Alabama won the BCS Championship Game in January. The fact that the Tide won said title in a rematch over LSU helped stir up so much ill will toward the SEC’s success that we’ll soon arrive in a new playoff age.
But would Bama have even made a playoff last year?
Oh, I know, it’s hard to imagine the Crimson Tide not making the field. They were ranked #2 in the BCS formula and had been many folks’ preseason favorite to win it all. They didn’t have a bad loss on their schedule, unlike #3 Oklahoma State (to Iowa State, a 6-7 team) and #4 Stanford (53-30 losers to Oregon). They also had but one loss, unlike #5 Oregon (which lost 40-27 to LSU and 38-35 to Southern Cal).
Plus, Tide fans, yes… they’re BAMA!
It’s hard to imagine the #2 team in the human polls not being chosen to play in a playoff. But the human polls sure don’t mean much to the NCAA Tournament selection committee. How many times have we seen a team’s seed fall far, far away from where its rating in the polls suggests it will fall? The polls in college basketball literally mean nothing. Who’s to say that won’t be the case in football, too?
This is a playoff that was created as a means of leveling the playing field and ending SEC dominance. So before we go any further, take off your SEC beanie and put on the cap of a fan from some other league. Don’t dismiss what we’re about to say simply because you believe — as I do — that the SEC plays superior footbal. Many folks outside the South don’t hear that, don’t believe that, and don’t accept that.
So try to think like an anti-SEC person for the next few paragraphs.
Right now we know that a selection committee will be formed to decide who “the best four teams” really are. Your vote and the AP’s vote won’t count. Neither will computers. Long a backer of the SEC’s strength, computers are now out the window. And if you’re thinking the committee will still use some form of computer formula behind closed doors, you might not want to read the following:
So how will the field be chosen if human polls and computer formulas aren’t used? According to the playoff-creators as a whole, the new selection committee will focus on a number of criteria. From the press release earlier this week:
“Among the factors the committee will value are win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, and whether a team is a conference champion.”
Hmmm. Admittedly, we don’t know what other factors the committee will consider in their deliberations. So let’s just look at those factors that were specifically mentioned and see how they relate to the argument for Alabama’s playoff inclusion in 2011:
Win-loss record — That 11-1 record would have been awfully good for Alabama’s case last year.
Strength of schedule — Not so much. Penn State turned out not to be the foe they had traditionally been. Remaining nonconference games against cupcakes Kent State, North Texas and Georgia Southern wouldn’t have helped much, either. Toss in SEC games against Ole Miss (2-10), Vanderbilt (6-7), Florida (7-6) and Mississippi State (7-6) and you’ve got some issues.
Head-to-head results — Alabama lost to LSU on its homefield. In fact, the Tide couldn’t even manage a touchdown in that game. Game of the Century? Most Americans yawned at the defensive slugfest. (A slugfest I found riveting and tense, by the way.)
Whether a team is a conference champion — Whoops. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany recently said he wouldn’t hold a team that didn’t win it’s own division with much regard. That’s Bama, people. And not only did the Red Elephants not win their conference, they didn’t even win their own division.
To paraphrase Henry Fonda from “12 Angry Men,” “Isn’t it possible” that the people on a selection committee might choose to exclude an SEC non-division-winner… that lacked a good nonconference win… and lost head-to-head in its battle for #1… on its own home field?
Hell, yes, it’s possible. Likely? Probably not. But definitely possible. Especially considering the “let’s spread it around” feel and anti-SEC rancor that it took to push this playoff into being in the first place.
Now, before anyone puts Spike 80DF in the trees in my yard, I believe Alabama was the top team in the country last year. I think they did deserve to be in the title game. I believe recent NFL drafts have shown that the best athletes play in the SEC. I also consider the fact that that only SEC team to ever lose a BCS Championship Game lost it to another SEC school. So I’d have had Bama in the playoffs.
But a committee — depending on who would have been on it and how they would have weighed the factors above and what biases they might have brought into their meeting room — might have seen things very differently. Think Delany or someone like him would have included a team he didn’t hold in high regard?
In all likelihood, teams ranked #3 and #4 in the human polls will be in more jeopardy of being jumped by lower-ranked conference champions than a squad ranked second. There would be screams from the populace if a team ranked #2 in the polls were excluded from a playoff.
Trouble is, it took 143 years of screaming from the populace to get us to a playoff. Would a selection committee really worry about a few months worth of hate mail from fans or a few days worth of barbs from Kirk Herbstreit on ESPN? The NCAA basketball selection committee doesn’t seem to care what Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale, you or I say about the choices each and every March.
So simply assuming that last year’s national title-winner would have even made a playoff field requires a leap of faith. And I don’t have a lot of faith in building an objective selection committee in what’s currently an staunchly anti-SEC world.