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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

128 FBS Teams, But How Many Seriously Are Given the Chance to Compete?:

There are currently 128 teams in FBS division 1 college football.  They are all presumably equal at the beginning of the season, all with a rightful chance to play in to the college football playoff and win the national championship.  If they had no right to play for the national championship, they can't be called part of the league, now can they?  And yet, no matter how well these teams play, they're ignored, overlooked, and bypassed in favor of some more famous school.  Marshall is currently undefeated at 11-0, but it's ranked below multiple teams with three losses.  This means it's mathematically impossible for teams from the group of 5 conferences to get into a playoff slot.  No matter how mangled a college season gets, there will always be at least 4 teams from the Power 5 conferences (the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and the Pac 12) with three or fewer losses that can be put above the likes of undefeated Marshall, just mathematically speaking, because someone has to win in order for someone else to lose.

Now, presumably, if a Group of 5 team (Mountain West, American, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and the Mid-American Conference) scheduled the top three power 5 teams in the country and beat them all at the beginning of the year, and then those three power 5 teams won all the rest of their games, the group of 5 team would be allowed in as the 4th member of that year's playoff selection.  But this is nigh theoretically impossible.

To start with, games are scheduled years in advance.  What kind of crystal ball would it take to predict the three best teams in the country five years from now when these matches are being agreed upon?  If a Group of 5 team had scheduled Texas, Stanford, and Michigan to play this year, and beaten all three of them, it wouldn't have done them any good, even though all three of these are traditional powerhouses they could have expected to be important matches when they were scheduled.

Second off, as Florida State has shown, no game is a gimme.  Even if you are one of the best teams around, it's easy to trip up, make some dumb mistakes, and lose a game even to inferior competition.  There's no reason to believe this hypothetically amazing Group of 5 team could beat all three of the best remaining teams in the country even if it were competitive, because there's no reason to believe any Power 5 team could do it either.  Asking #1 to prove itself by beating #2, #3, and #4 all in a row is too much for anyone to swallow.  It's almost inevitable that you'd lose at least one of those games.

Third off, continuing from the above statement, going undefeated in the regular schedule, even against sub-par competition, is nigh impossible.  Marshall has had to make many bare escapes in its games so far, much like Central Florida last year had to just barely come back to beat Temple, a practically winless team last year.  This same Central Florida team (part of the Group of 5, by the way), then went on to absolutely trounce Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl last season.  Baylor was considered last year as one of the best teams in the country, but it couldn't hold a candle to Central Florida, a member of the Group of 5, who in turn only just barely managed to beat Temple, a team that's about as bad as it gets.

Any given Saturday, anything can happen.  You can't ask a team to go undefeated throughout the year, whether the competition is good or bad.  Something crazy is bound to happen and there will always be one of those days.  And yet, it's been proven on the field of play, over and over again, that Group of 5 teams can compete with the best of the best of the Power 5.  In BCS bowls Central Florida has done it, Boise State has done it, and TCU/Utah/Louisville have all done it before transferring to more powerful conferences.  The idea that group of 5 teams don't even deserve to play on the same field as power 5 teams, no matter how good their win/loss record, just doesn't hold up when we look at objective results on the field.

Group of 5 teams can and have beaten Power 5 teams, even their vaunted champions like Oklahoma have been brought down by the lowly Boise State.  Unless you play out these games in the field, how else can Group of 5 teams prove themselves as really being weaker or stronger than their Power 5 opponents?  If Marshall goes undefeated this whole season and still has no right to play for the national championship, there's something wrong with this system.  That says that realistically speaking some teams never had the right to compete for the championship from the start, which means they shouldn't even be classified as FBS teams.  Don't put teams in the same category and then start discriminating by saying 'some teams are more equal than others.'  Just make it clear exactly what the rules are and treat everyone equally and fairly or don't even bother being a sport.  Just make it world wide wrestling or something and be done with it.

A Group of 5 team should be allowed to compete for the National Championship if they have 0 losses, 1 loss from a bad opponent or even 2 losses from two good opponents or one good opponent and one bad opponent.  Look at Ohio State.  They have 1 loss from a terrible opponent, a 5-6 Virginia Tech that probably couldn't hack it in the Sun Belt conference, and yet they're ranked #6 and might find themselves in the Playoff Selection anyway.  If you can forgive Ohio State, why not Boise State?  Why not Colorado State?

Colorado State has only one loss, to Boise State.  We can't say how bad that loss is because we have no idea just how good Boise State is.  They could be the best team in the country for all we know, in which case Colorado State could be #2.

Boise State has two losses, one to Ole Miss, who if not for a fluke tackle and fumble before reaching the end zone would have had a totally different season.  They would have beaten Auburn and taken that momentum into its remaining games, which would have meant not losing 30-0 to Arkansas two weeks later.  Furthermore, their only other loss was to a very good LSU team by just three points, another game that could have gone either way.  Ole Miss, if not for that awful accident and Treadwell's broken leg, could be the best team in the country.  Boise State losing to Ole Miss is no big deal.  Even a good team could easily lose to Ole Miss -- just look at Alabama.

Boise State's second loss was to Air Force, a decent team that's currently 8-3, which can just be written off as a fluke or a blooper, just like Ohio State is trying to wave off its loss to a 5-6 Virginia Tech.  Judging Boise State by the standards used for Alabama or Ohio State means they should be right there in the playoff conversation alongside the Power 5 teams.  The same is true for Marshall, Colorado State, and Northern Illinois.

This isn't to say that only the Group of 5 is being victimized by the current 4 team Playoff.  The same is true of Power 5 conferences that somehow just can't get any respect.  Alabama and Mississippi State only have one loss each in the toughest division of the toughest conference in college football.  They totally deserve their slots in the playoff right now.  But does that mean other teams with one loss don't deserve their chance at the playoff as well?  Ohio State only has one loss.  Baylor only has one loss.  TCU only has one loss.  Why should they be sitting out of the contest kicking their heels while the 'best 4' get their chance at glory?  Can anyone seriously assure me that the best team this January won't be sitting on the sidelines watching someone else play for the title?

It's ludicrous for any team to not be able to settle these matters on the field, the only fair arbiter and the only judge that should count.  There's an easy way for everyone to be able to play in, to play to win, starting from all 128 teams, without involving any subjective measurements whatsoever.  If you win your conference, you're in the Playoff.  That puts us to 10 teams right there.  After that, take the six most deserving teams that didn't win their conference and add them in too for a 16 team playoff.  The FCS has a 24 team playoff system so no one can tell me a 16 team playoff is impossible.  By requiring you win your conference to qualify, it gives every conference an automatic berth in the Playoff and a chance to prove themselves on the national stage.  It makes all conference games 'matter' during the regular season.  In addition, the six open berths means that all non-conference games still also matter because they give you a chance to look good even if you don't claim a conference crown, and it gives independent teams like Notre Dame a route to still qualify for the championship.

With a 16 team Playoff that includes the best team from every conference there is no way we would miss the best team in the country being allowed to prove itself on the field and rightfully claim its #1 spot in the annals of history.  A sport should be a place where playing the sport is the route to victory, not being selected through an arcane process behind closed doors.

Every other sport aside from FBS football does this.  The NFL only has 32 teams in its entire league and yet it has a 12 team playoff, and they're thinking of expanding that to 14 teams just to be sure they gave the right teams the chance to play for #1.  The NBA does it, the MLB does it, the NCAA Basketball tournament does it, the NHL does it, the World Cup does it, everyone does it except the FBS.  You cannot seriously narrow 128 teams down to 4 teams to play in the postseason and be sure you gave every team a fair chance to play for the crown.  There is no selection process designed on Earth that could cull 97% of its teams in the first cut and be sure they got it right.  Nobody else is remotely even trying for such a ridiculous feat.

The vast majority of Americans have already said they would prefer an 8 team tournament over our current 4 team tournament.  However, an 8 team tournament would still pass over all the teams from the Group of 5 and wouldn't redress the fundamental unfairness of the system I'm talking about.  8 teams would allow all the Power 5 teams a fair chance to compete, but there still wouldn't be even a single Group of 5 team in the tournament if you just selected the top 8 ranked teams and had them fight it out.  Only 16 teams with conference winners as automatic qualifiers creates a completely fair system.  Then you could have Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State, Baylor, UCLA, Georgia, Colorado State, Michigan State, Memphis, Northern Illinois, Boise State, Marshall, and Georgia Southern in the tournament, and nobody would have to second guess anyone else, and nobody would have to put asterisks at the end of every year contesting who was really the best year after year after year.

All sixteen teams would be seeded, and the teams considered the 'best' would play against those considered the 'worst' in the first round.  If you really are so much better than Memphis, then it shouldn't be a big deal to play them first before you compete with one another, right?  And if you can't prove it on the field that you're better than Memphis, then you have nothing to complain about when you walk home.  If Memphis wanted to take home the trophy, they would have to beat Alabama, UCLA, TCU and Oregon all in a row.  I dare anyone to say they don't deserve the trophy if they can pull off something like that.  If you question their strength of schedule going into the playoffs, just wait until they're in the playoffs.  If they prove themselves on the field then you'll have nothing to complain about by the end of the tournament, now will you?

College football is the most fun sport in the world.  It has the most fans, the most colorful traditions, the most teams, the most upsets, and the funnest postseason with the dozens of bowls featuring teams from all across the country competing with one another in never-before-seen, evenly seeded matchups.  There is no reason for the FBS to have the most antiquated and frustrating national championship selection process in the world to go along with these advantages.  Talking about FBS football is no different from watching judges decide the gold in Figure Skating or Diving.  Nothing is ever determined by the players on the field.  Everything is decided by judges ahead of time, and there's nothing the athletes can even do about it.  This is ridiculous.  This is wrong.  This isn't the spirit of sport, fair play, or anything football is supposed to stand for.  FBS needs to get with the times and join everyone else in the agreement that only champions should be allowed to play for the national championship, not freaking popularity poll winners or beauty queens.  Two teams wasn't enough during the BCS era.  4 teams still aren't enough during the College Selection Playoff era.  8 teams won't be enough when we switch to that era either.  At least line up with the NFL and go to 12 teams -- the 10 conference champions plus 2 at large teams, the bottom eight playing a play-in game and then meeting up with the top 4 seeded teams that get a bye for the subsequent rounds.  What's playing out in front of our eyes is a travesty, and no one is going to be happy with the results, no matter what they are.

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