VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – The more things change in the chase for the U.S. collegiate football title, the more they stay the same.
Yes, we now have the College Football Playoff — CFP — in place of the old BCS (Bowl Championship Series) setup.
But the often dubious selection methodology of the previous system still remains, leaving the new operation STILL far from perfect.
Allow MAS to explain.
Now choosing the ball clubs that make up the current four-team championship playoff field (this season it includes Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma) is a 12-person “blue ribbon” committee.
That panel is comprised of athletic directors at major universities (several of whom are ex-coaches), administrative bigwigs from major colleges (school presidents and the like) and a few nationally-known citizens — like Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State.
Think of this group as the Supreme Court of college football rankings — their judgment is final.
This meeting of the minds as a way to slot four tournament teams replaced the former hodgepodge BCS method of selecting two title game participants via a complex conglomeration of coaches and sportswriter polls and computer nerd printouts.
Unfortunately the “Court’s” hazy criteria for placing ball clubs is very similar to and often just as puzzling as that of its predecessor.
Prime example: the critical win-loss record factor.
Once again this season, the CFP committee — like the BCS before it — did not see all losses as being equal.
As in years past, a late November defeat remains a death knell to a team’s title hopes. Yet an early season stumble out of the blocks continues to be overlooked.
Just look at the one-loss teams who made this season’s playoff field and those that didn’t.
Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma all lost earlier in the campaign and still made the Final Four.
Yet, left out were Ohio State and Iowa, each of which suffered its only defeat in the last game or two of this season.
Players and coaches will tell you a loss is a loss — period.
It doesn’t matter when you get them.
Not according to the CFP committee, though, with its short-term memory.
Instead, with them it’s all about “What have you done for me lately?”
This year, Oklahoma lost a midseason contest to 5-7 Texas, but went on to win the Big 12 Conference.
Alabama fell in game three to Mississippi (9-3), but rallied to win the SEC crown.
Michigan State, before it got hot as the regular season wound down and won the Big 10 championship, had fallen to a team with a losing record — Nebraska.
Somehow winning conference championships erased a particularly bad early defeat for those teams.
But who’s to say late one- game losers Ohio State and Iowa — despite the fact they didn’t win the Big Ten — weren’t as deserving as Alabama and Oklahoma?
After all, they both lost close games to a one loss team Final Four team (Michigan State — which itself would have been out of the playoffs with a second loss if not for the miraculous gift win bestowed upon it by Michigan).
You could even make a Final Four case for two-loss teams Stanford, the Pac-12 titlist, and Notre Dame.
Each played a brutal schedule devoid of any FCS (old Division I-AA) and non-power five conference foes.
Alabama and Michigan State, meanwhile, loaded up on such lesser caliber non-league foes (Alabama had three of them).
OK, OK, perhaps MAS is guilty of going all Don Quixote with the late-loss doomsday bit.
But you must admit, it is a curious phenomenon.
Just maybe, conference titles should NOT lessen the impact of particularly ugly early losses.
And don’t get MAS started on the vague criteria terminology the committee likes to throw around to defend its rankings gobbledygook like resume, body of work, eye test, yada, yada, yada.
What the . . . !
Plus, they also incorporate that pox on ALL sports evaluations: sabermetrics.
Bottom line: Were there any egregious errors in the CFP rankings this year like the omission last year of both Baylor and TCU, one-loss co-champs of the Big 12?
However, MAS believes the CFP Committee is fortunate that the pieces fell rather neatly into place and it was able to avoid a major controversy.
To prevent any future such situations from materializing, perhaps some tweaks are in order.
Maybe the playoff field should be increased to six teams, with first-round byes for the top two seeds.
Or eight ball clubs.
And then if your team isn’t good enough to squeeze into the eighth and final spot, zip it. You’ve got no gripe.
Now, MAS has no horse in this race. He just feels as well-meaning as the CFP setup is, it’s STILL not a good enough method to determine a national champion.
As things stand now, MAS fears only more meaningful inter-conference play could force a change in the committee’s playoff rankings modus operandi.
And that’s highly unlikely.
So, we’re stuck with the Supreme Court for at least the next decade.
But, despite this rant, MAS doesn’t hate the CFP.
It is what it is — and what the BCS was, except it just chooses two more teams.
In fact, MAS is looking forward to what shapes up as an intriguing tournament beginning this weekend.
In the first round, top-seeded and lone unbeaten Clemson will take on surprising Oklahoma, which the Tigers slaughtered 40-6 in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl.
Can you say “revenge motive”?
Alabama vs. Michigan State in the other semifinal is a smash-mouth football lover’s dream matchup.
MAS sees a Bama and Oklahoma final.
The Sooners feature quarterback Baker Mayfield, “Johnny Football” Manziel 2.0 — or 2015.
Meanwhile, the well-rounded Crimson Tide boasts this season’s Heisman Trophy winner in bulldozing yet nimble running back Derrick Henry.
It will be Bama’s offensive and defensive power vs. Oklahoma’s explosive attack (52 points or more in five of its last seven games).
However, the Sooners have also given up points in bunches at times.
In the end, Alabama’s prowess on both sides of the ball enables it to win yet ANOTHER national championship.
Like MAS said, the more things change in college ball, the more they stay the same.
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