Mocking the 2011 College Football Playoff selection

Herbstreit reflects on CFB season heading into Week 6

Kirk Herbstreit joins Scott Van Pelt to offer his impressions of the college football season through the first five weeks.

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Two bits of fiction you need to know: I am Pat Haden, and No. 4 Oregon would have played a rematch with No. 1 LSU in the first semifinal of the the 2011 College Football Playoff.

If, of course, the playoff had existed back then, which it didn't.

But it did Wednesday when a gaggle of 13 ESPN-ers gathered at the posh, expansive Gaylord Hotel for a mock version of the final meeting of the 2011 College Football Playoff selection committee. I volunteered to sit in Haden's seat because I am certain he would have wanted it that way -- insisted, in fact, that I was the only one who could properly represent his wisdom and gravitas.

No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Oklahoma State would have met in the other semifinal.

While my present self believes we'd still have handed off the 2011 crown to an Alabama team that was exceptionally talented, that would have been an interesting three games. Certainly it would have offered a few more thrills than the snoozer rematch between LSU and the Crimson Tide that the BCS gave us.

As for the rest of the Pac-12, Stanford was No. 8 in our final rankings, which I think is pretty darn low for Andrew Luck & Co. The Cardinal would have played No. 5 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. USC, which finished 10-2, was ineligible for the voting because of NCAA sanctions, which caused complications because I was the only one who kept reminding the panel that, yes, Stanford did have a high-quality win.

Otherwise, you could say Oregon's and Stanford's poor-to-middling strength of schedule was due to a pretty down year in the Pac-12. After the aforementioned three, no other Pac-12 team posted a better record than 8-5 (Utah) or was better than 5-4 in conference play.

My major takeaways from the mock?

It's a demanding undertaking, and I sensed little room for obvious agendas to be forced into the process by committee members. While it's 13 people with their own ideas of rating teams, it's unlikely that any one person -- or two -- could throw a wrench into the system. Our discussions included plenty of Q&A with CFP committee chair Jeff Long, executive director Bill Hancock and chief operating officer Michael Kelly. Long's symbolic hat rack outside the meeting room -- leaving your hat at the door means checking biases -- felt real.

Not that we didn't have spirited debates. Brock Huard and Chris Spielman reenacted a Rose Bowl with their extended debate over the virtues of Boise State. When conversation waned over the ins-and-outs of the 2011 season, it seemed like Baylor and its horrific nonconference schedule in 2014 and 2015 filled the gaps (it wasn't so in 2011, when Baylor handed TCU one of its two defeats).

What actually happens in the room is a series of votes, starting with each committee member entering his or her top-30 teams. When we had done that, we arrived at a 36-team pool, at which point we started voting and debating, voting and debating from the top down. LSU appeared to be a unanimous No. 1, and you might recall that the Tigers' resume was impeccable, unbeaten with quality nonconference wins over Oregon and at West Virginia.

In fact, there was a strong consensus for the top four. Alabama was an outlier at No. 2 as it wasn't a conference champion, while Oregon got respect despite two losses (LSU and USC).

The top 25 we came up with looked significantly different from the final BCS standings in 2011, which had Stanford fourth, and had some notable differences with the two human polls.

Things very well may go haywire this season. We might have, say, eight teams with compelling narratives, which will force the committee to make distinctions that will make a handful of fanbases livid.

As a member of the media, controversies and debate make me grin. So I embrace the potential chaos. But after going through the committee process, I'm not sure if there is a better way to pick the four best teams.

ESPN's Mock 2011 College Football Playoff rankings

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Oregon

5. Wisconsin

6. Boise State

7. Arkansas

8. Stanford

9. South Carolina

10. Kansas State

11. Michigan State

12. Clemson

13. TCU

14. Georgia

15. Michigan

16. Baylor

17. Oklahoma

18. Virginia Tech

19. Nebraska

20. Penn State

21. Notre Dame

22. Southern Miss

23. Houston

24. West Virginia

25. Florida State