By: Edward Egros

November 2017

Predicting the College Football Committee

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The penultimate College Football Playoff rankings are out and those conceivably in the running are:

1. Clemson
2. Auburn
3. Oklahoma
4. Wisconsin
5. Alabama
6. Georgia
7. Miami
8. Ohio State

Before predicting how the playoff will develop, it is important to keep a couple of things in mind. First, the College Football Playoff committee has
outlined some of the things they hope to accomplish picking the four teams. Among the most relevant items:

- Consider geography
- Avoid rematches in the regular-season
- Consider strength of schedule
- Consider conference championships won

It is also important some of the things the committee has never done in three years:

- Taken two teams from one conference
- Taken a two-loss team
- Taken three teams from the same region of the country

Using these guidelines, here is how the playoff will be decided:

- The winner of the ACC Championship between Clemson and Miami gets in, the loser is out.
- The winner of the SEC Championship between Georgia and Auburn gets in, the loser is out.
- Oklahoma gets in if they win the Big 12 Championship, TCU cannot get in.
- Wisconsin gets in if they win the Big Ten Championship. If Ohio State wins, they get in if TCU wins.
- Alabama gets in if Oklahoma loses OR Wisconsin loses.

It is impossible point differential matters in any of these league championship games (it is the committee, it is omnipotent). But chances are, we have our blueprint for who will compete for the national title in January.

Forced Into Success

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(Courtesy: Getty Images)

An odd thing happened to the Dallas Cowboys in their last couple of games: their opponents' starting kickers exited their games early with injuries. Philadelphia's kicker Jake Elliott suffered a head injury and Los Angeles' kicker Nick Novak experienced back problems. Both teams had to resort to emergency backups during the game, with less than ideal results. Each backup was seen missing the practice the net on the sideline while warming up.

The difference between the Eagles and Chargers is how they adjusted to losing their kickers. Philadelphia opted to avoid kicking all together, not attempting field goals and going for two instead of extra point tries. Los Angeles remained conventional, playing as if they had its kicker. The results are drastically different. The Eagles went for 2-point conversions on four occasions, converting three of them. They also faced a fourth-and-5 from the Dallas 17-yard line, scoring a touchdown on the play. Even if you assume Philadelphia would have made that field goal (and every extra point attempt), by not using a kicker, the team gained five points. As for the Chargers, Drew Kaser missed two extra points and still had Novak make one more attempt, which he missed. Had Los Angeles gone for two after all four of its second-half touchdowns, and if we assume they would have converted half of them (the league average), they would have netted three points.

As a result, Los Angeles' conventional wisdom cost them three points, while Philadelphia gained five points with aggressive play calling. In other words, the Eagles were eight points better with their approach.

There is plenty of analytical research suggested NFL teams
kick fewer field goals or attempt more 2-point conversions. While these findings have been perpetually published for years, it hasn't changed the sport very much. Teams are still attempting roughly as many field goals and extra points as ever, even though offenses have improved and extra points have become more difficult. While teams refuse to implement this research, a real life example happened in the span of one week where one team put itself in a better position by kicking less. It doesn't explain everything, but it can spotlight one reason why Philadelphia has the best record in the NFL, while Los Angeles is on the fringe of the playoffs.

Gary Patterson is the Most Hated Man in College Football

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(Courtesy: Getty Images)

It's not Nick Saban, Urban Meyer or some college football pundit who polarizes fan bases to insanity, just for that monthly paycheck.

It's TCU head coach Gary Patterson, who's led the program since 2000, including a pair of conference transitions and two New Year's Six Bowl victories. Despite few controversial issues within his program, Patterson earns this distinction because of who he is and where he works.

Who he is, is a winner. Perhaps most notable among his accomplishments, his teams are 43-5 when ranked in the Top 10. This record suggests the longevity of having played so many games near the top of the poll du jour, but also a near perfect winning percentage when expected to succeed.

Where he works is a small, private university with
roughly 10,000 students. To compare, this student body is 1/4 the size of Alabama's and roughly 1/5 the size of other highly touted college football schools like Penn State and Ohio State. Also, many of these schools are flagships of their own state, meaning their fan bases extend well beyond those who actually attend the university. Not only can't TCU boast being a flagship, it operates from a state with some of the larger followings in America like Texas and Texas A&M.

Gary Patterson is a successful coach who works for a small school with a smaller fan base trying to get his team into Year 4 of the College Football Playoff. He came close during the inaugural year of the playoff, but was pushed aside for: Ohio State (Baylor also finished ahead of TCU but was also left out, another small private university). Some will argue vindication for the eventual champion Buckeyes, but how TCU would have performed in the playoff that year remains a mystery, even more shrouded given its 39-point victory over 9th-ranked Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. The gripes only grow louder knowing TCU
controlled games better than Ohio State, had a better defensive efficiency (a metric that predicts success better than offensive efficiency) and the strength of schedule between the Frogs and Buckeyes were roughly the same.

TCU's lone loss that season was to Baylor, and committees historically rank good losses worse than mediocre defeats. The trend seems counterintuitive, but rhetorically serves as an acceptable argument within college football. Also, because the Frogs and Bears split the Big 12 Championship, despite the head-to-head result, they could have "canceled each other out", opening the door for Ohio State.

Still, the only other school with a successful season these last four years most like TCU is Stanford, with an
enrollment roughly 50% larger than the Frogs'. In 2015, they won the Pac-12 Championship, but two losses locked them out. The last two-loss team to win a National Championship was LSU in 2007, so opportunities for those in Stanford's position have always been limited.

Today, TCU is in a more advantageous position than three years ago. The latest College Football Playoff poll has TCU ranked 6th. They will face 5th-ranked Oklahoma and could face the Sooners again in a separate Big 12 Championship Game, something that did not exist during the TCU/Baylor controversy. The conference added this contest because their analytics suggest the game gives a Big 12 team
a greater likelihood of making the Final Four. Two wins over a highly ranked Sooners squad would give the Horned Frogs an undisputed league championship, something that is a statistically significant variable for making the playoff. Their strength of schedule ranking would also increase and defensive efficiency may also rise because a win would include containing Sooner quarterback and Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield.

Despite the lone loss, if TCU wins its remaining games, the Frogs' resume would be arguably as bulletproof as any one-loss team. The committee admits to wanting geographic diversity, but there would not be another program in that region of the country with a more attractive resume. If TCU is still left out, something should be considered amiss. Having a smaller following could be assumed as a factor for being left out. Gary Patterson would then spotlight a problem with this era of determining a National Champion: he has done virtually everything he can to put his team in a position to play for a title; and yet gets left out for a second year. A conspiracy theory, true or otherwise, that undermines the validity of the selection process, is something the sport and the committee would hate.