It was quality over quantity this week with the mailbag questions.
Seems to me like with the low number of games in CFB, you could make a case that there doesn't need to be a set playoff system so much as a playoff system by meritocracy. Some years there are multiple teams deserving of playing for a title, and some years there aren't. What would you think about a system where the number of playoff teams could vary based on what the teams achieved? It could be something like "one loss or less, conference champion, within XXXX BCS rating of No. 1" for a big conference and "undefeated with a SOS above X" for a non-AQ conference. It could take place after the regular bowls if need be, and in situations like this year, you'd just declare LSU the champion instead of giving Alabama a rematch against a team it lost to at home.
-- R.M., via email
Now, I'm going to eschew the last part -- in the current sports climate, there's no way anybody would accept naming a national champion before the post-season, no matter who they may have played and no matter how good they may have looked. That part aside, however, I love this email because it gets at something that was briefly discussed in the comments section of my Monday "Pick Your Playoff" column: the number of "deserving" title teams changes drastically from year to year, and a playoff of any kind isn't going to perfectly address that. In a year like 2005, it was easy -- two teams were head-and-shoulders above everybody else, and they played for the national title. It was the same in 2002. But usually there are more than two teams with a case (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010), and occasionally there are just one (2006, 2011). (And in some years -- 2007 -- there are none.)
If there were a variable way to choose playoff participants, as the old SB Nation site BCS Evolution pursued for quite a while, that would probably be the best way to balance the "best team of the entire season/(almost) every game matters" pursuit of college football past with a fairer, tourney-style approach to the postseason. But getting buy-in for such a method would be nearly impossible, just because of how complicated it might be.
Then again, there is not much simplicity to the BCS formulas, at least in their original form.
This continues to remain a relevant topic for a couple of different reasons. First, it's December, and "WE NEED A BETTER SYSTEM" conversations are part of holiday traditions across the college football universe; second, the idea of a Plus One playoff is gaining serious traction, to the point where I am almost positive there is a scenario on the table that would both qualify as a four-team playoff and still crack whatever resistance Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany might still provide. It might not be as clean as a simple, four-team semifinal (and really, since when has college football adopted a simple, clean model for anything?), but I would be surprised if it doesn't happen.
And yes, people have been saying that for decades. But I haven't. I've only recently begun to believe it was possible on the near horizon.
In some years, a simple, clean plus-one model would be perfect. In others, the No. 5 team would be as equally deserving of a shot as No. 4 (this year, for instance, it's possible that No. 4 Stanford would get selected over No. 5 Oregon despite the fact that Oregon won the head-to-head battle and the conference title), and the outrage would be just as loud. In other years, No. 4 would be far less deserving than No. 2 and/or No. 3, meaning a team that was a step below the elite in the regular season might be able to get hot and win a title. It wouldn't be the end of the world, but it wouldn't be perfect. Meanwhile, some of the more complicated models on the table might allow for more than four teams to technically have a shot and preserve a friendly bowl structure; they would just confuse the hell out of people. Such is life.
I know Ken Pomeroy has a sort of "excitement score" for basketball games which combines some statistical traits of teams and I was wondering if there were any traits that you would think would lead to more "exciting" football games? Some ideas of mine were passing down PPP, a combination of leverage % and passing down SR (teams that got into a lot of passing downs but were then able to get OUT of those bad situations), and low sack rates, we want passes flying. You could use it to make another Bowl Ranking List, because we all know the internet needs more of those.
-- M.M., via email
I love this idea so much. We can call it either the Excitability Scale or, of course, the MACtion Scale.
Not everybody actually enjoys offensive shootouts, but mid-week, high-scoring MAC games were a nice complement to the fact that the top two teams in the country (and a good portion of the SEC) were focused on suffocating, grueling defense. Points don't equal quality, but there's a certain excitement involved in shootouts, so let's create a scale. Along the lines of what M.M. suggested, we're going to need a mixture of high and low quality, using Passing Downs PPP ratings (raw passing downs explosiveness ratings, unadjusted for opponent) and Leverage Rates (the ratio of standard downs to total plays -- the higher the Leverage Rate, the fewer passing downs you are facing). The trick here, is that pure, MACtion-worthy football requires a mixture of good and bad football. On offense, you have to be able to continuously dig yourself out of holes on passing downs and unable to avoid passing downs. On defense, it's the opposite -- you should be able to force passing downs and continuously let teams off the hook.
So if we combine these four factors, what do we get (with actual MAC teams in bold)? Find the full list at Football Study Hall.
MACtion Scale Top 25
2. Miami (Ohio)
3. Eastern Michigan
7. San Diego State
10. Wake Forest
17. Michigan State
18. Fresno State
20. Southern Miss
22. West Virginia
23. Western Michigan
25. Florida Atlantic
MACtion Scale Bottom 10
118. Colorado State
117. Mississippi State
116. Louisiana Tech
113. Air Force
(Anybody who watched Missouri's 17-5 win over Texas would probably agree that low MACtion scores can at least occasionally result in some unwatchable football. Army-Navy tomorrow could be the same way.)
Anyway, be on the lookout for fuller, more fleshed out MACtion Scale ratings (and bowl rankings), either here or at Football Study Hall. And hell, this might be an interesting idea for another aspect of a team's personality, along with something like pace and Covariance.
-- J.T., via email
I know, right?
I am generally of the sentiment that we shouldn't overreact to coaching hires, just because the best-looking, most sensible hires in the world can fail, and the worst-looking, most hilarious can succeed. Hell, my own alma mater made a basketball hire that befuddled a good portion of the country back in April; if the National Coach of the Year vote were taken today, however, Frank Haith would probably win it. Situation, environment, inherited roster, program commitment/investment ... they all matter as much or more than an incoming coach's resume when it comes to the success (or lack thereof) of a hire. So in that sense, Charlie Weis might work out just fine at Kansas.
That said ... wow, I am just dumbstruck by this hire. We were joking about it at official (and dark) SB Nation headquarters on Wednesday night, but we still didn't really expect it to happen. And on a peripheral level, it is easy to understand why. At Notre Dame, Weis failed to establish a high level of play once he lost Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, and other Tyrone Willingham recruits. Once the program was his -- and he stocked it with quite a few blue-chip recruits -- the results just weren't there.
He put by far the worst BCS offense in the country on the field in 2007 (and his product as offensive coordinator at Florida was below average), and even though the offense rebounded by Jimmy Clausen's junior year, it was still only good, not great, and he was still only able to produce 6-6 and 7-6 records in his final two seasons at South Bend. Granted, 7-6 would be magnificent in Lawrence at the moment, but he is also a) inheriting a much less talented team and b) not going to be recruiting at the same level at KU.
Charlie Weis has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an excellent NFL offensive coordinator. But in his five years at Notre Dame and his one year at Florida, he has proven very little in terms of his ability to succeed with a collegiate offense, and he has not proven that he will provide serious results as a college head coach. He is experienced, he has gravitas (in a couple of different ways), and he has made Kansas football a current topic of conversation. Plus, it's not like coaches were beating down the door to take that job. Still ... this was both a shocking and baffling hire. It might work out, who knows, but ... baffling.