While the Selection Committee's two year report card thus far has been focused on features of the committee and its effect on college football, our final three grades will be reflective of the actual selection process. There has been a great deal of discussion on how the committee chooses their top four teams and even more on whether they got it right. One of the factors discussed is how to view a champion from the previous season. The committee's current repot card is below, and next up we'll be discussing how the committee has considered past champions.
With two years of the Selection Committee's process in the books, we have only two case studies to consider how they have handled past champions. There is no official policy in terms of how the committee should handle the previous year's champion, however, many committee members have stated that they judge solely based on the current season's performance. Whether consideration should be given to how a team finished in the previous season is up for debate, though I personally agree with the committee's stated belief that only the current season should impact the rankings.
It is difficult to see, however, given the committee's stated policy on past champions, how they can possibly defend their actions the past two years with regard to Florida State and Ohio State in the year after their championship.
In the last year of the BCS era, Florida State completed an undefeated season and topped Auburn in the final BCS Championship Game to become the undisputed National Champion. It was a stellar campaign that announced to the college football universe Florida State was back. The following season, however, the first of the Selection Committee era, the Seminoles were dragged kicking and screaming into the playoffs.
While Florida State remained undefeated, the quality of their play steadily declined as they slipped in the rankings every other week until limping into the post season. The Seminoles lagged well behind in numerous performance metrics, falling to 26th in game control, 14th in FPI rankings and 15th in F/+ rankings, while the Big 12 co-champions, TCU and Baylor, sat well ahead of them in all of these statistics, in most cases in the top five. Quarterback Jameis Winston's play in the final stretch of the year was laughably poor as well and Florida State was constantly surviving games rather than winning them, beating seven teams by less than a touchdown. Their overtime victory over a ranked Clemson team was the very definition of Clemsoning, as the Tigers seemingly tried their hardest again and again to lose that game despite the Seminoles' equally poor play.
Despite all this, Florida State made the playoff ahead of either Big-12 Champion, even though hardly anyone would expect them to beat TCU or Baylor head to head, and Vegas responded by making them a double digit underdog in the first round of the playoff. The Seminoles were promptly throttled by Oregon, 59-20. The game wasn't even as close as the score indicates after Oregon took the foot off the pedal to rest up for the Championship contest after putting up 27 points in the third quarter. Oregon was eventually defeated by Ohio State, who became the committee's next infallible team.
The Buckeyes opened the past season with non-conference wins over Virginia Tech, Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. Not exactly the most impressive slate, and nowhere near the quality of opponents they'll face next season as they hit the road to face the Sooners. They continued with victories over Indiana, Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers, also known as the bottom four teams in the Big Ten East.
At this point in the season, they were ranked third in the country, ahead of not only eventual champion Alabama, but two other undefeated teams in their own conference in Iowa and Michigan State. The Hawkeyes and the Spartans dominated the Buckeyes in statistics such as strength of schedule and strength of record, as did many of the teams behind them, including also undefeated Oklahoma State, sitting all the way back at 14th. The only thing the Buckeyes had going for them at this point was the fact that they had won the National Championship the previous year, and they were yet to lose since. Somehow, this was enough to place them ahead of three other undefeated teams who dominated them in an array of performance statistics.
Some pundits argued that Ohio State had all kinds of potential, which had simply been unrealized as yet. They had multiple talented quarterbacks, though neither one was producing at even an above average level. They had talent and skill all over the field, and if it came together, they would be a great team. Essentially, Ohio State was a top ranked team because if they played a lot better than they were playing the first two thirds of the season, they would be great! Also they had won the year before and hadn't yet lost a game.
Luckily for all of us, Michigan State eventually knocked the Buckeyes out of the picture and the committee was finally forced to drop them out of the top four, just two weeks before the final rankings. Ohio State appeared 7th in the final Committee Rankings, despite the fifth worst strength of schedule rating among the top 25 teams.
There is seemingly no question that these teams were given the benefit of the doubt, and in both cases, the characteristic in common is an as yet undefeated former champion. To improve on the BCS era, the committee must have the courage to drop an undefeated team in the polls when they haven't played anybody and haven't performed at a high enough level. It is the argument that has been used to keep the Boise State's of the college football world out of the championship, and it is valid across the board: if you haven't played a tough enough schedule, it doesn't matter that you haven't lost.
While the notion to project the potential for these teams is understandable, the committee must remember that each season is new, and every team should start with a clean slate. One of the great aspects of college football is that it is transitory; with graduations, transfers and new recruits the team changes every season and every team is unique. As a result, the college football national championship is not defended, but rather won anew every year, and giving former champions a break in the polls is not fulfilling the committee's mandate of finding the four best teams.
Past Champions: D-