in the playoff.
Non-conference winners in top 10 – Stanford #4, tOSU #6, us, Michigan State #9, Boise State #10. Boise’s only loss was to Nevada in overtime; they tied Nevada in the WAC standings, and presumably might have lost the head-to-head tiebreaker. Nevada was 15th in the final BCS.
So if you put in the Power 5 champs, you have VT, Wisky, Auburn, OU and Oregon. TCU was the all-time BCS buster, and proved it by beating Wisky in the Rose Bowl. Which leaves two at-large spots. Stanford is #4, tOSU is #6. We would have gotten left out because you had to give a spot to VTech as ACC winner – ranked five spots below us. Fair? I don’t think so.

Question: How can you be one of the best 4 teams in the Nation and NOT be the best team in your conference? Results are results - Is the system flawed? If a flaw is known then it can be fixed.

IF Penn State was in the playoff then I could see putting Ohio State in as one of the best four teams. But, Ohio State can’t be better than Penn State (losing head to head plus Penn State is conference champs) so, Ohio State does not deserve to be in if Penn State is not. (btw - I never want to see Penn State in the Playoff - the whole Sandusky thing has me ruined on them forever).

If the rationale is W-L - then why isn’t Western Michigan in there - oh yeah, strength of schedule - so why is Washington in there?

If conference championships don’t matter then why was the Big 12 snubbed a few years ago?

I’m SEC through and through, but maybe the B10 deserved two teams this year? Maybe not.

The playoff committee decision making ability currently is biased and not systematic. Would putting 8 teams in a playoff solve some of these problems? Absolutely. You have room for the Power 5 conference champs and 3 at-large. Maybe the 8 team format could use some existing bowl games and we wouldn’t have 5-7 teams going bowling! (2 birds - one stone).

Ohio State’s strength of schedule was better than Penn State’s, and OSU won as many games as PSU (11) with one less opportunity. The conference championships are flawed. They were devalued when the conferences went to 14 and 15 teams.

Ohio State has the #2 SOS, Penn State has #6 (Sagarin) - is that really enough to overcome head to head?

Conference championships are devalued at 14 team conferences? Then will Big 12’s conference championship suddenly hold more weight with less teams in it’s conference next year?

There is a counter argument for every argument. If there were an eight team playoff then conference champions get in and so do 3 at-large - then let them once again prove it on the gridiron…

Where would professional sport be if they only took the top 2 teams and then after years and years went to 4 teams? This can’t legitimately be considered a playoff with 4 teams out of 120 chosen arbitrarily by a group of individuals with constantly changing guidelines and the ability to influence each other behind closed doors, can it?!?

The conference championships then serve as single elimination games with 5 teams advancing plus 3 at-large teams chosen by committee (with hopefully some more concrete criteria for consistency sake) - then you have an eight team playoff bracket - sounds like more of a playoff setting to me.

The “system” isn’t perfect, but if its goal is to pick the top 4 teams for a play off (and that is the current goal) then what we have is the best (flawed, yes) system we can have. You make the absolute statement that Penn State is better than OSU. I get your argument, and it is a good one, PSU won head to head. However, there are other valid arguments. Honestly if you ask 100 people, who follow college football, who aren’t fans of OSU or PSU who is better, I would expect the vast majority to say “OSU.” They just appear to be the better team, based on the full season results.

In 1974 we kicked USC’s butt in Little Rock. Proceeded to not have a great year. USC won the rest of their games, won the national title. Can you say that “USC can’t be the best team in the country, Arkansas beat them.” No. Can you say “Arkansas should be national champs, they beat USC?” No. We lost way to many games. While Head to Head is a critical issue, I agree, there are times when it doesn’t answer the question.

