For 16 years, the Bowl Championship Series focused fans’ and reporters’ attention on teams’ actual success in winning games against strong opponents. Just over a year into the new Selection Committee era (in which 13 people determine which teams will be invited to a 4-team playoff), it’s clear that the sort of maddening and subjective evaluations that held sway during college football’s poll-dominated pre-BCS days are returning with a vengeance. Actual accomplishments are taking a back seat to perceptions about what a team might be able to achieve going forward.
How else to explain the selection committee’s ranking of (7-1) Alabama at #4?
The four most successful teams to date, in terms of posting the best won-lost records considering their schedules, have been 1. LSU, 2. Michigan State, 3. Iowa, and 4. Clemson—according to the Anderson & Hester Rankings, which are based entirely on that criteria. In its inaugural 2015 release, the selection committee ranks Clemson first and LSU second, but it ranks Michigan State seventh and Iowa ninth. And it ranks Alabama, the nation’s 10th-best team in terms of its record considering its schedule, fourth.
Just look at the subjective committee’s own internal logic, or lack thereof. According to the committee’s own top-25, the best team that Alabama has played is #18 Ole Miss. The Rebels beat Alabama, at Alabama. The only top-25 team that the Crimson Tide has beaten is #19 Texas A&M, giving the Tide a .500 record versus the committee’s top-25.
Meanwhile, (8-0) Memphis beat Ole Miss, the team that beat Alabama. Yet the committee ranks the undefeated Tigers nine spots behind the once-beaten Crimson Tide.
Michigan State beat a team that the committee ranks higher than Ole Miss, #17 Michigan, and did so on the road before 111,000 fans. Yet the committee ranks the (8-0) Spartans three spots behind the (7-1) Tide.
Iowa beat the committee’s #21 team, Northwestern, on the road, and the Hawkeyes have yet to lose. But the committee ranks Alabama four spots ahead of (8-0) Iowa.
To be sure, Alabama might well beat (7-0) LSU this coming Saturday. That game, after all, is in Tuscaloosa. And if Alabama does win, then the Tide will arguably merit a top-4 ranking on the season. But wouldn’t it be nice to have the committee wait until Alabama actually posts that victory, rather than imputing it? (Besides, LSU star Leonard Fournette and company may have other ideas.)
Right now, the all-powerful committee is saying that if the season ended today, it would invite a 1-loss team—with a 1-1 record versus #18 and #19—to the playoff, while telling an undefeated team with a win over #18, and another undefeated team with a win over #17, that they get to stay home and watch Alabama on TV.
The playoff is here to stay. But it’s time to bring back the BCS selection process.
Anderson is co-creator of the Anderson & Hester Rankings, which were part of the BCS throughout its entire 16-year run and are now published by the Dallas Morning News.