What if we'd had a College Football Playoff selection committee from 1998 to 2012?

Stanford, Oregon, Florida, Georgia, and Texas A&M would've battled for one spot in 2012. - Steve Dykes

And does it even matter who's on it, if nobody's representing math or mid-majors anyway? Much of the time, the committee will end up arguing about one Playoff team, not four.

Monday, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long was announced as the first chairman of the College Football Playoff committee. And at this point, we know that there will almost certainly be 13 committee members, and we pretty much know the 13 names. These names carry gravitas, from the national championship coach (Tom Osborne) to the king of Mississippi (Archie Manning), to the former Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice), to Ty Willingham (Ty Willingham).

But is this a good committee? Too big? Too small? Too focused on prominence and unassailability over quality? To derive any sort of answers about this, we must first recall what decisions this committee is going to be asked to make.

In June 2012, as the formation of a four-team playoff became probable, I walked through the BCS era to see what specific decisions the committee would have been tasked to weigh. Let's revisit that piece and walk through the decision-making process again.


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Two

On Dec. 6, a playoff selection committee surveys the carnage and decides … what, exactly? Undefeated Tennessee is an obvious selection, but the other three slots could go to any of eight teams. Do they choose the three teams that suffered late upsets? Do they select a team (FSU) that is missing such a key piece (Weinke)? What about one of the other one-loss teams (Arizona, Wisconsin) or the Texas A&M team that knocked off Kansas State and suffered losses to only Florida State (with Weinke) and Texas in Austin?

Tennessee (12-0) is in, and one has to figure Ohio State (10-1) is, too.

But the committee is pretty quickly forced to reveal its hand. Is it going to value conference titles over otherwise stellar resumes? The Texas A&M (11-2) vs. Kansas State (11-1) choice will make that pretty clear. Are injuries going to play a role? Because Florida State clearly isn't going to be the same team without Chris Weinke but still has an 11-1 record and strong computer rankings. Are undefeated mid-majors going to be taken seriously at all? Because Tulane (11-0) is waiting in the green room.

I still assume the most likely selection here would have been Tennessee, Florida State, Kansas State, and Ohio State. But there would be cases to make for UCLA, A&M, and Tulane, as well.

(And how deep does the recusing process go here? Would Tom Osborne need to leave the room when Kansas State or A&M are brought up? What about Archie Manning with Tennessee? Dan Radakovich for Florida State? Ty Willingham for UCLA?)


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Three

This season might have been pretty simple. You've got two undefeated teams and two one-loss teams, one of which (Nebraska) is a conference champion. The tricky part, however, is that 10-1 Kansas State got romped by 11-1 Nebraska, and that might have caused the committee to look around. In this instance, two-loss SEC champion Alabama begins to look awfully attractive. But then again, what about the two-loss Tennessee squad that whipped Alabama, 21-7, in Tuscaloosa?

Whereas 1998 had two rather obvious selections, 1999 had three: Florida State (11-0), Virginia Tech (11-0), and Nebraska (11-1).

But Alabama (10-2, SEC champion), Tennessee (9-2, with minuscule road losses to Florida and Arkansas), and Kansas State (10-1, with only a road loss to Nebraska) all have a case. Kansas State was undefeated against teams outside of the top three and suffered just one loss; does that give the Wildcats the edge over the SEC champion?


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Three

This season saw one of the first major BCS controversies thanks to Florida State's title game selection over a Miami team that had defeated it in Coral Gables in October. There is almost no way that FSU and Miami don't each make the semifinals along with obvious No. 1 Oklahoma. The question, however, is which of the three remaining one-loss team gets the nod: a Washington team that lost only at 9-2 Oregon by a touchdown? A Virginia Tech team that lost only at Miami? An Oregon State team that lost only at Washington by just three points?

Again, three choices are obvious, and while we look back now at that Washington team as an obvious fourth, others did have a case. Still, one assumes that this is the easiest year for the committee yet.


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: One to three

With a playoff in place, the decision might not be much easier. Miami's obviously in, but do you just go with Nebraska, Colorado and Oregon? If Colorado's getting a look over one-loss teams like Illinois and Maryland, then what about two-loss teams like Florida (losses to Auburn and Tennessee by a combined five points) or Tennessee (wins over four teams with nine or more regular season wins)? And shouldn't we at least give consideration to Illinois and Maryland?

