<
>

Mailbag: Howls over SEC conspiracy

10/31/2014

Happy Halloween.

I will be Superman this Halloween. Why? I won't have time after work to change into a costume!

My wife loves that joke, even after 1,317 tellings!

To the notes! But not until one last sentence ends with an exclamation point!

Pat from Arlington, Virginia, writes: I'm not overly worried about the initial playoff ranking, but doesn't it seem absurd that the SEC West gets such a huge boost when every one-loss team has looked flawed at times?

Blaine from Phoenix writes: Hypothetical question: If a Pac-12 school were the reigning College Football national champs, would Arizona State (14), Utah (17) and Arizona (12), all one-loss teams, be ranked say... where Auburn (3), Ole Miss (4) and Alabama (6), also all one-loss teams, are currently located? Or would a national championship for the Pac-12 not change the league's perceived value that much? (Hypothetically speaking.)

Wes from Salt Lake City writes: The playoff rankings are out. I disagree with the blatant SEC bias, but they are what they are. After thinking about it the thing that bothers me about the rankings the most is that the top teams in the SEC all play FCS schools. Is the selection committee really going to penalize those SEC teams for SOS for not losing at this point?

Eric Terrebonne, Oregon, writes: I thought the playoffs and the committee were going to bring about a better system. ... Having Ole Miss in the top four is not a better system. Yes, I understand there is still a lot of football to be played, but this week sets a precedent. This week the committee told the world that playing in the SEC is more important than losing a game. LSU is a good team, but not a great one. Not this year. Ole Miss losing to them should have knocked them out of the top four. Everyone not an Ole Miss or SEC homer knows that. The argument that it was how they lost is fundamentally unsound as I would argue that Arizona is just as good a team as LSU (maybe better) and Oregon didn't make it. Is this what we can expect from the committee?

Ted Miller: Is there a case to be made that the sports media's bias toward the SEC has infected the College Football Playoff selection committee? Yes. So there you go, frustrated non-SEC fans.

But what are the grounds for that bias, which we can define here as an accumulation of preconceptions based on previous evidence? And is it defensible?

The grounds is the SEC winning seven of the last eight national titles, leading the nation in the production of NFL talent and leading the nation in recruiting rankings. None of those three SEC checkmarks are infallible. The merits of each can be debated. But if you were putting together a conference's resume, you'd like to be able to write those down.

Of course, the committee, via spokesperson Jeff Long, is insisting it will be looking at teams, not conferences. So let's do that with Ole Miss and Auburn compared to the four one-loss Pac-12 teams. We'll include preseason ranking, because that shows what the preseason perception was of a team. We're not including Alabama, because most of the Crimson Tide's heavy lifting is ahead and most of you seem to give 'Bama a pass out of respect.

  • Oregon was No. 3 in the preseason. It jumped to No. 2 after beating No. 7 Michigan State decisively at home. It fell eight spots to No. 10 after losing to unbeaten but previously unranked Arizona at home. After three wins, it presently ranks fifth in the CFP rankings and the AP poll.

  • Arizona was unranked in the preseason and wasn't ranked after a 4-0 start that included close wins over UTSA and Nevada, as well as a Hail Mary to beat California. After winning at Oregon, it jumped to No. 10. But the Wildcats fell six spots to 16th after losing the next weekend at home to USC, which already had lost twice and was unranked at the time. After winning at Washington State, the Wildcats are up to 12th in the CFP rankings and 14th with the AP.

  • Arizona State was No. 19 in the preseason and moved up to 15th after a 3-0 start against weak competition. On Oct. 25, it fell 62-27 to No. 11 UCLA and dropped out of the rankings (though it ended up 26th). After beating USC with a Hail Mary, Stanford and Washington, the Sun Devils moved up to 14th in the CFP rankings and 15th with the AP.

  • Utah was unranked in the preseason. The Utes started 3-0 but followed up a win at Michigan with a home loss to Washington State. However, after winning at No. 8 UCLA the following week, the Utes entered the rankings at No. 24. After tight wins over Oregon State and USC, the Utes moved up to No. 17 with the CFP rankings and 18th with the AP.

  • Mississippi began the season ranked 18th. It moved up to No. 11 at 4-0, though its best wins at the time were over Boise State and Memphis. It beat No. 3 Alabama at home to improve to 5-0, and that bounced the Rebels into a tie with Mississippi State at No. 3 in the AP poll (fourth in coaches). The Rebels remained at No. 3 until losing at No. 24 LSU, 10-7. They fell four spots to No. 7 in the AP poll, but ended up No. 4 in the initial CFP rankings, the No. 2 one-loss team, whereas the AP had the No. 7 Rebels as the No. 5 one-loss team.

  • Auburn began the season ranked No. 6 and moved up to No. 2 after recording quality wins at Kansas State and against LSU. It then fell to No. 6 after losing 38-23 at then-No. 3 Mississippi State, which made it the No. 1 one-loss team. After a bye week and win over South Carolina, it climbed to No. 3 in the CFP rankings and No. 4 in the AP poll.

