Blog Entry

Playoff Criteria and an Objective Evaluation

Posted on: June 27, 2012 6:00 pm

About a month ago, I was contacted by a friend who works for an athletic department at an FBS institution.  He asked me if I would assist him decide on a set of criteria and a method to help determine the most deserving teams for a 4-team playoff.  Now that a playoff model is approved by the presidents, a 4-team seeded model determined by a committee is where we’re headed in 2014.  Certain criteria will have to be decided upon and used by the committee, and that criteria will have to be weighted and objective for any of this to be credible.  It has already been reported that criteria will include SOS and conference championship among others.  I decided to start my research beginning with the 2006 season, the season FBS teams began playing a 12-game schedule, since teams will be playing a 12-game schedule in 2014 . 

I used data as it pertained to all FBS teams with 9 wins or more after the conference champions were decided.  No bowl game data was used or considered.   In an effort to keep this objective and free of bias, only actual game information was used for all criteria.  No polls, computer data or BCS standings were used or referred to. 

First, let’s disclose the criteria.  We already know that conference championships, schedule and most likely average score margin will be highly considered criteria for determining playoff participants.  Therefore, those are an important part of mine.  A few of the conference commissioners have thrown the idea to also consider a team’s wins on the road, either at an opponent’s home field or at a neutral site.  This is also a part of my criteria, however I’ve isolated this criteria to only wins on the road versus FBS teams with at least 8 wins.  I’ve also included the following:  Wins and losses (obviously), quality games played and won (like in basketball, but a little different), non-quality games (versus opponents with .500 record or worse, and FCS opponents), losing a non-quality game, and average score margin only counts versus major FBS opponents with at least 9 wins.

Now, let me explain the criteria, and more specifically, how SOS should be determined a little more in detail.  We’re looking for the top four, most deserving teams to participate in a playoff.  Granted, they might not be the “best” four teams every season, but since the commissioners and presidents want to include conference champions (objectivity), and SOS (could be subjective depending on how this is determined), the fourth “best” team stands a chance of being left out in some seasons.  My criterion is 100% objective, based on actual game results.  As said before, no polls used, so number of wins versus ranked opponents is not a criterion.  Some of you may ask why I’ve limited criteria to results versus certain opponents with eight or nine wins.  A proven fact of the matter is, if a team schedules an opponent from a major conference (SEC, Big 12, PAC, Big 10, ACC, Big East) with an eight or nine-win season, that opponent slides toward quality.  If a team beats that opponent, they should get credit for it.  If they beat that opponent on the road, they should get credit as well.  On the flipside, that team shouldn’t receive credit for playing and/or beating a 3-9 Sunbelt Conference or FCS opponent.  They should actually receive some sort of deduction, as my method deducts.  Teams from the major conferences have beaten teams from the mid-major conferences around 80% of the time since 2006.  Teams from major conferences with at least nine wins have beaten teams from the mid-majors with nine or more wins over 70% of the time.  Conference champions of the mid-majors have lost to major conference teams 75% of the time since 2006.  It’s not difficult to ascertain where the quality in FBS football lies (Sorry Boise State).   If you are a conference champion or runner-up, and you beat another major conference champion during the regular season, you should get a percentage bonus, as my method gives.  If a team has played against major FBS teams that end up with a nine-win season or better, that team should get credit for each one they play.  If they win, they should get more credit for each one they beat.  A major conference team with nine or more wins before the bowls are played is a quality opponent, period.  This is how SOS should be determined, and not based on wins over top 25 teams (very subjective and biased).  If you have any questions about the criteria, just ask.

Now that the criterion has been disclosed, let’s talk about the measurable aspects of them.  I assigned values to each criteria based on importance to the future committee.  SOS (determined objectively in a manner similar to the above explanation) was given the most importance, followed by conference championships.  Teams that actually played a conference championship game received a slight boost in their final rating, and many factors were included in the final SOS result, to include away game wins, quality games played and won, non-quality games played and lost, etc.  All of those criterions were given value as well, based on importance.  Example:  If a team beat a major conference champion during the season, very important, therefore more percentage points.  Sorry, but I will not disclose my calculations or how I stacked everything up.  Consider that copyrighted for now.

In a nutshell, nearly every aspect of every game played by teams finishing a season with at least 9 wins was considered.  The only things not considered were subjective data, as in the polls.  The polls will have to go, at least as far as determining who these four teams are.  Even a “committee poll” at the halfway point of the season, as suggested, should not be used, and would just create biased and opinionated controversy leading to the final week of the season.  The committee should just watch games, evaluate teams and their opponents, analyze all of the results, and discuss and vote on their four playoff teams after the conference championship games are played.  Polls are just too subjective, and if used in this new format, will only flaw it as they did the BCS standings.

I would like to thank ESPN, CBS, and CFB Trivia dot com for helping me put all of this together.  If you have any ideas to improve on this, please let me know.  You never know, a committee member (potential) might just use it.

Based on regular season and CCG game results, and my non-biased and objective criteria and methods, these are the teams that could have been considered by a committee to participate in a “Division I FBS National Playoff” since 2006.


1.  Florida 12-1 (SEC Champs)
2.  Ohio State 12-0 (Big 10 Champs)
3.  USC 10-2 (PAC 10 Champs)
4.  Boise State 12-0 (WAC Champs)

I found my results interesting here, in that Florida, who actually won the BCS championship came in as a #1 seed (It must be working!).  #4 seed Boise State edged out 11-1 Michigan by the smallest margin, and in the case of a committee, I could see them giving Michigan the nod for a 4-seed since Michigan did have a stronger SOS.


1.  Oklahoma 11-2 (Big 12 Champs)
2.  LSU 11-2 (SEC Champs)
3.  Virginia Tech 11-2 (ACC Champs)
4.  Ohio State 11-1 (Big 10 Champs)

Although Hawaii was the only undefeated FBS team in 2007, they didn’t come close to the top 4.  Their schedule was horrible, facing 10 teams with a .500 or less record.  Virginia Tech faced the toughest schedule of FBS teams winning 9 or more games in 2007 with Oklahoma and LSU slightly behind.  Given these seedings, LSU and Virginia Tech would play for the second time, with the first matchup early in the season at LSU an ugly one for VT.


1.  Oklahoma 12-1 (Big 12 Champs)
2.  Florida 12-1 (SEC Champs)
3.  Texas 11-1
4.  USC 11-1 (PAC 10 Champs)

The 11-1 Big 10 Co-Champs Penn State came in at #5, however USC played a slightly better schedule, had a much better average score margin than PSU, and didn’t play an FCS opponent as Penn State did.  Texas would become the first non-champ to gain access to the playoff, thanks to their schedule strength and overall performance throughout the season.  Texas Tech (11-1) also fared well coming in at #6, and undefeated WAC Champ Boise State came in at #7 extremely close to Texas Tech.  Alabama had a great regular season finishing 12-1, however their less than spectacular schedule was their demise.  They came in at #9.  Utah won the MWC championship with an undefeated record and came in at #11, however their schedule was much worse than Alabama’s.


1.  Alabama 13-0 (SEC Champs)
2.  Texas 13-0 (Big 12 Champs)
3.  Cincinnati 12-0 (Big East Champs)
4.  Boise State 13-0 (WAC Champs)

TCU won the MWC championship and was the only other undefeated team in 2009, however their schedule didn’t support a top 4 seeding.  They came in at #10.  2009 would have marked the first season with four undefeated conference champions vying for the national championship game.  Florida (12-1) had an argument to participate, however they slipped to #6 behind Big 10 Champ Ohio State (10-2) after losing to Alabama in the SECCG.  A committee might have given Florida the nod, because their schedule strength was a bit stronger than Boise State’s and Ohio State’s.


1.  Auburn 13-0 (SEC Champs)
2.  Oklahoma 11-2 (Big 12 Champs)
3.  Oregon 12-0 (PAC 10 Champs)
4.  Wisconsin 11-1 (Big 10 Champs)

This would have been a very good “Final 4” if it happened.  Many would have argued against Oklahoma being a #2 seed, but their schedule was strong, and they did champion a loaded Big 12.  I think they would have been battle-tested enough to beat Oregon, who played nine opponents who didn’t have a winning record.  TCU was the only other undefeated team in 2010, however like in 2009, their schedule was weak.


1.  LSU 13-0 (SEC Champs)
2.  Oklahoma State 11-1 (Big 12 Champs)
3.  Wisconsin 11-2 (Big 10 Champs)
4.  Clemson 10-3 (ACC Champs)

This one will cause a stir, even I scratched my head.  But then I had to remember, no bias.  Don’t think about what happened in the bowl games or how these teams finished ranked.  Now, Alabama (11-1) came in at #5 so close to Clemson that a committee would no doubt agree Alabama belonged in this playoff.  What hurt Alabama is the fact they played 7 teams with .500 or worse record, while Clemson played just 4 and Clemson got a boost for winning the ACC.  Oregon (11-2) came in at #6, and there was some distance between them and Alabama due to the difference in scoring margin and Oregon’s additional loss.  Alabama had an extra road win against an 8+ win team as well.  If I voted on the committee, Alabama would have been my 4-seed in place of a 3-loss Clemson.

That’s it folks.  After doing this thing and really digging into past teams, schedules and opponents, I realized just how much people rely on media reports, subjective polls and those lousy BCS standings to finalize their thinking of how teams should stack up.  Bias runs rampant in the FBS.  Granted, there is always a difference between two 8-4 or 9-3 teams, and injuries to key personnel can’t be taken into consideration using my method alone.  That’s why I agree a small committee (5) of football people (former players or coaches) is needed and would benefit the new system, which will have some sort of measuring method to assist.  They would be required to watch games and make expert evaluations based on their observations in addition to using certain criteria and a means to measure that criteria equally to determine the participants of the “Division I FBS National Playoff” after the CCGs are played.   I can’t wait for it to happen.  Now raise a glass in support of no more pre-season polls!  Those things are ridiculous!

Category: NCAAF
Since: Oct 1, 2006
Posted on: December 28, 2012 2:45 am
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Since: Oct 1, 2006
Posted on: December 28, 2012 2:42 am
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