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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2013 BCS vs. Playoff analysis, which would be the most fair?

Have you ever heard the expression "be careful what you wish for?"  This season, college football narrowly avoided much more controversy than it ended up with in the BCS Championship Game, in which there are few doubts that the two teams belong and should be playing for a title.  A few weeks ago, I analyzed how a four-team, and eight-team would have stacked up with the BCS (two-team) playoff the past three seasons, and four-team did the worst (as measured by controversy of excluding teams and being the most equitable) as compared to two-team and eight-team.  I think 2013 would have just piled on that conclusion.

For reference, here were the final BCS Standings (recognizing these won't be used exclusively going forward, but provide some reference to how teams rank in human and computer polls).
Final BCS Standings Top 10
1. Florida State (13-0) .9957
2. Auburn (12-1) .9638
3. Alabama (11-1) .9061
4. Michigan State (12-1) .8600
5. Stanford (11-2) .8191
6. Baylor (11-1) .7722
7. Ohio State (12-1) .7705
8. Missouri (11-2) .7256
9. South Carolina (10-2) .7152
10. Oregon (10-2) .5811

Nobody can argue Florida State, as the only undefeated team in college football, is the clear #1 seed no matter what playoff system we use. 

Few are arguing that Auburn isn't the clear #2.  As much as Alabama wants to argue they have style points over the whole season, a win on the field prevails and Auburn is the best one-loss team (despite a 2 TD loss earlier in the season).

The BCS gave us a clear-cut two teams, will we be
as lucky to avoid controversy next year?


Now things get more complicated.  The next five teams are either a one-loss conference champion (Michigan State, Baylor), a one-loss non-champ to a team above them (Ohio State and Alabama), or a two-loss Stanford team that played the toughest schedule (according to Sagarin, all SOS going forward will reference this).

The case for each:
Alabama - one loss in the last second, on the road, to a rival.  Despite playing in the SEC, the out of conference schedule wasn't too challenging, plus they played the two worst teams from the East (Kentucky and Tennessee), leading to a 46th overall strength-of-schedule.  The team only played four road games (lost to Auburn, great game at Texas A&M, then easy wins at Mississippi State and Kentucky).  They more than passed the eye test by only allowing more than 17 points twice (Texas A&M and Auburn).  They seemingly put up points with ease when they needed to, but didn't register video game numbers like others.
Alabama but for one play would be playing
for their third straight title

Michigan State - Nobody was talking about this team all year, because of their conference rival Ohio State's seemingly foregone conference title.  The Spartans struggled early in the season with offense, but found a rhythm late, including plenty against the Buckeyes.  Michigan State's SOS is 56, but not real big wins outside of the Big 10 Conference Championship Game.  Their only loss was narrow (and low scoring) at Notre Dame, oh to have that game back.  This team isn't big on the eye test, but the win over OSU helps (see a theme here).  Their biggest win BESIDES that one would probably have to be, uhhhh, Iowa?

Michigan State finally got a signature win against
the Ohio State Buckeyes to win the Big 10
Stanford - Two losses is the condemning factor here.  But they won the Pac 12, the highest rated conference according to Sagarin.  And finished with the 4th toughest schedule in the country, far and away the best in the BCS Top 10 (Auburn #20 is closest).  Their biggest win was Oregon, then Arizona State twice, UCLA, and Notre Dame (much better than Michigan State down the line).  Oh but the two losses, both on the road by a combined 9 points, but to enigma USC (forgivable) and then Utah (unforgivable).  Without the Utah loss I think it's clear cut.  With it, I have trouble putting them above the stiff competition discussed here.  They eye test is solid, when they're good, they look like they could beat anybody.

Stanford danced all over tough competition, but lost
to a bad Utah team
Ohio State - After Auburn beat Alabama, the Buckeyes had the inside track to the BCS Championship Game.  Then lost (and was really beaten) by the above Michigan State.  With a similar SOS to Michigan State (#57), they fit the same bill.  An impressive win against Wisconsin, but after that, once again, Iowa looks like their best quality opponent.  And they almost lost to Michigan but for a 2-point conversion stop.  The eye test is what carries them, lots of athletes on the field and they can score with ease.  Suspect defense causes some trepidation if they were to play a team like FSU or Auburn.

Ohio State has the same problem as Alabama, wrong
loss at the wrong time to lose the conference

Baylor - Nobody gives the Bears near as much credit for their 11-1 run vs. the above resumes.  Maybe it's their SOS at 61, the worst among the group.  But they did win their conference (two of the above didn't).  Their loss was the ugliest of the lot, blown out (and exposed) on the road to Oklahoma State in a game that was never close.  Their most impressive wins were blowout wins over Texas and Oklahoma (who would have thought we would be saying that ten years ago).  The eye test is valid, they put up points in a hurry and can run or pass and play better defense than given credit for.  It's just a matter of how much one bad day penalizes you.

The high-flying Big 12 Champ Bears resume may not
stack up against other conference champs
So two of these five would make the four-team playoffIf it's conference titles you lean toward then it's two of Michigan State, Stanford, and Baylor.  If you want the best eye test, it's probably Stanford and Alabama.  If you want the best TV ratings or fans that travel, it's probably Alabama and Ohio State.  If you're drinking the SEC punch, it's Alabama and Missouri (or South Carolina).

What I think the committee would do: Add Alabama and Michigan State.  Stanford's two losses eliminate them, and Baylor's SOS eliminates them.  Ohio State can't get in over Michigan State and wouldn't over Alabama.  The committee keeps sword-rattling that SOS is important, though, would that carry Stanford?  Either way, tough questions for the committee at the presser after the decision was made.

What I would do: All conference champions.  Stanford is in because of SOS in the best conference.  Then Michigan State because of closer loss (than Baylor) and slightly better best win (Ohio State vs. Oklahoma).

Who I think are the best four teams in the nation: Florida State, Auburn, Alabama, and Stanford.

It will be interesting who the committee reconciles that.

If there were an eight team playoff, who I would add: Story for another blog.  Next two up are Missouri and South Carolina, the latter beat the former, but the former won the SEC East.  Would also be a third SEC team, is that fair?  Oregon suffered a BAD loss to Arizona.  Off that Top 10 is Oklahoma (ugly losses to Texas and Baylor).  And American Athletic Conference Champion Central Florida, just one loss, but to the aforementioned South Carolina.  I'd just give FSU a first round bye.  But if I had to pick, South Carolina by virtue of head-to-head over Missouri (and quality out-of-conference wins vs. Central Florida, ACC powerhouse Clemson, and bowl participant North Carolina in addition to an SEC schedule).

How would this Eight-team playoff look to you?

So going back to the rankings I gave the fairness of the systems in the previous blog
BCS: A (not perfectly clear, but pretty close)
4-team: C- (there are good teams not in)
8-team: B- (just the eighth team is hard to rectify).

As I said, be careful what you wish for.  Anybody who thinks a four-team playoff will be better may not have thought it through.

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