Top 5 Lessons Learned From Year 1 of the College Football Playoff

     Now that the college football season has concluded, it is time to reflect on the year that transpired. This year was especially special due to it being the first season to use the four-team playoff system, and to have the four teams competing in the playoff determined by a committee of actual humans instead of a computer program that only served to arise anger out of every college football fan whose team wasn’t undefeated.  So how did the new system fare, and more importantly, was it better than the old system?  What did this season tell us about how the system will act in the future?  Here are the top five things we can take away from the college football playoff after its inaugural year.

     1) The committee is not afraid to be controversial: The BCS system felt highly predictable, as from week to week as long as a team didn’t lose they seemed to only be able to go up in the rankings.  However, this season the committee has made it clear that they are looking far beyond just the win-loss record and evaluating each team freshly every week based on their entire body of work.  If a team won every game they played, but only by a few points per game while a one-loss team was slaughtering opponents, the one-loss team came out ahead in the rankings.  Through this, an undefeated Florida State team which would have never fallen from the #1 spot in the BCS rankings ended the season at #3, which I view as a win for the system.  This doesn’t only apply to the top few teams either.  Throughout the entire top 25, it really seemed like each individual game was only part of a team’s resume, which was evaluated on a week to week basis.  If the committee felt a team had been underperforming or over-performing, they could pass other teams that weren’t losing, but weren’t winning as dominantly.  The committee proved they would do what they believed as right, and that’s important.

     2) Winning your conference is essential: All four teams that ended up making the playoff won their conference championship game, and the only power five conference that didn’t receive a spot in the playoff was the Big 12, the only conference with regular season co-champions, and the only conference without a conference title game.  Both Baylor and TCU would probably have made the playoff if they were the outright winner of the conference, but the opinion of the committee seemed to be that a team is not deserving to play for a national title if they can’t even lock up their own conference, which while it is a shame, is understandable.  Additionally, by winning a conference championship game, a team gets another high quality victory to improve their resume.  Ohio State wouldn’t have made the playoff if not for a thrashing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, and while in the end we know they deserved to make it, TCU and Baylor didn’t get a chance to get that statement win that could’ve put them through.

     3) We need more teams: It’s a great start, but just a four team system doesn’t feel like enough teams.  For starters, it’ll always leave out at least one power conference altogether from the playoffs, which means not all the best teams will be represented.  Also, it is my opinion that an undefeated team from a non-power five conference deserves a spot in the playoffs as well.  However, this will almost definitely not happen under a four-team playoff.  Marshall started the season 11-0, but was only ranked #24 prior to their first loss, behind six three-loss teams among others.  Sure, Marshall played an incredibly weak schedule, but even so, that means going into the season they have no chance regardless of if they win every game they play, which is unfair.  Based purely on reputation, Boise State would be the best chance for a smaller school to make the playoff, but even that seems unlikely.  I also believe that, for instance, if Alabama lost the SEC championship game this season to finish the year 11-2, they would still deserve a spot in the playoff based on their overall performance. Ideally, an eight team playoff leaves room for the five power conference champions, any undefeated teams, and the best second place teams from a few conferences (which, in the Alabama case, would include some teams who were the best in their conference but just lost their championship game).  Any more than eight would really seem to be a stretch, but eight sounds like a good number.

     4) We’re still working out the kinks: Should head to head play be the sole determining factor in who is better between two teams of similar quality, like TCU and Baylor?  Can two teams from one conference make the playoff in this system?  How much do we value a team’s ability to go undefeated versus strength of schedule and margin of victory?  Can a two-loss team make the playoff under any circumstances?  These are just a few of the questions the committee has been forced to make or will be forced to make at some point in the future, and it’s too early to tell how the committee really feels about these dilemmas, just because we’ve only experienced one season in this format.  The rankings seemed inconsistent at times, most notably how TCU went from #5 to #3, then down to #6 and back up to #3 in the last three rankings of the year despite winning all of those three games by at least 38 points, seemingly gipped out of the playoffs.  Just with any new system, there will be flaws that need to be fixed, and hopefully over time the committee gets a better feel for how they should act and make decisions.

     5) It’s the right system at the end of the day: This is really the most important part, isn’t it?  The playoff system is better for college football than the BCS system, and that’s what really matters.  Ohio State won this year’s playoff.  In the BCS system, they wouldn’t have been ranked in the top two (possibly not even in the top four), and thus would not be able to win the national championship even though we all can agree that they earned the title and proved themselves to be the best team in college football.  The BCS system would have chosen Florida State to play Alabama in the championship, because Florida State was undefeated and Alabama seemed to be the strongest team with one loss.  However, in reality both of these teams were eliminated in the national semifinals.  What the playoff system does is allow more teams the opportunity to compete for the national championship so we can be more confident in naming a true champion than having a team win the title but then wondering what would’ve happened if they played the #3 or #4 team.  I think we can all agree that that’s a good thing.

     Thanks for reading,
     Connor

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