Top 5 CFP Observations: We have playoffs in college football finally, but we don't have fairness

December 8, 2014

Over the weekend, the College Football Playoff (CFP) Selection Committee announced the four teams that will play in the first playoffs NCAA college football history. The verdict: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State. Sorry Big 12 Conference, but neither TCU nor Baylor get in.

Top-seeded SEC champs Alabama will face Big 10 champion No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. In the Rose Bowl, Pac-12 champion No. 2 Oregon will face undefeated ACC champs, No. 3 Florida State.

Both games will played on January 1, 2015.

“We have two outstanding playoff semifinals which will set the stage for a dynamic national championship game,” said College Football Playoff Selection Committee Chair Jeff Long.

Okay, let's be clear that it's not easy to argue that any of the team's who made it are totally undeserving. Nonetheless, there are so many things wrong with this system that it's difficult to know where to begin.

Here are five quick questions we have for the CFP Selection Committee and their decision-making process.

1. Does "head-to head" matter a lot to you guys or not?

Going into the final game of the playoff, there was spirited debate about whether TCU deserved to be ranked ahead of Baylor, as both  Big 12 teams had only one conference loss.

The argument for TCU was the eyeball test: that they simply looked more impressive throughout the course of the season. The Horned Frog's lone loss at Baylor, by a 61-58 score, could be viewed as basically a choke job, not really indicative of who was the better team.

The argument for Baylor was even easier: the Bears beat TCU in the head-to-head. In almost any playoff system that usually means they should get priority.

The Selection Committee, by ranking TCU over Baylor throughout the season, seemed to take the position that the head-to-head record of teams even within the same conference didn't matter that much to them. Yet in the final weekend, they had Baylor jump TCU in the polls (#5 and #6 respectively), making it all the more confusing.

2. Why the heck did you rank TCU #3 going into the final weekend if you had almost no intention of letting them in the playoffs?

Whether you liked it or not, the Selection Committee had at least seemingly made a decision regarding the Baylor-TCU issue on the side of TCU, as the Horned Frog's were ranked #3 and seemingly in control of their own destiny. Playing a bad team in Iowa State this past weekend, TCU crushed them as they were supposed to, 55-3.

As a reward, they dropped out of the top four entirely. Does that make sense?

I suppose it only makes sense if you realize that the weekly rankings released by the Selection Committee, and televised with great hype anticipation every Tuesday evening, were pretty much a big joke. Don't they realize the entire system loses even more credibility when they do stuff like this?

3. If either TCU or Baylor had lost, would Ohio State have still gotten in?

Almost everyone seems to agree that the Big 12 was a better conference than the Big 10. In this imperfect system, it should be clear that, overall records being equal, the winner of the stronger conference should get priority.

So why didn't TCU or Baylor get in over Ohio State?

The most common reason given is that the Big 12 lacks a conference championship game and the Selection Committee rewarded Ohio State for winning theirs. Don't buy it.

The guess here is that the real reason was the Big 12 was too good for its own good. Picking between TCU and Baylor was a tough decision for the Selection Committee. Clearly they felt that TCU was the better team, but backlash about leaving  the "head-to-head" winner out was undoubtedly bothering them.

If either TCU or Baylor had made it easier on them by eliminating themselves with a loss, the other almost surely would have been chosen.

Considering that, it's hard to understand how suddenly Ohio State should be viewed as better than either of them.

4. When does reality actually catch up with the SEC's reputation?

The SEC is not the top conference in college football conference on the field anymore. They went 5-6 against the other four major conferences this past season. The conference used to have a huge proportion of the standout defense players in college football. Now it's just a shootout conference like every other.

Even (gasp) ESPN suggested the Big 12 may have passed them this season. You wouldn't be wrong in arguing that TCU and Baylor have looked better than Alabama this season.

Certainly Oregon, at least, should be ahead of the Crimson Tide. The Ducks have played better most of the season and this past weekend avenged their earlier season loss to Arizona by destroying the Wildcats in the Pac-12 title game, 51-13. The Pac-12 as a whole also went an impressive 9-3 against the other major conferences (includes 2-1 vs. Notre Dame).

Yet once again the Selection Committee, by ranking Alabama #1, is basically making an unofficial statement that the SEC is the best conference. As a reward, they get to play an Ohio State team, starting a third-string QB, that is very lucky to be in the playoffs at all. ESPN should be thrilled.

5. Why is ACC-winner Florida State, the defending national champions who have a 29-game winning streak, not ranked #1?

For most of the season there has been a presumption that the ACC was substantially inferior to the other four major conferences. However, on-field performance suggests that's probably not the case.

The ACC has the most total wins against the four other major conferences, buttressed by a recent 4-0 weekend against the overrated SEC. Their 10-7 record in those major conference games ranks second among the Big 5 in winning percentage to only the Pac-12.

Yes, we all know that the Seminoles have "looked unimpressive" an inordinate number of times this season. Each week it seems they squeeze victory from the jaws of defeat, often against the most mediocre opposition.

But the Seminoles are still the only undefeated team in college football. At the end of the day, do we really care more about "style points" than victories?

Is this football or a beauty pageant?


For all of the frustrating questions the final selections have raised, the granddaddy of them all for me has to be this final one:

Did you intentionally seek to keep the controversy of the bowl system alive by having only four playoff slots when you knew there were five major conferences?

The CFP couldn't have been so blind as to not foresee the idiocy of this outcome. The system, by its nature, was going to screw over at least one major conference champion (perhaps more if they chose to recognize a uniquely good smaller conference team).

Although also imperfect, the easiest solution has always been to ensure the inclusion of every major conference winner.

Yes, there will always be an understandable argument that a "second place" team in a particular major conference is better than the champion of another major conference that is having a particularly weak year. But at least each team would know the rules at the beginning of the season: Win your conference and your in, fail to do so and you're out. No excuses.

Of course, the process doesn't work so logically.

Perhaps they believe we are so addicted to the old "polls" system that we would be lost without it, not knowing what to do from week-to-week.

But you also have to wonder if they intentionally make the process screwed up because arguing fans draw more attention to the sport.

By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

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