College Football Answers: Metrics & a Playoff?

CFP Header Image

Is the College Football Playoff the answer to all the controversy which seems to plague the end of many college football seasons? We plan to dive into as many aspects of the playoff system as possible to find out the pros and cons of having the playoff system in its current format, how those teams are determined and maybe have a better idea of whether it is working or not.

Where should we start when looking into this historic change in college football? How about Committee Chairman Jeff Long?

Jeff Long
Jeff Long

It doesn’t seem to be enough there has been bias shown towards the SEC by major networks like ESPN, in the polls, with monetary benefits and even their own network provided by ESPN, now even the lead man heading the committee is an Athletic Director from an SEC school. Where did that leave us?

Once the week finally arrived when the College Football Playoff (CFP) Committee released their rankings, three of the top four was filled by SEC teams and four of the top six.

First CFP Rankings
First CFP Rankings

Why so many SEC teams ranked so high? It’s pretty obvious Alabama sets the standard in the SEC. They are considered elite and if you beat them, it isn’t that they can be having a bad season, the other team just must be that good. At least that’s the way it seems. Ole Miss beat them in the winding minutes of the game on their home field after Alabama lost a runningback which launched them into the top four. That was enough top put them so high even though they had just come off a loss in a terribly boring game against LSU losing 10-7.

An undefeated Mississippi State team was understandably at the top of the ranking ahead of an FSU team who hadn’t lost a game since EJ Manuel was at quarterback. They accomplished this by beating a top 10 ranked LSU team on the road, a top 10 Texas A&M team at home and a top 5 Auburn team at home, all in back to back to back games with an off week in there.

Now, going to LSU and winning is no easy task no matter what and neither is facing three top 10 SEC teams in a row, but how impressive really were those wins?

It depends on which measure you want to examine and listening to Jeff Long each week break down the metrics, you never knew what inconsistent answer you were going to get. At the time, you could obviously tell LSU had some offensive issues and lacked a QB, the most important position on the field. Their QB in the terribly boring game against Ole Miss already mentioned, completed only 8 passes the entire game. Go back and look at some of their other games before that and you will see QB stats with completions of 9, 10, 11 and even 7 (against Sam Houston St!) which screams offensive issues on the way. After gaining wins against pancake opponents, they finished the season with five losses, including losses to Arkansas who hadn’t won an SEC game in years and Notre Dame who lost five of their last 6 regular season games with squeaking by Navy as their only victory.

Then you have Texas A&M. They were in the top 10 early in the season primarily for routing a top 10 South Carolina team in their first game. Was South Carolina a top 10 team? Of course not, they went on to finish the season 7-6. Then there’s Auburn who was beaten by that 5-loss Texas A&M team and finished with five losses themselves.

The point here is, these SEC teams starting the season ranked so high undeservedly played a part in the initial rankings by the committee and their subjective views with subjective metrics and one of the reasons we believe polls should not come out so early.

Mississippi State was later exposed by Georgia Tech, an ACC team, to end the year even though they had beaten up on SEC teams during the season who turned out to be very overrated at the time.

Why is Oregon ranked so high? Five members of the CFP Committee have ties to the Pac-12. Maybe that has something to do with it?

At the time, Oregon had two ranked wins at the time, but lost at home to an unranked Arizona team, a four touchdown underdog, in one of the greatest upsets of the season.

Yet they were ranked above Alabama who had only lost at the time to a highly ranked Ole Miss team on the road and in the last minutes of the game and had a ranked win. They were ranked higher than TCU who only had a loss on the road to a top-5 ranked Baylor team at the time by three points and had two ranked wins. They were ranked higher than Notre Dame who had previously been ranked #2 in the AP and only loss was by three points in an extremely close game on the road to the #1 ranked defending champions with a Heisman QB and had a ranked win. Ranked higher than Georgia who only had one loss to a top-15 ranked South Carolina team on the road by three points and had two ranked wins.

How was some of this explained?

Each week Jeff Long made us laugh and maybe even a little sad with his explanations of why teams ranked where they were. Take a look at week 12 in the rankings. A 9-0 Florida State team who was on a 24-game winning streak at the time and defending National Champions, was pushed even lower to the #3 spot to be passed by the same Oregon team who had been upset by a four TD underdog at home even though both teams had wins over three ranked opponents each, with Florida State having the highest ranked win over #5 Notre Dame at the time.

Jeff Long used words like “eye test” and “controlling the game” to explain this which was basically saying they felt having the lead for most of the game or having a flashy offense putting up a lot of points was more important than wins. The committee rewarded other teams like Oklahoma, Southern California and penalized TCU for their game against Kansas, all in the name of Game Control. The following week Florida State won again and was passed over by #5 Alabama because of Game Control and the Eye Test and seemingly for not having a “quality loss” which at times the committee also looked at as being more favorable to a close win.

This inspired fans to take to the web with meme after meme mocking the explanations which seemed to be well deserved.

CFP Game Control

2013 game control

Drago Game Control

Iron Bowl Game Control

Abs Game Control

Heisman Game Control

Iverson Game Control

These are just a few we found particularly humorous and appropriate.

Each week the hypocrisy continued and the justification of one team in one spot contradicted the placement of another team in another spot and/or where teams were in previous weeks which usually revolved around finding a reason to keep Florida State down and promote Oregon and SEC teams.

Then they further embarrassed themselves which has been mentioned enough by putting TCU up at #3 (pushing FSU down to #4 for winning once again) which seemed to be just a way of trying to show there was no bias and to make people catching on to their act happy, only to have them booted back out of the top five after a dominating win. Many say the committee just wanted to avoid any controversy by having to decide between TCU and Baylor who did not have a conference championship game, by simply leaving out both of them.

Metrics

What are these metrics you hear on ESPN throughout the season and Jeff Long explaining after the release of rankings each week? They are shown on the ESPN page below the rankings on their site.

Metrics Glossary
Metrics Glossary

But where do they really come from and how are they determined?

In November, after one of the CFP rankings were released, we asked an on-air personality and writer for ESPN who had discussed the metrics and those reasons why they were used with providing more details about them and they were kind of enough to respond to us in a Twitter direct message and then email. We are choosing to withhold their name out of respect of them answering us, but here is our entire conversation:

Direct Message with ESPN
Direct Message with ESPN

HD Email

HD Email 1

HD Email 2

HD Email 3

HD Email 4

HD Email 5

HD Email 6

HD Email 7

Obviously, those results are very disappointing and eye-opening, but we at least appreciate the time they took to respond and inquire for us. It seems strange to anyone they would talk using such terms as if there is so much hard data backing them up and all they can point to is simple vocabulary words and webpages found with a simple Google search and no real analytic data at all to support any of the claims making it look very subjective which is unfair to the viewers they report this to.

Conveniently, and maybe just coincidentally, after we raised these questions and had this conversation on November 17, which was very revealing, just days after on November 20 and 21 Jeff Long began denying actually using the ESPN metrics such as Game Control, which we know to be false (as we will point out below) and seemed to just be trying to save face once so many began questioning their methods which were obviously flawed.

In an interview with Jeff Long in December, he denied the committee used metrics such as Game Control although he had spoken on it for weeks and claimed it was something the media just took out of context and ran with.

To the contrary, earlier in the season ESPN claimed their Stats & Information Group developed the metrics such as the Strength of Record and Game Control to accompany their Football Power Index and Strength of Schedule rankings already in place as in-depth analytic tools to help determine the “most deserving” teams for the College Football Playoff.

ESPN Metrics for the Playoffs
ESPN Metrics for the Playoffs

This was months before Long’s claim of the media just taking something he said out of context as if he had never heard of the metric before when it was actually something the committee had been considering the entire time.

Looking Ahead

Did the committee get the final four right? Most say TCU should have been in, but that is only in hindsight. It is probably more accurate to say they should have never been pushed into the top three just to be taken back out.

Most say they got it right because the BCS would have paired up Alabama against Florida State in the championship game and neither of them made it past the CFP Semifinals, but is that fair to say?

It’s college football. Anything can happen. Just like how Oregon was beaten by Arizona earlier in the year, Oregon probably wins that game nine out of ten times.

Alabama lost against Ohio State thanks to a terrible interception returned for a TD late in the game.

Oregon relied on Florida State traveling all the way across the country to play in a stadium Oregon frequents, on wet turf and playing their worst game in over two seasons to win. They relied on some questionable officiating calls (one FSU player even had to change jerseys he was held so bad & that happened all night, see below), their Heisman QB having one of the worst games of his life, their All-American tightend injuring his hamstring before the game and not being called when he is tackled in the endzone going out for a pass (see below), close plays coming up inches short, their Groza Award winning kicker actually missing which was jaw dropping and something you rarely ever see from any team any time and that is FIVE turnovers in less than 15 minutes of play in the second half. You can watch for years and NEVER see such a thing happen and all of that rolled into one, it was a game where every little thing went wrong for one team which allowed the other to win. Something like that would never happen again and Florida State likely beats Oregon at least eight out of the ten times they play.

One of the many holding calls missed that night
One of the many holding calls missed that night
The defensive player literally had to change jerseys at halftime after being held so bad
The defensive player literally had to change jerseys at halftime after being held so bad
A PI call doesn't get anymore obvious, but another no-call by the officials
A PI call doesn’t get anymore obvious, but another no-call by the officials -SBNation.com

Not that Florida State would not have still lost the game, but it certainly should have been a much different scenario coming out at halftime, but not with those SEC officials.

Florida State still has the best Quality Loss of any team last year which seemed to be very critical to the committee for weeks. Giving the game away to the #2 team basically on the road was certainly better than Oregon’s home defeat at the hands of Arizona or Ohio State’s home loss to a Virginia Tech team who finished the year 7-6. Many other years there may be talks of a split title under such a scenario, but putting the “playoff” label on something assumes you had an equal and fair postseason so an undisputed winner when in fact under the BCS Florida State would have likely been at #1 and played closer to home in Louisiana and who knows how those results would have ended. Only pure speculation.

