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The Six Dilemmas Facing the College Football Playoff Selection Committee

Dan Mullen

Dan Mullen

The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first rankings today, and no one really knows what to expect.

Will the selection committee’s top 25 be a carbon copy of the AP or coaches polls? Will it be wildly different?

How much change will we see from week to week as the committee goes through its made-for-TV rankings process every Tuesday?

How will the committee of 12 — the 13th member, Archie Manning, took a leave due to medical reasons — justify the teams in and out of the top four from week to week?

Indeed, this is a new era, but how much of a break the playoff will be from the BCS remains to be seen. Maybe we’ll find out Tuesday night. Maybe we’ll find out on selection Sunday on Dec. 7.

Either way, these are among the most heady issues the committee must face starting this week.

Dilemmas the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will Face

The SEC West question

The architects of the playoff have been clear that no limits will be placed on the amount of teams a conference can send to the playoff. That may be put to the test immediately within one division. In three of the last four weeks, three SEC West teams have been ranked in the top four of the Associated Press poll. Whether that’s an indication of what the selection committee might do isn’t clear. What’s certain is that the SEC West has the most playoff contenders of any conference as a whole in Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. That field will be narrowed to two or one in the final month of the season, but the SEC West may put immediate pressure on the committee to set some sort of precedent on league representation in the Football Four.

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The case for Oregon

We’re told one of the advantages here is that a committee of 12 experts will be able to better gauge teams impacted by injury. There’s no better example than Oregon. With left tackle Jake Fisher, the Ducks defeated Michigan State, UCLA and Washington by an average of 18.7 points per game. Without their starting tackle, the Ducks lost at home to Arizona and survived a scare on the road against Washington State. Of the top playoff contenders, Oregon’s loss to Arizona is one of the worst losses. Will the committee overlook this glaring flaw on the resume as long as the Ducks continue to look like a contender when its offensive line is intact?

The case for Ohio State

Again, one of the advantages of the committee is that it’s supposed to recognize when a team improves as the season goes along. Look no further than Ohio State, whose lone loss to Virginia Tech looks worse with each passing week. The Buckeyes faced Virginia Tech in the second week of the season when J.T. Barrett, pressed into starting duty only 10 days before the season, was making his second career start. Since that loss, Barrett has looked more and more like an elite Big Ten quarterback, and Ohio State rolled over its subsequent four opponents. If Ohio State can defeat Michigan State on Nov. 8 and wins the Big Ten, the Buckeyes may have a playoff-worthy resume provided that loss to 4-4 Virginia Tech doesn’t become an albatross.

The head-to-head question

Ole Miss suffered its first loss of the season Saturday and dropped to No. 7 in the AP poll. That’s four spots behind Alabama, a team the Rebels beat 23-17 on Oct. 7. The reasons for the Tide to be ranked ahead of Ole Miss are reasonable — the Tide lost a close game in Oxford, defeated a Big 12 contender on a neutral field (West Virginia) and showed dominance on both sides of the ball in wins over Texas A&M and Florida. But one school of thought will maintain that as long as both have one loss apiece, Ole Miss should have an edge over Alabama in the rankings. The same dilemma could arise if Mississippi State and Auburn each end up with one loss — the Bulldogs defeated Auburn 38-23 on Oct. 4, but the Tigers may end up with a better resume with wins over Kansas State, South Carolina and potentially Georgia compared to Mississippi State’s East wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

The rematch question

The seeding of the final playoff pairings could present a handful of rematches from the Iron Bowl to the Egg Bowl to Michigan State-Oregon to any other SEC West matchup. Will the committee artfully try to avoid rematches in the semifinals?

Marshall or East Carolina?

Remember: The playoff selection committee isn’t just seeding the semifinals; it’s also filling the Orange, Cotton, Peach and Fiesta bowls. One of those spots is guaranteed to go to the highest ranked team in the so-called Group of Five (the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt). The two most likely teams right now to fill that slot are East Carolina and Marshall. East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech and North Carolina but lost by 10  to South Carolina.