Mailbag: CFP biases and other worries

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

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To the notes!

Christopher writes: With the College Football Selection Committee openly admitting that teams passing the "eye test" plays a large role in their selection process, doesn't this somewhat defeat the intended purpose of the playoff? In other words, in creating the college football playoff, wasn't the goal to reduce as much of the BCS-like subjectivity as possible, and to let wins and losses determine qualification? I understand that subjective bias will inevitably play a role in the four-team selection (the committee is made up of human beings, after all), but the fact that they openly include the "eye test" as a part of their criteria tells me that they view subjectivity as something to be embraced, not minimized... and that concerns me.

Ted Miller: You have to have an eye test when evaluating college football teams in a system of rankings because we don't have a lot of solid head-to-head comparisons or a "super-metric" that answers all the questions on which team is best. Or better.

When I did a mock College Football Playoff selection committee meeting in October, I learned firsthand how much data was available to the committee and how that didn't eliminate the need for an inspired, educated "gut" to still make distinctions. The good news is you have to form a consensus with 12 smart committee members, so it's not just one subjective "gut" making the call.

For example, in 2003 the BCS computers demoted USC in comparison to LSU and Oklahoma. While LSU and Oklahoma fans liked that just fine, it was clearly the wrong selection -- that was the wide consensus both before and after the bowl games -- which is why most folks outside of the state of Louisiana don't even know that LSU shared the title with USC in 2003. If the committee had existed then, USC would have played for and very likely won the title.

Many of the measures the committee prioritizes are fairly objective, such as being a conference champion and, to a lesser extent in terms of objectivity, strength of schedule. The "eye test" plays a role when you are comparing teams with similar records, particularly when they took different routes to those records. A team that is unbeaten but played a weak schedule is likely to face a difficult comparison with a team that has one loss but played a rugged schedule, particularly one bolstered by tough nonconference games.

Such as, the "eye test" would play a role in 12-1 Stanford/Utah earning a spot in the CFP over, say, 13-0 Houston. Or even, say, 12-1 Iowa.

Jason writes: What does Pat Haden's departure do to Utah or Stanford's chances to make the playoff (assuming one of them wins out in convincing fashion) versus a murky Big 10 or Big 12 champion (either one loss or undefeated but debatable in the eye test)?

Ted Miller: Not much.

The potential perceptions of biases is something the committee recognizes and consciously resists. Committee chair Jeff Long put a hat rack by the door to the meeting room, the idea being you symbolically leave your biases at the door.

While the committee members probably have their own regional biases, the committee room debate likely would expose anyone who is being a disingenuous advocate or critic. While West Coast folks surely would prefer to have more West Coast representation on the committee, Haden wouldn't have played an aggressive role as Pac-12 advocate.

Fact is, it will be difficult for anyone to make an argument against 12-1 Sanford/Utah in comparison to other one-loss teams. A one-loss Pac-12 champion will only be in trouble if there are two or three unbeaten teams as well as a one-loss SEC champion.

Shaun writes: Say Oregon beats Stanford, the Cal gets the upset [in the Big Game against Stanford]. What is needed for WSU to pull off the miraculous Pac-12 North title if all three teams have the same record(s)?

Ted Miller: If Washington State, Stanford and Oregon finish tied atop the North Division, Oregon will advance to the Pac-12 title game.

Because no team would prevail head-to-head -- as in one team beating the other two tied teams -- the No. 2 tiebreaker would apply: Record in games played within the division. The Ducks would have one loss in the division, while the Cougars and Cardinal would have two.

You can review the tie-breaking procedures here.

Jon from Chicago writes: Now that we have an idea of the true identity of each team, let's play a fun game... let's create a Pac-12 super team... the only rule is that you have to pick your team by position groups.

Here is mine:

OFFENSE: OL-Utah; QB-USC; RBs-USC; TE-Stanford; WR-Cal


Ted Miller: OK, I'll bite. Here is mine:

OFFENSE: OL-Stanford; QB-USC; RBs-UCLA; TE-Stanford; WR-Washington State

DEFENSE: DL-Utah; LB-Utah; CB-Washington; S-UCLA; ST-Utah

Amanda writes: Maybe you'd have a better picking record if you'd stop picking against the Utes! What gives? Maybe you're just one that wants to see utter chaos in the south division if we lose. Why the lack of faith in the Utes? ... But maybe we should thank you. Utes do well as underdogs (see: Inflated Egos at the USC game), it's in our blood from fighting for relevance in the Mountain West days. Maybe we all owe you a nicely written Thank You note.

Ted Miller: Amanda, I choose option two.