In 2001, one team stood above everybody else: Miami.

After that, it was a bit of a mess. As it pertains to the BCS race, conventional wisdom had settled on both Colorado and Oregon being clear-cut favorites, even though Colorado had lost twice (once to Fresno State at home) and Oregon had lost at home to Stanford and hadn't really beaten anybody. People in SEC country would be throwing a fit if, for potentially the third straight year, a multi-loss SEC champion did not make the field, especially if 10-2 Colorado were treated as a shoo-in.

The most likely situation is that the committee would follow conventional wisdom and go with Miami, 11-1 Nebraska, Colorado, and Oregon. And with such well-connected folks on the committee, we should probably assume that conventional wisdom will rule.


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Three

We had two undefeated teams that clearly stood out all year, and they each avoided landmines (Miami versus Florida State and Pitt, Ohio State versus Purdue and Illinois) to get to the promised land. Honestly, having to select two more teams just makes things messy. SEC champion Georgia is obviously in with wins at Alabama and Auburn and a pasting of Arkansas in the SEC title game, but after that, who do you choose? Do you pick a two-loss USC team (with close losses at excellent Kansas State and Washington State teams) over a one-loss Iowa team that had fallen to Iowa State? And what about Washington State, which had beaten USC and lost at Ohio State (and at home to Washington) and was technically the Pac-10 champion?

Again, the fourth team is the only question mark. This year would be a nice test of the power of losses. USC suffered two pretty high-quality losses, and Iowa suffered one that, once Iowa State completely collapsed, looked pretty bad. And does the committee hesitate when it comes to giving a conference (Big Ten) a second bid when another power conference (Pac-10) has a deserving team?


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Three

With a playoff, the top three selections are obvious. But who gets the fourth spot? A two-loss Big Ten champion (Michigan) with wins over three nine-wins-or-better teams? A two-loss Florida State team with wins over four eight-wins-or-better teams? A two-loss Miami team that beat Florida State? A two-loss Tennessee team that beat Miami?

This was one of those "The BCS' biggest problem is that it can't select three teams" situations. The committee, however, must take four, and the fourth team is going to be a step down no matter what. There's the two-loss Big Ten champion with the big name (Michigan) and a lot of two-loss major powers without conference titles to their name (Ohio State, Texas, Tennessee).


Would this committee, with almost no mid-major reps, even give the Utes a second glance?

Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Three

This season has been used many, many times as the season that would have fit most perfectly with a four-team playoff. Four undefeated teams? Perfect! But what we perhaps forget now is that Utah wasn't No. 4 in either the BCS standings or the AP poll. California topped them in both, and Texas got the nod in the BCS. Does the committee go with Urban Meyer's Utes, or, since no mid-major has yet been included, do they favor a Texas team that lost only to Oklahoma (by 12 points in Dallas) or a Cal team that lost only to USC (by six points in L.A.)? This is one of the only years in which the makeup of the committee could drastically skew us toward one pick or another.

The 2004 season was a perfect test of the power of mid-majors. Utah dominated for most of the year and would go on to romp over Big East champion Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl, but would this committee, with almost no mid-major representatives whatsoever, even give the Utes a second glance? Would the draw of 10-1 Texas be too strong? And what about a Cal team that might have been the best in the country and was unlucky to barely lose at USC?


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Three

Opening the field up to four teams once again makes things rather messy. We have to assume that a one-loss, Big Ten champion in Penn State gets in, but who gets the fourth spot? Ohio State, which lost only to No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Penn State? Oregon, which lost only to USC? The most interesting aspect of this year's debate comes, obviously, with the presence of Notre Dame. Charlie Weis' first Irish team slipped up early against Michigan State, but since Sept. 17 its only loss came via Bush Push against USC.

Again, you've got a big dropoff after the third team, and again, you've got a mess of potential candidates.


