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Column: Playoff Selection Committee is just as useless as AP, Coaches polls

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The disparity in how the committee views Ohio State and Oklahoma is legit unbelievable... especially based on the chair’s own words.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff-Selection Sunday Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Look, in a vacuum, I have zero problem with Ohio State being No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings. I think that there are perfectly valid arguments that they should be lower, and perfectly valid arguments that they should be higher. Much like everything else during the 2018 college football season for these Ohio State Buckeyes, it’s a bit of a mess, and you’re left scratching your head, confused about what this team actually is.

In fact, I’m on record — much to the chagrin of about 50 percent of our readers — as saying that short of a complete 180 degree turnaround by the Buckeye defense on Saturday, I would prefer that OSU beats TTUN, then defeats Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game, but doesn’t get selected for the CFP, and instead goes out to Pasadena for a low-stress, super enjoyable, high-scoring shootout with Washington State in the Rose Bowl.

So, with all of that in mind, I feel comfortable in saying that in my completely unbiased and objective opinion, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee is worthless. In fact, I believe that their vague, nebulous criteria is actually a step backwards from what we had in the poll-dominated eras of days gone by. Also, the ridiculous media availabilities that committee chair Rob Mullens subjects us to every Tuesday after the weekly rankings are revealed are doing them no favors, as they actually make the process look worse, and undermine what little credibility that the committee has.

Now, I have no problems with the current top four, or even the top five; those teams all seem like legitimate selections to occupy those spots, but when you get down to comparing No. 6 Oklahoma and the No. 10 Buckeyes, that’s when I start to question the methodology of the committee (and I’m not going to get into the absurdity of a two-loss LSU at No. 7).

Following his appearance on ESPN’s rankings show, Mullens held a conference call with media in which discussing Ohio State’s plcement he said, “Well, obviously we watched the Maryland game and the games the weeks before. Their defense is struggling a little bit. Their offense is obviously keeping them in the games and helping them find a way to win. But that’s what it came down to.”

He’s not wrong there; by both traditional and advanced metrics, OSU’s offense is much better than their defense, take a look at their rankings below. But, you know what? They aren’t the only team in the Top 10 built like that.

Ohio State Offensive & Defensive Rankings

Category Rank
Category Rank
Offensive S&P+ 5
Defensive S&P+ 38
Total Offense Rank 2
Total Defense Rank 73

The very next question asked Mullens about Oklahoma’s defensive struggles and why that isn’t hampering their rankings, like it is the Buckeyes’.

“We have mentioned it in several weeks,” Mullens said, “but I think that’s balanced by the dynamic offense that they have and their ability to find a way to win riding that offense.”

Let me get this straight, Mr. Mullens, both teams have defensive struggles, but their offenses help them “find a way to win.” So, what you’re saying is that the Sooners’ offense is so much more dynamic than Ohio State’s that it counteracts their also dreadful defense to the tune of four spots in the CFP rankings. Ok, let’s take a look at OU’s rankings then.

Oklahoma’s Offensive & Defensive Rankings

Category Rank
Category Rank
Offensive S&P+ 1
Defensive S&P+ 77
Total Offense Rank 1
Total Defense Rank 87

I have never claimed to be a particularly intelligent man, but by all independent, analytic measures, Ohio State’s offense is at least in the same ballpark as Oklahoma’s, and their defense is at least marginally better than OU’s. Now, I’m not arguing that Ohio State would beat the Sooners on a neutral field — I would be terrified to see Greg Schiano’s defense try to stop Kyler Murray — but what I am arguing is that the CFP Selection Committee is just as arbitrary as the AP and Coaches polls that they were designed to be the opposite of; at least with the polls there’s about five times more people voting, so the craziness gets leveled out in the larger numbers.

Of course we all understand that there is no way that all 61 of the AP voters have time to watch all, or even some, of every major college football game. They have full-time jobs covering specific teams; ain’t nobody got time to delve into the advanced metrics for Boise State and Army after they’ve filed their gamers and press conference recaps.

