Playoff picks all about perspective and consensus
Playoff picks all about perspective and consensus
RALPH D. RUSSO
Oct. 10, 2014
GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) — The eye test was of utmost importance to one committee member. One wasn't trying to predict winners of hypothetical matchups. Another was doing exactly that.
There was a person who always came back to head-to-head results. One gave extra weight to the nonconference schedule. Another put more stock in conference games. I leaned heavily on metrics and gave conference champions the benefit when the teams were close.
In the end, the media members who gathered Thursday in a hotel conference room in Texas to participate in the mock selection process of the 2008 season created a top 25 and playoff matchup.
Ultimately, the teams selected weren't important. Six years later, it's still hard to get people to agree upon who was better, Texas or Oklahoma.
What was significant was the way we went about picking the 'best' teams in college football. There was plenty of debate and divergent opinions on what factors were most important — and it took a lot of consensus.
(But in case you're wondering, we sent No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 Southern California to the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Texas in a Red River Rose Bowl rematch. Penn State and Alabama didn't make the cut.)
The real committee will start this task Oct. 27, when it meets in the same room to put together its top 25. Their final rankings will determine the first teams in the College Football Playoff in January.
Selection committee chairman Jeff Long said the actual members went through a similar trial and the conversation echoed ours, but their outcomes differed.
Our mock committee was armed with binders filled with statistical portfolios of each FBS team from the 2008, through the conference championship games. The stats are the only ones the committee can use and include a metric called relative offense (and defense and scoring) which helps adjust for competition.
For example: USC allowed its opponents to score only 28.06 percent of their season averages, by far the best in the nation. By comparison, Florida allowed its opponents to score 49.76 percent of their season average. Alabama was at 48.89 percent. Penn State was 49.76 percent. Those relative numbers became a focal point during the discussions.
One tricky thing for the media members that the real panel won't face was we had to discount what happened in the 2008 postseason.
It would have helped to have one of those flashing light neuralyzers Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith used in "Men in Black" to erase Utah's thumping of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and USC's rout of Penn State in the Rose Bowl from our minds. But as the process went on, it became easier to focus on the teams' resumes.
The room was filled with large screens used mostly to keep track of which teams were being discussed and to compare as many as four teams side-by-side. Laptops were used for voting. The tables were laid out in a horseshoe, and you had to speak up to be heard above side conversations.
Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated played the role of chairman and sergeant at arms, moving things along and keeping things civil. Most of the people in the room have known each other for a while, which created a comfort level that we should hope the actual committee has.
The camaraderie created a setting that allowed for spirited debate without concerns about hurt feelings. People were not shy about challenging other's ideas.
We probably should have done this at the very start, but at an early break, we decided to go around the room and have each member talk about how they would rank teams.
That might turn into a tip for the committee — Long said he might borrow the idea.
Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News mentioned putting an emphasis on quarterback play. Heather Dinich of ESPN.com liked comparative stats.
From Jerry Palm of CBS.com: "Margin of victory is important in football." I couldn't agree more with this and pointed out that while margin of victory in a single game can be deceiving, over the course of an entire season, it's telling.
ESPN's Holly Rowe would have liked to have had the opportunity to break down film. "Can this right tackle block this speed rusher?" she said.
While ESPN analyst Rod Gilmore felt tough nonconference schedules should be rewarded, Matt Hayes of the Sporting News dissented.
"It's very hard to play well on the road in your conference," Hayes said. "They know your personnel."
All those different perspectives made for a winding road to consensus.
Staples said when he looked at two teams he was trying to decide which he thought would win if they played.
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports!, thought differently: "I'm not trying to predict who will win. What did you do to get to the playoff?"
The voting procedure is nothing like the way the AP Top 25 or coaches' poll are compiled. Teams are grouped, discussed, and then ranked. And, yes, the debate can sway opinions.
Within an hour of a five-hour meeting (the actual committee has 20 hours to put together its rankings), it was apparent that Southeastern Conference champion Florida, Big 12 champion Oklahoma and Texas, which beat Oklahoma, were in and the final spot would come down to Big Ten champion Penn State, SEC runner-up Alabama and Pac-12 champion USC.
Then, someone made the case for each team.
Stewart Mandel of Fox took USC. Forde took Alabama. Rowe took Penn State.
I thought USC was the clear No. 4, and could have made a case for the Trojans in the top three. I was sitting next to USA Today's George Schroeder, who agreed with me about the Trojans. Next to him was Pete Fiutak of Campus Insiders.com. He also felt strongly about USC in the top four. Sitting next to like-minded committee members helped bolster my confidence in my choice.
But the process did change minds, including mine.
In part, Staple's argument that Oklahoma had the best resume and Texas beat that team won me over. While I didn't agree that Texas should be No. 1 and ahead of OU, like Staples, I did agree that both should be ahead of Florida.
The group as a whole disagreed and after three votes, the Gators stayed on top. And I could live with that.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP