ACC's margin of error slim for CFB playoff

The politicking for the College Football Playoff has already begun, and our Mark Schlabach dug into the sales pitches for each conference to separate fact from fiction.

Of course, Schlabach's insight only shines a spotlight on the fact that every little detail matters now, and there's a big reason why.

With five power conferences and only four spots available in the College Football Playoff, the question being asked now is which league gets left out. If the past rankings are any indication, there's a good chance the answer could be the ACC.

Obviously the selection committee will have myriad ways to seed the playoff, and we're still not all clear on what the defining factors will be. But as a hypothetical, we dug into the past decade of BCS standings to see how things might've shaken out back then. And the results for the ACC were predictably bad.

If there'd been a four-team playoff seeded using the final regular-season BCS standings during the past 10 years, the ACC would've had just two representatives: last year's Florida State Seminoles team and the 2007 Virginia Tech Hokies.

What's more disturbing for fans in the conference, those Hokies were No. 5 in the AP poll in 2007, meaning the more human element would've had them out, too. In that case, you'd have to go all the way back to 2000 (again, FSU) to find an ACC team ranked in the top four of the last regular-season AP poll. (Note: Miami Hurricanes would've been made the cut in 2001 and 2002, but it was a member of the Big East at the time.)

Of course, the question of which conference gets snubbed may be short sighted. The better question may be, how many conferences get left out?

In the past 10 seasons, at least one conference has had multiple teams in the top four of the final regular-season BCS standings eight times. Overall, the SEC would've had 14 representatives during that span, while the ACC would've had just two, the Big Ten six, and the Pac-12 seven (using current conference affiliations). If we look at just the past five years, the SEC's dominance is more pronounced -- with eight teams getting in. Next most would've been the Big 12 and Pac-12, with four each. The ACC and Big Ten would've had just one apiece.

Certainly the playoff selection committee will use metrics different than those computed by the BCS, but those numbers at least show the difficulties the committee might face. It's likely the committee will have to either overlook teams with better records or higher rankings in the AP or Coaches polls and instead select conference champions or risk giving just one or two conferences a far bigger slice of the playoff pie.

For what it's worth, however, even expanding the playoff to eight teams wouldn't have done the ACC much good in the past. The conference had a team ranked better than ninth in the final regular-season BCS poll just twice since 2004.

Obviously, Florida State projects as a far better team than most of those mediocre ACC representatives in years past, but the numbers do serve as a reminder that the tightrope could be thin, even for the defending champs.

If you're curious, here's how the playoff would've looked each of the past 10 years if the BCS standings had seeded the tournament: