Thursday, November 30, 2017

Why Auburn Should Not Make The Playoff

And now for some wrangling over trivial matters.

Auburn and Alabama had the most objectively similar schedules you could possibly ask for between two teams this year. Consider the following: They both play in the SEC West, so they both faced six common opponents for that reason alone. Moreover, they both faced two SEC East opponents. They both faced a decent ACC team at the beginning of the year: Auburn facing Clemson, and Alabama facing Florida State. (I know, Florida State pretty much tanked the rest of their season. But that was largely due to Francois’s season-ending injury.) And finally, they both had three “cupcake” games a piece, relatively easy matchups in which they were heavily-favored.

At the end of these remarkably similar schedules, and prior to the Iron Bowl, Auburn had suffered two losses (to Clemson and LSU) and Alabama had suffered exactly zero.

Of course, Auburn ended up defeating Alabama in the Iron Bowl. So at the moment, Alabama is 11-1 and Auburn is 10-2. But now Auburn has a chance to defeat Georgia (a second time) in the SEC championship. If they manage to do this, good for them. But it still doesn’t make them playoff-worthy. Auburn would still have no more wins than Alabama already has, and would still have more losses.

If Auburn does end up winning the SEC this year, what the committee needs to do is exactly what they did last year, when they gave the one-loss Ohio State precedence over the two-loss conference champion Penn State, despite the fact that the latter had defeated the former. Virtually the same scenario could play out this year between Alabama and Auburn, respectively, yet the committee appears more than ready to give Auburn the edge, should they win the SEC.

But clearly this whole “conference championship” system is quite broken. It very often doesn’t pit the two best teams in the conference against each other in the title game. Nobody seriously thinks Florida was the second best team in the SEC last year. Yet with a 9-3 record, they played for the conference title. Sure, they got obliterated by the undefeated Alabama. But what if they had caught Bama on a bad night and pulled off an upset? Would that have made Florida the best team in the SEC? Hardly.

And yet this weird “conference championship” thing is what’s making everyone think Auburn is having a more successful year than Alabama, even though Auburn has less wins and more losses. Conference titles muddy the waters of the playoff committee’s decision-making, and shouldn’t be getting in the way like they are. Conferences like the Big 12 are now forced to go back to having a conference championship, just to ensure that their conference has a chance at making the playoff. Which doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

Personally, I think every conference should forego a title game, and instead schedule an additional regular-season cross-division conference game for each team. I don’t foresee that happening any time soon, if ever. But I do think it would give the playoff committee a more sensible set of data to work with.

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