What does the future hold for the CFP and committee?

One can only guess at this point, but it is obvious it can not exist going forward the way it did in 2014. It was embarrassing really to say the least with how they looked at the playoff and picture and explained it away.

Many on the committee obviously do not have a very good grasp on the game of college football. Jeff Long himself had an obvious display each week of poor football IQ even though he claims to be football smart.

JL Tweet Convo

A response to the question was never received.

It is almost as if someone was hoping to sabotage the whole playoff effort early on by throwing him out there to speak. Maybe to create more controversy that the playoff was supposed to solve in order to make more changes sooner rather than later to open up more spots for a bigger playoff? If that was a goal, it has certainly been successful so far.

Jeff Long is just hard to trust with his hypocrisy, contradictions, bold-faced lie, obvious low football IQ and even his immaturity and lack of professionalism when dealing with those critical of his words with emojis and child-like insults:

JL Tweet Convo 1

JL_Twitter_Convo_2

These are just a couple of examples of his interaction with fans showing his arrogance and lack of maturity. Lack of football IQ aside, someone of such nature with sophomoric responses should not hold the chair of a committee influencing so much for so many people.

Bigger Playoff?

Many seem to think expanding the playoff to more spots, eight being most often mentioned, will cure all the controversy we found when having one with just four spots available.

The truth is, the more spots you have available, the more controversy you create.

Look at this year. For a long time people thought just having a +1, or three teams would solve the controversy. They were given a playoff which allowed four teams and still there was controversy. Why is that?

What the media will not tell you is, no matter how many spots you provide, unless you have a very strict set of rules with everyone on the same page and not just the subjectivity of a committee with some teams playing conference championship games and not others, you will always have controversy. They do not tell you this because they do not mind there being a demand for more high-profile games, that will just be more money in their pockets.

TCU and Baylor were left out, would further expansion of the playoff more so they both could have been included cured that? No. That just furthers the cycle. The more spots you have available, the more teams there are who can make legitimate claim to those spots. Rather than having three teams fighting for the final spot in the top four, you will now have anywhere from four to even eight or possibly ten teams fighting for the last two or three spots available in an eight team playoff.

Very rarely would things work out smoothly where everyone agrees the committee got it right and that will hold true whether the playoff is four teams, eight or even more.

One thing is for sure, Jeff Long should stop making a mockery of the process with his weekly explanations and there are individuals much better suited to hold his current position. His interviews were embarrassing to himself, the entire process and only makes it obvious the process as it is was handled last season is not the answer.

Less subjectivity needs to be used and the committee should stop looking foolish with how they did their weekly rankings from scratch (as they claim at least) and contradicted themselves so frequently. There was really no need for it to play out in such a way other than to get viewers all excited and worked up waiting for their release and then discussing them afterwards, which again isn’t necessarily good for the game, but good for drawing more clicks and views AKA making more money. Because of the money involved, I don’t really expect a change to be made to better the game.

The point of the committee originally wasn’t to change the entire postseason landscape of college football. It was pretty much to use what the current system was and then toward the end, rather than rely on so many objective measures only when some controversy was created and add more of a human touch with eyes and subjectivity to the decisions only when it was not obvious who those best teams should be, in order to make final decisions on the playoff members. It was not supposed to become just another poll each week to add to the rest already in place (sometimes it even seemed like they just wanted to be different than the other polls already out just to make a splash).

The playoff selections should move closer to that model and return more objectivity, real objectivity and not made up subjective metrics, to the process and only install subjective Eye Test “metrics” near the end only when it is called for. The Eye Test Metric as it was used last year, similar to the original BCS formula, lacked consideration of sportsmanship in the game, which in the bigger picture is never good. Some coaches like Jimbo Fisher, have already said they are simply not going to coach in a classless way where they are running up the scores on opponents just to look better in some metric or in the eyes of the committee and that is the approach every coach and player setting an example for others should take.

The committee should also stop using subjective and then objective metrics differently each week and for different teams depending on how you are trying to justify their rankings. More uniformity is needed as well as a “Common Sense” Metric at times.

The BCS was not perfect, but pound for pound, it was clearly much better than the CFP committee. There was not nearly as much controversy, hypocrisy, contradictions and you could see the objective reasons why teams were ranked where they were without having to look silly trying to explain them away. Using more of a similar system and only turning to the committee when necessary near the end would work out much better, but would include less drama, conversation and of course money. So don’t count on it happening.

Stricter guidelines should be installed to make sure it is fair across the board and no other teams have the same kind of controversy claims at the end of the year like TCU and Baylor had and Notre Dame or BYU would have had if they made it that far. A team like Notre Dame should join a conference fully, not just in the sports they choose and conferences like the BigXII should stop being stubborn and have a conference championship like everyone else, add that recipe with correcting the issues with the CFP committee as we saw and we can finally see a much better and fair picture of the postseason come into view.

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