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Three

Like 2001, this appears to be a year where only one team has truly established an entirely deserving resume. Beyond Heisman winner Troy Smith and Ohio State, you've got a lot of flawed contenders, from a Florida team that lost to Auburn and was still attempting to earn respect post-Ron Zook, to a Michigan team that had just lost to Ohio State (barely, and in Columbus), to a smoking hot LSU team that hadn't lost since its early-October trip to Florida, to one-loss Louisville and Wisconsin teams. And once again, we've got an undefeated mid-major down the list, wondering why they shouldn't automatically get a bid.

Undefeated Ohio State was a runaway favorite here, and the odds are very good that Florida and Michigan would have also gotten in. Michigan had been a clear No. 2 for a while, and Florida was a hot, one-loss SEC champion.

And for basically the fifth or sixth consecutive season, you've got a big, hot mess at No. 4. Louisville, the 11-1 Big East champion, was not a mid-major but was still somewhat viewed as such thanks to the ACC's picking apart of the Big East's known top tier. (Sound familiar?) Would the Cardinals get the nod over 10-2 USC or 10-2 LSU? And would the committee even give one second of consideration to 12-0 Boise State, WAC edition?


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Two

Ah, yes. The 2007 Season, the most glorious disaster flick of all-time. After countless upsets, countless No. 2 teams, and the defeat of each of the top two teams (Missouri and West Virginia) in the final weekend, a two-loss LSU team sneaked up the standings and lucked into a chance to play (and beat) Ohio State in the BCS Championship. What happens with a four-team playoff? Does Virginia Tech get in despite losing, 48-7, to LSU in September? Does Oklahoma get credit for the fact that one of its losses took place with Sam Bradford concussed? Does Georgia get bonus points for catching fire late? Does Missouri get credited or punished for going 11-0 versus teams not named Oklahoma? Does Kansas get credit for losing just once (albeit to Missouri)? And what of undefeated Hawaii? This season either had more candidates deserving of a playoff spot, or it had the fewest ever. Hard to say.

Ohio State's in, and LSU, which spent a good portion of the season at No. 1 and certainly passed the eyeball test (which will be all sorts of important with this roving band of observers criss-crossing the country), is in as well.

After that, though? Because of the eyeball test, I'm assuming Oklahoma and Georgia get bids, which does no favors to semi-deserving other two-loss teams (USC, Missouri, Virginia Tech), the country's only undefeated team (Hawaii), or the country's only other one-loss team (Kansas). This year was destined to make no sense no matter what, but again, conventional wisdom probably carries the day.


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Three

Another perfect "the BCS couldn't fit three teams onto the same field" season, 2008 would have produced three very easy selections with offense-heavy computer favorite Oklahoma, Tebow-laden Florida and the Texas team that beat Oklahoma. But after that, any of six teams had a case to make. There was Alabama, which ranked No. 1 to finish the regular season but lost to Florida in the SEC Championship. There was USC, which hadn't lost since September and had outscored its last five opponents, 184-36. There was undefeated Utah. There was Texas Tech, which beat Texas and lost to Oklahoma. There was one-loss Big Ten champion Penn State. And of course there was another undefeated mid-major in Boise State. In the real 2008, we had a huge Oklahoma-or-Texas debate. With a playoff, the debate is even larger.

Yet again, you've got three obvious teams and a complete tossup at No. 4. And you've got another test of the power of conference titles (Alabama and Pac-10 champ USC) and mid-majors (12-0 Utah and Boise State teams).


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Three

In comparison to 2008, 2009 is downright clean. You've got three undefeated BCS conference teams, you've got two undefeated mid-majors, and you've got a Florida team that was undefeated until the SEC championship game.

If mid-majors hold any sway, this year is a piece of cake. You take the three undefeated major-conference teams (Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati) and either TCU (12-0) or Boise State (13-0).

My fear is that the committee would have gone with 12-1 Florida instead, which would be a sign that the mid-majors are going to be completely ignored and would just need to go ahead and form a completely different subdivision. (My other fear is that this wouldn't bother people at all.)


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Two or three

In 2010, you saw a very good case for a three-team playoff. The fourth team, however, is an enormous tossup. Stanford was fourth in the BCS standings but had lost by 21 points at Oregon. Wisconsin was fourth in the AP poll but had lost to an 11-1 Michigan State squad by 10 points. Ohio State's only loss was to Wisconsin. It seems like a mess until you remember just how high folks were on Wisconsin late in the season.