If you take all of this from point to point, you can see how the committee arrived at their first rankings. The two unbeaten teams, Mississippi State and Florida State, are Nos. 1 and 2. Auburn, with a high initial ranking, two quality wins and a loss to the No. 1 team, is the No. 1 one-loss team. Ole Miss, with the undeniably impressive win over Alabama and a tight loss at LSU, is a solid No. 4, if you don't get hung up on the timing of the LSU loss being just a week ago.

Remember: Hasn't everyone been asking the pollsters to not react -- overreact? -- so dramatically to one week's results but to see the season as a totality?

So, Pat, I mostly agree with the committee's staggering thus far for the one-loss teams, which I honestly view as pretty irrelevant with so many quality games ahead. Do I think Oregon would beat the Mississippi schools? Yes. But I also thought Oregon was going to beat the pooh out of Auburn in the 2010 BCS national title game, so what the heck do I know?

And, Blaine, do I think if Oregon or Stanford had won the national title last year, it would have buoyed Arizona, Arizona State and Utah? Maybe. Maybe the Pac-12 should win a national title and see if that happens.

And, Wes, yes, I do think Mississippi and Mississippi State fans should be worried about their nonconference schedules. If one or the other ends up with the same record as, say, Pac-12 champion Oregon, they will lose out. I'm not so confident that would be the case with Auburn, which won impressively at K-State.

But let me conclude with something. Alabama fans... I think there's a Texas booster whispering in Nick Saban's ear again. And is that an Auburn fan about to paint the Bear Bryant statue blue? Yeah, you better run over there.

OK. Pac-12 fans, you'd much rather have the Pac-12 champion play one of the Mississippi schools in the College Football Playoff than Alabama. Trust me on this.


Matt from Washington, D.C., writes: Ted -- pretty harsh words for Mr. Bowden regarding his thoughts on Former Secretary Rice's credentials to serve on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. In your view, what makes her well qualified to serve on the committee? Agree she is a very accomplished person, but aside from being a fan and occasionally assisting with Stanford recruiting, what makes her especially well qualified to determine who should be in the playoff?

Ted Miller: First off, let's stop acting like evaluating the quality of football teams is only possible for those who possess some sort of super-secret wisdom that arrives via a mystical unicorn made of rainbows and taffeta only after you have played or coached the sport. Those wild, heroic stories of fraternal dances of players and coaches, dressed only in leather loin cloths, bathed in coconut oil, frolicking in fields of tulips, pounding bongos, man-hugging and singing odes to the smell of grass and linebacker theory are unproven myths, no matter what Pat Dye says.

What makes Condoleezza Rice qualify to sit on the committee is she is smart and she cares and she loves football. Further, with a committee of 12, it's important to have a diversity of skill sets. If you had 12 Nick Sabans in the room, it would be a disaster. Rice likely will challenge preconceived notions, offer a different perspective and she won't be afraid to challenge conventional wisdom.

Finally, it's also valuable to have someone who can facilitate negotiations, interpret a vast array of often conflicting reports and keep a group of bickering jocks surfeited with testosterone on task.

Now, if she were trying to write about Pac-12 football, well, that requires a batch of superhuman qualities available only to those who have passed through black holes and read the Dark Matter Scrolls of Pacitwelvitus.


Tom from Seattle writes: Shaq Thompson went from being more than a sometimes running back on Saturday. He had 21 carries for 98 yards and only played defense a handful of times. Should Coach Pete be reprimanded for taking a first-round pick off the field or lauded for trying something different?

Ted Miller: I think Chris Petersen is doing what most coaches do: He is scratching and clawing and racking his his brain trying to win. He apparently believes, at present, playing Shaq Thompson at running back instead of linebacker gives him his best chance to win.

How should we measure Petersen's decisions? Winning.

If the Huskies' defense sags and the running game only improves marginally, then the move probably wasn't a good one. If the defense continues to play at a high level and Thompson solves the running-game woes, then the move is a good one.

Am I surprised by the move? Yes. But keep in mind I have not been visited by the mystical unicorn made of rainbows and taffeta. At least not since 1986, when the Westminster Wildcats captured Georgia's Region 5-AAA title by beating Marist senseless.


Tim from Atlanta writes: I know rooting doesn't affect the outcome, but it makes the games more fun -- so, who should Ducks fans be rooting for this weekend in the South division showdowns? The team that beat Oregon (Arizona) or the Ducks' second-best win (UCLA)? The team the Ducks play in barely a week (Utah), or the team they hope to play in about a month (ASU)? (Obviously understanding that the most important rooting is to be done in favor of our own team.) Basically, what's better for the Ducks if we project to a scenario where the committee is debating one-loss teams down the road?

Ted Miller: Two ways to look at this.

1. You either root, as an Oregon fan, for the team you'd prefer to play for the Pac-12 championship.

2. You root for the highest-ranked teams to win in order to potentially bolster the Ducks' national resume.

I think it's best for the Ducks to play a South Division champion that is highly ranked. So it's not really about rooting this weekend. It's about rooting for the winners this weekend to keep doing so going forward (of course, other than against the Ducks).

Your ultimate enemy is extreme cannibalism, with the South becoming a welter of teams with three defeats.