Alabama football fans appreciate the ‘four best’ CFB Playoff argument
While waiting for another Alabama football season to begin, let’s talk the College Football Playoff. More specifically, which teams deserve consideration in the 2020 season. Up until last season, some Alabama football fans believed the Crimson Tide deserved to be in the Playoff field every year, even if not winning the SEC Championship. We now live in a more sober reality.
After Championship Week in the 2017 season, the CFB Playoff Selection Committee reinforced our unrealistic opinion about the Crimson Tide. Ohio State, a two-loss, Big Ten Championship lost out to the Crimson Tide for the fourth Playoff spot. A few weeks later, Georgia and the Alabama Crimson Tide proved two SEC teams unequivocally deserved to be in the field.
In explanation of their 2017 decision, the Selection Committee stressed its ‘four best teams’ criterion as the deciding factor. ‘Four-Best’ is the strength of the Selection Committee structure and process. It should be the most important criterion every season.
The challenge for the Committee is getting the ‘four-best’ correct. Most of it must be based on what is often described as the ‘eyeball test.’ What four teams stood out in a season of play, as the best? Instead of relying on algorithms determining strength of record, the Committee should consider each season’s last five (maybe six) contenders to choose spot No. 4.
Head-to-head, when available, should be a consideration. Next should be the eyeball test of games against each team’s toughest opponents. In some seasons, having reached this point, it becomes gut-check time for the Committee. Is it secure enough to pick four teams from only two Power Five conferences? It has never happened. In the 2018-19 Playoff, two Power 5 conference champions were excluded, but, along with Notre Dame, three other Power Five conferences were in the field. Two Playoff spots going to one conference has only happened once. That being the aforementioned, Georgia and Alabama selections.
As said above, the SEC should qualify for two spots every season, or at the least, in most seasons. Predicting future, football fortunes, years in advance is impossible. Instead, we can consider the 2020 season.
Every year, conference championship games are described as play-in games. Sometimes they are, other times they are not. Actually, there are play-in and play-out games throughout each season. There is a wide range of how many such games each team has on its schedule.
The tweet below lists 19 National Championship contenders for the 2020 season. An explanation of how the 19 teams were chosen is available here.
As an Alabama Football fan, it is easy to believe there is no reason the Tide can’t win it all in 2020. Instead of quibbling over who will win, and who should, and should not be, included as a contender, let’s review the schedules for all 19 teams.
Only three of the 19 teams have five games against other teams selected in the list. They are the Alabama Crimson Tide, LSU and Michigan. Auburn and USC have four games. Eight of the teams have three games and three teams have two games. Clemson has only one, against Notre Dame.
Assuming one-loss remains the CFB Playoff threshold, should all one-loss teams be viewed equally? The ‘four-best’ premise provides a ‘No’ answer.
Consider this 2020 scenario, Clemson loses to Notre Dame, Alabama and Michigan also lose one game. Clemson is the ACC Champion. Neither the Crimson Tide nor the Wolverines win a conference championship.
The minutiae of results from every game each team played would certainly be factors. But the Selection Committee should be willing to select as the final four, the SEC Champion, The Big Ten Champion, Alabama and Michigan. Only an undefeated ACC, Big 12 or Pac 12 Champion should bump either the Crimson Tide or the Wolverines out of the field. The answer to why is clear, especially with the ACC. Clemson plays only one contender (Notre Dame) and if it loses that game, winning the ACC should not put the Tigers in the field.
The Alabama football wins would be four of five against Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M and USC. The Michigan wins would be four of five against Washington, Wisconsin, Penn State, Minnesota and Ohio State. No other one-loss teams would have an equal resume.
We all want football back with a full season but the arguments above would need adjustment if there is only a conference, regular season. Not having any out-of-conference games should give Clemson a cake-walk the Playoff. It could also be argued the ACC schedule is not tough enough to qualify them, even undefeated.