Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and College Football Playoff czar Bill Hancock both spoke out this week about this year's playoff selection process. As is often the case in college football, they had differing interpretations of how the structure of the Big 12's conference season impacted the league's chances of landing a team in the first-ever final four.
Does the Big 12 need a conference championship game? It's a tough question to answer because we only have one specific set of facts upon which to judge the selection committee's thinking. I do, however, feel comfortable making at least two important assumptions:
- The Group of 5 schools face an exceedingly high burden of proof. No school from outside the Power 5 leagues really made a legitimate push to enter the playoff all season. This system appears rigged in favor of the big dogs, which should surprise precisely no one.
- Rankings still hinge on "tracking the loss." For the most part, the committee lined teams up based on the number on the right side of the win-loss ledger.
*TBD: The importance of being a conference champion. Because we didn't see any non-champs from the Power 5 leagues finish with similar records to conference winners, it's difficult to tell how strongly this was weighted. For instance, if Mississippi State had finished the regular season with one loss, it would have made for a nice test case.
With all of that in mind, I thought it might help to look back at the past for guidance on how the 2014 season compared with previous seasons. Specifically, how many Power 5 teams typically finish the regular season with one loss or fewer?
Power 5 Teams Finishing With 1 Loss or Fewer (2005-2014)
In the table above, the middle column reflects the number of teams in the current Power 5 leagues that finished a regular season with one loss or fewer between 2005 and 2014. The column on the far right shows how many of those teams that finished with one loss or fewer also won a conference championship that season. (Note that I went ahead and counted co-championships as champs for the purposes of this exercise.)
As an example, let's look at 2012. Five teams finished the regular season with one or fewer losses: Notre Dame, Alabama, Oregon, Florida and Kansas State. Of that group, three won conference titles: Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State. As an independent, Notre Dame had no conference crown to claim, but the Fighting Irish finished the regular season undefeated. Florida went 11-1 and finished behind Georgia in the SEC East race.
On average, 4.5 teams finished the regular season with one loss or fewer per year during that span from 2005 to 2014. Furthermore, on average, 3.5 teams finished the regular season with one loss or fewer and won a conference title per year during that 10-year period.
In other words, unless the selection committee completely disregards conference championships, the past 10 years' results give me the impression as of now that an 11-1 Big 12 champion usually shouldn't have much of a problem getting into the playoff.
More than likely, Baylor and TCU picked a bad year to be really good.