I understand what you’re saying, but in regards to Penn St/tOSU. Penn St won the B1G East Divison (that includes OSU and Michigan). They won the H2H with tOSU and they won the B1G championships. Your example is apples to oranges. An apples to apples comparison would be 2011 when LSU beat Bama, and Bama ended up in the NC game (and won). That was the reason the playoffs were approved, because according to the commissioners (and ESPN guys, like Herbstreit) of the B1G, B12, PAC-12, and ACC it was unfair for a team that didn’t win their division of their conference to get in over conference champs. In 2011 do you think any team not named Bama or LSU could have beat Bama or LSU? I don’t see that with tOSU this year, it was a complaint Harbaugh, and Tom Murphy had, the officials made sure tOSU won the Michigan game. If Michigan had won, we wouldn’t be having this argument because they would have won the division, conference, and only have one loss. They’d be in.

I don’t disagree with anything you said.

And yes, I was, on purpose, giving an example in the extreme. The purpose of the example was just to say that head to head doesn’t always tell the tale. Usually it does. Not always.

My point still remains that IF the goal of the playoff is to attempt to get the “best 4” in, the system we have now with no set “automatic your in” rules, leaving it up to a committee of humans to pick the top 4, is the best way (perfect no, best yes).

In 2011 the goal was to pick the 2 best teams. I think they got it right. I get that a lot of peopled yelled about it. But what they came up with to “fix the problem” was a system to pick the 4 best teams, not a system to pick the 4 best division or conference winners.

I fully understand the argument that to get in you should have been a conference champ (or as some say, a division champ). The the current systems established goal is to get the 4 best teams in. Not the four best conference champs. If they changed the goal, I wouldn’t favor it, but I wouldn’t be upset either.

I said this yesterday, I don’t think the 4 best are in. I still think W Michigan could beat Washington. As for the “eye test,” an issue I have is watching Clemson, there were some close games that when I watched I wasn’t impressed, and the BSPN guys kept making statements like they aren’t as good as last year, and something is wrong with DeShaun Watson. I had the same reaction watching tOSU and Michigan. I kept seeing games in which I wasn’t seeing a team I considered “the best.” Now, I don’t know if W. Michigan could beat tOSU or Clemson, but when I watched them I had the same “meh” reaction. When I watched Washington I thought “OVERRATED.”

Once, just once I would like to see Ohio State get the shaft and fall on a sword instead of a pile of 4/5 star recruits.

I really didn’t have a big argument against the four teams that are picked in the playoff this year. Ohio State looks to have the better resume than Penn State. You lose two games, you leave yourself on the outside looking in almost every time. Well, it’s been every time so far. That second loss seems to mean elimination. The committee did set precedent by leaving out the Big Ten champ this time.

Look at the outside-looking-in teams this time. Penn State, Michigan, Oklahoma. What do they all have in common? Two losses. What do the four CFP teams have in common? Fewer than two losses. That’s what it boils down to. If Penn State beats Pitt, they’re in. If OU beats Houston, they’re in. Now if both those things had happened, it might be interesting, since tOSU clobbered OU at Norman. Would a one-loss conference champ get in over a one-loss team that beat them? That’s probably where H2H kicks in.

I think the current system is perfect. Why wouldn’t I? I drew it up (just call me Larry Culpepper) more than 20 years ago, and have advocated it here (and other places) as long as boards like this have existed. It’s exactly as I described - top four teams, seeded; 1 playing 4 and 2 playing 3 on New Years Day (or thereabouts) and the Championship game 2 weeks later (adjusted for weekends).

The reason I have always cited for limiting it to four is this: The first thing to understand is that you will NEVER come up with a process that will satisfy everyone, every year. A plan that will include everyone that the consensus thinks should be involved one year will include some teams that don’t deserve to be in Championship contention in others. And, in rare seasons, there may be more teams that have a reasonably plausible reason to be included that are not. So, unless you change the criteria each and every season, there will be some degree of dissatisfaction/debate each year.

Once you have accepted that, to me, it’s about identifying the teams that have - over the course of the entire season - EARNED the right to be included in the small playoff group BASED ON THE RESULTS ON THE FIELD. The Championship is NOT necessarily the team that is the hottest and/or has the best chance to emerge from a 16 team playoff (4 games). It is about identifying the 2, 3 or 4 teams that most deserve the championship GOING INTO the playoffs, based on the season so far. If there are two 1 loss teams, and they played at some point in the season, the one that won that encounter is considered above the other team. It might be the consensus opinion that if they replayed each other, the one that lost would be favored based on how the teams finished the season. But the result of the game is what is most important.