Likewise, everyone knows that the 64 voters in the Coaches Poll are pretty much the SIDs or football administrative staff anyway. The coaches don’t have any interest in watching any other team that’s not on their schedule.

The committee was designed to be a group of knowledgeable individuals who understand the game at a deeper level than beat writers, but have more time to analyze it than the coaches. They were supposed to combine the subjective aspects of “the eye test” with the objective facts of stats, data, and analytics. However, what we have gotten from this group of administrators instead is simply more of the same, just with fewer counter-balances.

Let’s take a closer look at Ohio State and Oklahoma’s resumes side by side.

OU & OSU Rankings

Category Ohio State Oklahoma
Category Ohio State Oklahoma
Offensive S&P+ 5 1
Defensive S&P+ 38 77
Special Teams S&P+ 34 27
Bill C's Strength of Schedule 74 76
Total Offense Rank 2 1
Total Defense Rank 73 87
ESPN FPI 7 5
ESPN SOR 7 8

If you want to say that the Sooners’ offense is more dynamic than Ohio State’s, sure, go for it. But then you’d have to admit that the Buckeyes’ defense is better than OU’s as well. Those are incontrovertible facts based on any statistical analysis.

So, what’s playing into the fact that the offensive-dominated team from the Big 12 is getting more respect than the offensive-dominated team from the Big Ten? If you ask me — which I suppose you did by opening this article — it’s all about expectations. The Sooners are known for their high-flying offense, and their conference is known for not playing a lick of defense. So 2018 OU is constructed exactly how the committee expects it to be; and they are rewarded as such.

The Buckeyes, however, have had the grind-it-out, tedious zone-read offense of Urban Meyer and J.T. Barrett for the better part of the past four seasons, and a dominating defense for nearly two decades. The fact that neither of those things are true this year seems to be really messing with the minds of committee members. They don’t know how to evaluate a Buckeye defense that couldn’t stop a peewee squad from putting up 45; nor a Buckeye offense that is breaking passing records left and right. Also, it obviously doesn’t help that one committee member, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, has to recuse himself whenever OSU is being discussed.

The CFP Selection Committee has, since its inception, proven that it is going to do whatever it wants — which is their right, I suppose — and no amount of inquisition from the media will ever be able to pin them down on hard and fast rules for their rankings; primarily because there simply aren’t any.

Now admittedly, this is a bit of a tangent to the main discussion, but to avoid all of the constantly changing, amebic criteria, for me the answer is to go to eight teams; reserve five of the slots for the Power Five conference champions, and make the other three at-large selections. If you want to dedicate one of those three to an Independent or Group of Five team that meets a predetermined criteria, I’m down for that.

I was someone who, for a long time, was hesitant to embrace the idea of a playoff, because I was afraid that it would devalue the best regular season in sports. But, in my opinion, that hasn’t happened; the college football season is still the most thrilling and insane regular season there is, but there have been other unintended consequences, especially when it comes to non-conference scheduling.

With this format, the conference season becomes even more important, and there would only be two or three spots available for non-conference champions. So, the teams vying for those extra berths would have an even smaller margin of error than they do now, considering that they’d each already have at least one loss on the season. So, when comparing resumes, those with better wins would (theoretically) have a better chance to get in. Of course, every season has its own quirks, but the importance of big non-conference wins would obviously be higher when teams are fighting for two spots, rather than for four.

There would certainly need to be some changes with the individual conferences’ scheduling rules and things like that, but I’ll leave that to the commissioners and their staffs; I’m more of an ideas guy.

The point is, we developed the BCS because we wanted an analytical alternative to the subjective and “biased” polls. We then continually tinkered with the BCS until the polls were the overriding, most important part of its formula. Then, when expanding to a four-team playoff, we decided to leave the polls out all together, because of their inherent subjectiveness and “bias,” and instead we went with a group of “experts” who (pardon the football metaphor) move the goalposts every week, so that there is no possible objectiveness involved.

If you truly want the players and coaches to determine who wins the National Championship, get everyone else (reporters, ADs, SIDs, etc.) out of the equation as much as possible, and let it actually be decided on the field.