Undefeated Auburn and Oregon teams are in, and I would HOPE that undefeated TCU is, as well. The fourth once again comes from a giant pool of one-loss teams.


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Three

As we have seen through this exercise, different factors and obstacles arise in different seasons. But we saw a push for a "conference champions" qualification because Alabama made the BCS championship, and we saw a push for a selection committee, in part, because people were scared of the thought of Stanford making it in over Pac-12 champion Oregon, which won at Stanford. Because of this discussion, we know who would have been selected in 2011.

LSU, Alabama, and Oklahoma State are in, but this is indeed the season in which we learn all we need to about conference titles. Oregon (11-2) won the Pac-12 title but lost twice; Stanford had a better record (11-1) but lost to Oregon.


Relatively obvious Playoff teams: Three

Undefeated Notre Dame is in. Alabama is in. And I bet Kansas State, despite its No. 5 ranking in the (now-nonexistent) BCS standings, is in with its Big 12 title.

But what happens with the fourth slot? Do you go with 11-1 Florida, which lost just once in the SEC but didn't reach the SEC title game? Do you go with 11-2 Georgia, which was smoking hot late in the year and came within a few yards of beating Alabama in the SEC title game? Texas A&M, also smoking hot? Or do you make another Oregon-vs-Stanford decision, this time with Stanford playing the role of two-loss Pac-12 champion (and head-to-head winner) and Oregon playing the 11-1 role?

I'm assuming a Pac-12 team gets the fourth spot, but again, conventional wisdom (and the power of the SEC in 2012) could play a role.

What have we learned?

If you choose Texas A&M over Kansas State in 1998, then you choose Stanford over Oregon in 2012.

Most of the time, three of four selections here will be quite obvious. And the chances are good that this committee's decision-making process will almost begin to operate as a court of law, establishing precedents with certain decisions that rule over future decisions. If you choose Texas A&M over Kansas State in 1998, then you've pretty much also chosen Oregon over Stanford in 2011 and Stanford over Oregon in 2012. If you select Utah in 2004, and the Utes hold their own, then you've established the path for Utah in 2008 and TCU in 2009 and 2010. Hell, maybe Boise State in 2006 or Hawaii in 2007 get longer looks than expected, too.

(If Utah gets smoked in 2004, however, that could all change. That's another terribly unfortunate way that precedent will probably play a role.)

In this sense, then, one wonders why this committee needs to be so large. (Well, one could wonder that in any sense. Thirteen people will meet to discuss selection of four teams and four other post-BCS bowls, while a committee of 10 selects 37 at-large bids and seeds 68 teams in the NCAA basketball tournament.) Once precedents are set and conventional wisdom takes hold, this group simply becomes the world's largest bowl committee, wearing silly jackets (literal or figurative) and traveling around the country with the intent of telling us that games we already knew to be important are indeed important.

With so many obvious choices, the makeup of the committee is as much about symbolism as anything else. I personally was hoping for a group with plenty of variety. We were of course going to end up with major-conference figureheads; that was unavoidable. But I was hoping for some mid-major representation (this is an FBS championship playoff, and as things currently stand, mid-majors are still part of FBS), a healthy percentage of people who have covered college football for a living before (current or former writers, for example), and I was obviously hoping for some acknowledgement of the importance of analytics when it comes to choosing the four best teams in the country.

What did we get?

No analytics presence, first of all.

One person has ever had a reason to pay attention to all of college football at once before (former USA Today reporter Steve Wieberg).

Eight of 13 probable committee members are major conference athletic directors or figureheads. There are national title rings and impressive histories in the room, to be sure. There's also minimal mid-major representation and little reason to believe anything but the most conventional of conventional wisdom will be applied. And hey, maybe that's just fine. You don't get questioned when you select the least controversial teams.

I knew in advance that I probably wasn't going to like any committee that got formed. My goals were unrealistic from the start. So really, this is about what was to be expected. And again, the variance between what this committee produces and what my perfect-world group (whatever that is) would have is minimal.

And hey, this committee will just be working out the kinks for when the playoff stretches to eight teams and the real work begins, right?

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