‘SOS’ kept popping up during the teleconferences Wednesday during a discussion with the 13-person committee that will decide the four teams for the College Football Playoff.
SOS, of course, stands for Strength of Schedule. It could also stand for the 108-year old standard for the distress signal in Morse Code.
Near, or at the top of the list of vital signs to determine which four teams will make the College Football Playoff, say the committee members, is strength of schedule. In basketball, SOS is easy to decode. If you play a team with a rating in the top 20 on the road and lose, it means more than playing a team with a rating of 300 at home and winning. The NCAA Basketball Selection Committee has made it easy for coaches and athletic directors.
The College Football Playoff committee, whose members include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, need to provide similar guidance when the College Football Playoff starts in 2014.
Greg McGarity, the athletic director at Georgia, said athletic directors are going to need some help determining how to balance their non-conference schedules so they make sure, in the final analysis, they have done whatever they could to get their team in the Final Four.
“What does strength of schedule mean in football, that is the big unknown,” McGarity said. “We’ve had discussions as a group of athletic directors and it is still undefined.
“What’s enough as far as scheduling? What if you over-schedule? We need some more information from the committee.”
It is crucial information because next year, or the year after, or the year after, there are going to be four or five teams with resumes that look similar who are trying to be Team 4 in the playoff. Millions of dollars are on the line. Recruiting will be impacted. The committee members said on the teleconferences Wednesday, SOS is a big deal. They are going to hold up each of the contender’s schedules and make their call based on SOS.
The SEC should have an edge here. It has eight teams in the Top 25 this week, a record. Its two newest members, Missouri and Texas A&M, have just one loss between them. The SEC has won the last seven national titles.
But somewhere on that committee lurks Bob Stoops’ cohort. The Oklahoma coach insists the Southeastern Conference is overrated and a committee member will agree. The best retort will be the SEC’s body of work outside the SEC.
If the 13-member committee comes back with metrics that tells schools to play your nine conference games and then go play two more non-conference games against schools from a major conference, preferably schools in the top tier of that conference, the players should run and hide.
There will be no safe place to land for a week and rest during the season, no Charleston Southern to get the subs in for three quarters. It will be an NFL-like grind. You can already see the wear and tear on Georgia and Florida this season. Bill Hancock, the CEO of The College Football Playoff, said fans will thank the committee in five years because schedules will be filled with more tough games. The players will not be thankful.
The College Football Playoff is just piling on more pressure if it demands strong non-conference games from SEC teams.
Here is another takeaway on Wednesday’s teleconference:
If you are a fan of the SEC, your friends on the 13-person committee for the College Football Playoff are Tom Osborne, Barry Alvarez, and Tyrone Willingham.
These three were college football coaches and they had some success at Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Stanford/Notre Dame, which meant they could evaluate opponents and game plan.
So when the committee is done choosing the first three teams for the four-team College Football Playoff, which starts next season, and the debate rages about who should be the fourth team, the other 10 people on the committee will look to the three coaches for guidance.
Osborne, Alvarez, and Willingham will be asked to play the last several contenders in their mind’s eye based on what they have seen on film. The coaches will match Contender A against Contender B and will be asked to pick a winner. If they cannot vote on the fourth team because, for instance, a Big Ten team (Osborne’s affiliation) is matched against an ACC team, somebody on the committee is still going to bump into Osborne on that elevator in Dallas and say, “Give it to me straight, who wins?”
So, assuming that everyone knows the best football in the country is played in the SEC, the eye test is a big deal. Osborne, Alvarez, and Willingham will be key.
For example, in 2011 when Oklahoma State and Alabama, each with one loss, were the top contenders to play LSU for the BCS title, I asked NFL scouts, “Who wins? Bama or Oklahoma State?”
It wasn’t close. The scouts, who evaluate talent and watch teams and watch more film than anyone, said Alabama would crush the Cowboys. And they were right. The Crimson Tide went on and won a title.
So now take Ohio State and LSU this season. Do you want a 13-member committee studying all sorts of statistics and measurements and strength of schedule of the unbeaten Buckeyes vs. once-beaten LSU and arriving at a decision with all the rigmarole?
Or would you rather three coaches lock themselves in the room with video and make a determination?
It’s why I wrote months ago that the selection committee should include some player personnel folks.
But I have talked to coaches candidly after they have worked on a game plan and they have said, “I don’t know if we can block these guys” or ‘we don’t have a receiver who can handle their press coverage’. Coaches know who can beat who.
The eye test removes chemistry from the equation, and other intangibles, and that’s dangerous. These kids are not robots. They perform differently week to week based on the emotion of the week, etc. Motivation can affect talent differently.
In the end, though, the four best teams will be right there on film…. and coaches can pick them out better than anyone.