Thirty-six different polls or mathematical formulas have been used over the years to rank college football teams, according to the NCAA records book.
The bowl coalition and alliance were the first steps in arranging the postseason to help determine the champion. They gave way to the Bowl Championship Series. Now we’re on to the next step in the evolution, the College Football Playoff.
Questionable calls have been part of all systems, and the current process is no different. The Big 12 is at the heart of the matter.
Baylor and TCU own 11-1 records. The Horned Frogs’ loss came at Waco. In any-tie breaking formula, the head-to-head result carries the day.
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But in the latest rankings released by the committee that will select and seed the four teams for the playoff bracket — plus fill in the four other major bowl games — TCU is ranked third and the Bears sixth, with Florida State and Ohio State in between.
The committee justifies it ranking by believing TCU is the best Big 12 team. Chairman Jeff Long said so and that idea has plenty of support.
Enough voters in the Associated Press top 25 and USA Today coaches’ poll think TCU is better and have ranked the Horned Frogs higher.
I think TCU is better and would beat Baylor on a neutral field.
About the place to find where Baylor is better than TCU is the only one that really should matter. The scoreboard.
On Oct. 11, the Horned Frogs, ranked ninth in the AP poll, traveled to Waco to meet fourth-ranked Baylor and craziness ensued.
TCU scored the first two touchdowns and remained in front for all but the final five minutes. The Frogs led by 21 with 11 minutes, 38 seconds remaining. But Baylor rallied furiously and TCU couldn’t stop it.
The Bears got it tied, stopped the Frogs on fourth-and-3, then benefited from a shaky pass interference call to get the field position for the game-winning field goal. Given the rankings, the opponent and the enormity of game, the 61-58 final had to be the greatest comeback in Baylor history and one of its most memorable triumphs.
The emotionally draining victory probably contributed to Baylor losing the next week at West Virginia by two touchdowns. It means that Baylor’s one loss, to the unranked Mountaineers, is worse than TCU’s lone defeat.
Also, Baylor played a lesser non-conference schedule than TCU, the difference being the Frogs’ victory over Minnesota. The committee has stated schedule strength is a factor for playoff determination, but so are head to head results against common opponents.
What happens this weekend could make a different. TCU plays host to last-place Iowa State, and Baylor gets Kansas State in Waco. The Wildcats, tied for first in the league, are also part of Big 12 championship conversation and ranked ninth in the playoff poll.
Assuming TCU takes care of business, a K-State victory ends the Baylor-TCU question, and Wildcats’ hopes for victory are buoyed by some recent leaky Bears defense that has surrendered 74 points in its last two games.
But if the home teams win, the playoff committee could be faced with a similar situation that chipped away at the credibility of the BCS in its early years.
In 2000, Miami, Fla., lost at Washington in its second game and went undefeated the rest of the way, including a three-point home victory over Florida State. That turned out to be the Seminoles’ lone loss.
Both major polls, which were components of the BCS standings, had the Hurricanes ranked second, Florida State third. But the computers gave the Seminoles enough of an advantage that they met Oklahoma in the national title game.
The controversy led to the adoption of a “quality win” bonus the next year, essentially extra credit for beating a top 15 team. The BCS got it right far more often than not, but suffered through enough confusion early on that the system was constantly questioned.
That possibility exists with the playoff committee from the outset. The group should be commended for this process. Its rankings reflect a deeper and more detailed study than most who have ever voted.
But one truth is universal in sports. Breaking a tie between similar teams starts with the scoreboard.