And, unless there is a dramatic difference in SOS, all undefeated teams should be considered ahead of 1 loss teams; and all 1 loss teams should likewise be considered ahead of 2 loss teams. I suppose it’s mathematically possible, but I can’t remember one instance where a 3 loss team legitimately was considered one of the 4 best teams in the country (they may have been “the hottest” at the end of the year, but that’s different than having the 4th best resume). So, let’s consider a year in which we have two undefeated, untied Power 5 teams (let’s say Georgia and Ohio State, for example). After than, we may have 4 one-loss teams (Florida, Alabama, USC and Clemson). Georgia and Ohio State are the two teams, in THAT SEASON, that HAVE to be included; the question then becomes which two among Florida, Bama, USC and Clemson have the “best resume” based on their SOS, where their wins came, who they lost to, etc. In truth - if we could have “flexible rules” to suit each season, just matching Georgia and Ohio State would be sufficient - as they are the only two that MUST be included based on the results of the season.

Another example; no undefeated teams, 3 one-loss teams and 4 two loss teams (again, figuring all Power 5 conference members). Let’s say Bama, Notre Dame and Oregon all have 1 loss, and LSU, Florida State, Michigan and Texas all have two losses. In this case, the 3 one-loss teams HAVE to be included; and then you chose from among the two loss teams to fill in the field.

The “downside” of those two examples is that you might end up choosing a “second tier” (one loss in the first example; two loss in the second) that isn’t any more deserving than a team with a similar record that was left out. But the primary goal is to make sure you include all of the teams that absolutely have to be included, and that has been accomplished. Beyond that, it is important to minimize the chance that a “lesser deserving” team (based on the regular season PRIOR to the playoff) wins. This is where the four-team option is clearly and greatly superior to more expanded options.

Let’s say we had an 8 team system, and in a given season, there was only one undefeated team (Alabama - as is the case this season, as a matter of fact) and the 8th place team has 3 losses (as Wisconsin does, this season). Would I be interested in seeing a game between those two? You bet - as I am ANY time a game matching two teams ranked inside the top 10 play each other. But, how would it be equitable if Wisconsin upset Alabama and then was declared National Champions? In that scenario (using this year’s records as examples), Alabama would be 15-1, and Wisconsin would be 13-3. Yes, they would have beaten Alabama head to head, but they also would have THREE losses to Alabama’s one. To rank them ahead of Alabama would mean that the regular season meant nothing.

We’ve seen something similar in years past; before the CFP or BCS, if an 10-3, eighth ranked Wisconsin played and beat 13-0, #1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (or wherever), the final rankings would drop Bama a notch or two and Wisconsin would move up a notch or two; but a one loss Bama would still be ranked ahead of a 3 loss Wisconsin (AS THEY SHOULD BE . . . just like a 4 loss TCU would be ranked behind a 2 loss OU if TCU had just beaten Oklahoma). It’s improbable, but not inconceivable that Bama could even remain at number one if the next 4 or 5 teams also lost (although I can not remember than happening just that way).

There is only ONE element of the current system that I did not specifically call for, and that’s the committee approach to selecting the participants. I left that part somewhat open; you know there’s going to be a way to rank the teams, and people will difffer about what the best method for that is. Polls. Computer rankings. Selection committee. In recent (last 5 years or so), I moved toward maintaining something similar, if not exactly, like the BCS formula for ranking the teams. I like it because it is a combination of subjective “expert” opinion, and objective computer rankings. However, the committee has seemed to “get it right” each of the 3 years. Indeed, the BCS formula and the current committee system identified exactly the same four teams this year; the order was slightly different, but the important thing is to get the teams right. One way or another, the winner is going to have to play and beat two of the other three.