Edwards on challenges of picking playoff

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
5:30
PM ET
Little will be more interesting this fall than following -- and speculating about -- the College Football Playoff selection committee as it conducts what is certain to be its highly controversial process.

The biggest curiosity likely will fall on how the committee assesses and then uses strength of schedule. Want controversy? What if a 1-loss SEC team beats out an undefeated Big 12 team? Or a two-loss Pac-12 team beats out a 1-loss SEC team?

We'd have the equivalent of pitchforks and torches on Twitter.

With this in mind, ESPN.com's mathematically inclined analyst Brad Edwards looked at some of the challenges ahead for the committee and offered some insightful advice Insider.

As for the process, he noted that it will be different than the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee.
Current indications are that the football committee will have no common data source, and it will be up to each member to decide which numbers, if any, are worth evaluating. Some people might argue that this will cause the football committee to be less analytical than the basketball version, but I disagree. I think less structure will better allow a room of intelligent people to make their decisions as informed as possible.

Edwards then uses some ESPN Stats & Info metrics to break down how things might have stacked up in 2013: Average In-Game Win Probability and Chance of W-L Record for an Average Top-25 Team.

That introduced one of our above apocalyptic scenarios: The 2013 Stanford problem. What Stanford did last season against a brutal 13-game schedule before the Rose Bowl -- going 11-2 -- was arguably as impressive as what any other team accomplished, including unbeaten Florida State. Edwards has the numbers to prove it. Consider this point:
Perhaps the more interesting revelation is that going 11-2 against Stanford's schedule was deemed to be harder than going 11-1 against Alabama's. Thanks to the Big Ten championship game, Michigan State's one-loss record was also more unlikely than Alabama's.

Now can you imagine if the selection committee picked Stanford over Alabama last season? Oh my.

Yet this is the reality if the selection committee does its job the right way. While the traditional polls have typically privileged record -- and sometimes regional biases -- the selection committee must recognize that schedule often determines record. Teams that play a nine-game conference schedule and a tough nonconference slate should be given a substantial head start compared to teams that play eight conference games and a poor-to-middling nonconference schedule.
It may not happen in the first season of the College Football Playoff, but at some point in the first few seasons, there will be a two-loss team that's more deserving of a playoff berth than a one-loss team (or a whole pack of one-loss teams). Whenever that does happen, it will be important for the credibility of the selection committee that the two-loss team is rewarded accordingly. This is one way for the committee to prove that it's superior to its predecessors -- the polls and BCS standings, which were never quite able to acknowledge that the loss column isn't always the most important number.

The good news, as Edwards notes, is we already are seeing teams beefing up future nonconference schedules. The Pac-12 blog has long thought that, after rivalry games, big-time September nonconference games are the best thing in college football.

Ted Miller | email

College Football

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