For many years, a defining trait of college football was the yearly debate about which team was the best that season.
The introduction of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998 was supposed to end that, but it didn’t most of the time.
The move to the College Football Playoff in 2014 failed to do so, too, although that perspective might be dependent on where a person happens to live.
Fans in the south had to be pretty happy with the way 2017 played out. The region claimed three of the four spots in the CFP field, including two from the SEC, and produced another national champion (Alabama).
Travel north, though, and there is less consensus — as evidenced by some the chatter at the Big Ten Football Media Days for 2018.
‘What is the committee truly valuing?’
While Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was sure to brag about all his league’s accomplishments on the field last year — three top 10 teams in the final polls, a 7-1 record in bowls, rising attendance overall, high TV ratings — he also couldn’t avoid discussing the elephant in the room.
If the conference was so great, why didn’t it have a team in the College Football Playoff?
“You know, the committee’s job is a difficult one,” Delany said. “We do have four years of data, and it is true that [conference] champions have been excluded. We knew there would be champions excluded.”
With five “power conferences” and four playoff spots, that was inevitable, but Delany probably didn’t expect his champion to be left out often, if at all.
At this point, it’s already happened 50 percent of the time, though the Big Ten was still at least represented in 2016 thanks to Ohio State getting in over league champ Penn State.
While the commissioner did not go so far to say he was worried about it, Urban Meyer did.
The Ohio State head coach also pointed out the playoff committee’s expectations aren’t exactly clear.
“It’s very concerning,” Meyer said. “Originally I was told about different levels, what’s important to make the playoff, and I don’t know if we live by that, but once again, that’s just my opinion.”
The latter, it turns out, is not true.
Others share Meyer’s viewpoint, too, in regards to trying to please the people who choose the final four.
“What is the college football committee really truly valuing?” asked Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck. “You saw everything with strength of schedule maybe at the beginning and now is it an undefeated season.
“It depends on the committee. What are their thoughts and ideas?”
Penn State coach James Franklin also decried the subjectiveness of the process and suggested getting every team to play a similar schedule would help.
“If we can control some of the variables, that’s going to give people who have a challenging job already, that’s going to help them,” Franklin said. “When you’re comparing one program to another or one conference to another, some of those things don’t have to be factored in.”
Uneven playing field?
The easiest answer is the hardest to make reality: Just win.
An undefeated season eliminates any questions, at least for teams at the Big Ten’s level, but those are often more fluke than anything given the topsy-turvy world of college football from week to week when lucky bounces decide more games than most of us would probably like to admit.
As Franklin alluded, some feel the Big Ten has made the road to 13-0 more perilous by adding a ninth conference game, especially since the SEC has neglected to do so.
That is a double-edged sword, though, as strength of schedule is the deciding factor in determining the playoff field (at least according to the criteria published by the CFP itself).
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“The competitive level at the Big Ten Conference right now is as strong as I’ve ever been in any conference,” said Meyer, who coached at Florida from 2005-10 when the SEC was at its peak. “Speaking in particular about the Big Ten East — once again, I can just give you my historical perspective of the different conferences I’ve worked in — it’s the most competitive division that I’ve ever been a part of.
“So how that relates to the College Football Playoff, that’s too abstract. There’s committees involved and other things involved. That’s an issue the Big Ten is going to have to face.”
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Meyer might like to get some help from Delany in that case, but he didn’t indicate that is in the offing at this point.
“We’ll continue to watch it,” Delany said. “We have tremendous respect for the committee. Their job is to select the four best teams. And we think that they operate in good faith.
“We continue to build a conference and be as good as we can be and we think that includes playing each other as much as we can, playing the best teams in the country in the nonconference as well as postseason and continuing to make the case that our teams are among the four best in the country.
“But last year is a pretty good example. You can have a very, very successful year even in a year where you’re not selected to play in the four-team playoff.”
Depends who you ask.
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