The self-proclaimed “Conference of Champions” can take on another moniker, at least for the 2015 football season:
The Biggest Loser.
We don’t know who’s going to win the College Football Playoff, but we already know for sure who won’t.
The Pac-12 is the only Power 5 conference left out of the four-team playoff, with its champion Stanford consigned to the Rose Bowl. It’s also the only Power 5 conference with just one team in the New Year’s Six bowl games, while the Big Ten (3) and SEC, Big 12 and ACC (2 each) landed multiple teams.
Selection committee chairman Jeff Long said that Stanford, ranked No. 6, really “wasn’t close” to making it into the top four. What sunk the Cardinal was their two losses as all four playoff participants have no more than one loss each.
And just think, had Stanford scheduled, say, FCS team Sac State or even San Jose State, for its opener instead of a road game at Northwestern, it easily could’ve made the playoff, or at least made the committee’s job very difficult in terms of which conference champion to leave out of the playoff.
Stanford faced 12 Power 5 opponents in its 13 games (counting Notre Dame), more than any team in the country. Even with that loss to the Wildcats, who went on to finish 10-2, the Cardinal still managed to beat 10 Power 5 teams, more than three of the playoff participants (Alabama, Oklahoma and Michigan State), which only defeated nine each.
While the committee claims to take strength of schedule into strong consideration, there’s no evidence that it’s penalized teams for their scheduling practices in its two years of existence. The SEC, ACC and Big Ten all made the playoff both years while playing only eight conference games, with every SEC team and most ACC teams playing at least one FCS opponent each.
The Pac-12, meanwhile, is the only Power 5 conference that plays nine conference games and stages a title game. Most Pac-12 teams also schedule at least one Power 5 opponent in its three non-conference games. Two teams (USC and UCLA) have never played an FCS team in their history.
Over the last two seasons (2014 and 2015), the Pac-12 has the best winning percentage against Power 5 non-conference opponents by a wide margin (19-11, .633). The SEC is second (18-17, .514) while the other three conferences have losing records.
But none of that seems to impress the committee. While Long claims that his fellow members consider analytics and watch game film, invariably they fall for the same “eye test” metric just like your average voters in the AP and coaches polls.
Since that’s the case, the SEC and ACC have shown no inclination of altering their scheduling practices, which means eight conference games and a lot of cupcakes for the rest. So for the Pac-12, it’s not a level playing field. Not just for this year, but for years to come.
5-7 Good Enough for This Trio
Since the 40 bowls are three eligible teams short of their 80 slots, three teams with losing records ended up getting invitations. The NCAA made the decision last week that 5-7 teams should be selected according to the Academic Progress Rate (APR) in 2013-14.
San Jose State literally became the last team taken, joining Nebraska (Foster Farms) and Minnesota (Quick Lane) as 5-7 teams getting bowl bids. The Spartans got a last-minute reprieve Saturday night after Appalachian State scored a late touchdown in a 34-27 win over South Alabama, denying the Jaguars bowl eligibility. They’ll head to Orlando for the Cure Bowl against Georgia State.
Georgia State was the last team to gain bowl eligibility, upsetting rival Georgia Southern on Saturday to finish 6-6. The Panthers’ 34-7 victory knocked out Illinois and Rice, the next two 5-7 teams on the APR list.
Game of the Week
Michigan State 16, Iowa 13: In essentially a playoff play-in game, the Spartans embarked on an epic 22-play, 82-yard drive that chewed up 9 minutes and 4 seconds before scoring the winning touchdown on L.J. Scott’s 1-yard run with 27 seconds left. Michigan State won its second Big Ten title in three years and will face Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.
Player of the Week
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford. The sophomore do-it-all back broke Barry Sanders’ single-season all-purpose yardage record by gaining 461 yards in an electrifying performance in the Pac-12 championship game. McCaffrey also threw an 11-yard TD pass to QB Kevin Hogan as the Cardinal pulled away for a 41-22 victory over USC and a Rose Bowl berth.
Committee’s Final Top 25
1. Clemson, 2. Alabama, 3. Michigan State, 4. Oklahoma, 5. Iowa, 6. Stanford, 7. Ohio State, 8. Notre Dame, 9. Florida State, 10. North Carolina, 11. TCU, 12. Ole Miss, 13. Northwestern, 14. Michigan, 15. Oregon, 16. Oklahoma State, 17. Baylor, 18. Houston, 19. Florida, 20. LSU, 21. Navy, 22. Utah, 23. Tennessee, 24. Temple, 25. USC.