Tramel: College Football Playoff committee faces impossible task in this COVID-altered season
Brigham Young University has played nine football games this season. Oregon and Southern Cal have played three each.
And this week, the College Football Playoff committee has been comparing their résumés.
It’s like judging golfers who had tee times two hours apart, in the middle of their rounds. It’s an impossible task. And Tuesday night, the committee will announce its initial rankings of the season, leading up to the Dec. 20 unveiling of the playoff’s four-team field.
Good luck to the committee, good luck to the blood pressures of fans from the banks of Lake Michigan to the Florida swamps, good luck to the integrity of college football.
“You’re comparing apples to oranges,” said Iowa State coach Matt Campbell. “That’s a really great question for the people that make those decisions. That’s a unique challenge in this type of year.”
This type of year includes some Power 5 conferences that started in September, some that started in October and some that started in November. This type of year includes some contenders that figure to play 12 games and some contenders that figure to play half that many, if they’re lucky. This type of year includes zero — none, nada, zilch — non-conference games matching Power 5 teams.
“I think they've got their hands full,” Mike Gundy said. “They're going to earn their money, if they get paid. I don't have any idea how they would take into account what's going on across the country.”
This is basically the equivalent of ranking high school teams from different states. Just one big guessing game.
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“It’s a tough deal,” said Lincoln Riley. “To me the only way that you can do it is you have to put more stock in the eye test. That’s the one common theme that you have with all the teams is you can watch them play. Are they skating by or are they dominating? That’s the only answer I have.”
The Big 12 is very close to being a neutral observer. OU has made four of the last five playoffs, but with every conference team having at least two losses, the Big 12 is virtually eliminated from consideration.
The committee never has selected a two-loss team to the playoff, though in the old BCS days of a two-team playoff, LSU in 2007 made the championship game with two defeats and beat Ohio State for the title.
With all the pandemic postponements and cancellations and protocols, the college football season is staggering towards a finish line. We don’t even know for sure that there is a finish line.
What happens if an Alabama-Florida SEC title game or a Clemson-Notre Dame ACC title game is wiped out by COVID-19? Would the games be postponed? Would the committee meet and pick a playoff field? Are we going to have a national championship game on Jan. 11 no matter what?
One thing clearly will be obvious Tuesday night, after the first rankings. The committee will indeed use the eye test; it always has, even when it wasn’t necessary.
Not so obvious will be whether the committee gives favor to teams that have played significantly more games. If so, even the two-loss Big 12 teams retain a glimmer of hope. OU, Texas, Iowa State and OSU all could run the table and finish 9-2 as the Big 12 champ.
“I think the playoff should be the four best teams that have an opportunity to win a national championship at the end of the season,” said Texas coach Tom Herman, opting for “best” over “most deserving” in the eternal playoff debate.
“I don’t think an opening-day loss in a COVID season to Louisiana (Iowa State’s fate) should prevent somebody” from playoff consideration. “We kind of beat each other up in this conference. We have more parity in this league than any other league in the country.”
Herman is right. The Big 12 does have more parity. But results matter. Iowa State lost to Louisiana-Lafayette on opening day. Kansas State lost to Arkansas State on opening day. And each of the next two Saturdays, ISU and K-State beat the Sooners, who have been rolling since.
The Big 12’s best hope is that the committee decides to give extra credence to conference championships this season, and that no mid-major — a BYU, a Cincinnati — stumbles or gets shunned because life isn’t fair.
Riley suggested that a conference getting all or most of its games in also should be considered. The Big Ten scheduled seven conference games per team, plus a league title game, but four games already have been canceled. The Pac-12 had six conference games scheduled per team and already has had five cancellations after just three weeks.
“You’re gonna have a lot of people that played a lot less games,” Riley said. “It’s gonna be hard for the committee. I don’t know how you decide between a team that didn’t even have the opportunity to lose some of the games and then teams that played more of a full schedule.
“I know for a fact, we’ve had several teams in our league this year that have played games when other teams in other leagues — and I’m not saying they shouldn’t have or should have; I’m not casting stones here — canceled. And so how do you make the decision there if it comes down to it? It’ll be a tough job for the committee.”
The committee always has had to deal with strength of schedules and the eye tests and balancing the importance of league titles. Now comes a new element. Some teams are on the back nine. Some teams will never see the 10th hole.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.