At least in part, it was probably due to the fact that the line of thinking that “they’re the champs until proven otherwise” doesn’t hold here. There is no carryover from the previous season, or even the previous week.
CFP executive director Bill Hancock shared his recollections of how former committee chair Jeff Long halted dialogue when committee members brought up a game from a previous season or even mentioned an upcoming game.
“Every year is a new year,” said Kirby Hocutt, Texas Tech’s athletic director and the committee chair, who sat in on our panel.
Further, teams (like Florida State) can move up and down week to week because the CFP rankings are not static in the way that the polls often are. The rankings start over fresh each week. The way it works is that the committee first selects a pool of teams to consider for the top three spots, then discusses the teams and then ranks them, by secret ballot. If there’s enough support to re-consider the rankings, they debate more. Then they move on to 4-6, 7-9, 10-13 and on.
They are guided by principles for distinguishing similar teams beyond the “eyeball test” — strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes against common opponents and other factors such as injuries.
We re-considered spots 3-7 even after we finished our top 25, causing Nos. 6 and 7 teams (Stanford and Boise State) to swap. It’s in this setting that Florida State could drop in 2014, as the eyeball test, schedule strength and other factors could lead committee members to conclude that other teams, namely Oregon and TCU, were better.
Interestingly, FSU was twice at the center of particular consideration. Once, the Seminoles tied with South Carolina to stay in consideration for one slice of the rankings. Without being able to rely on having seen both teams (a major difference in our exercise), we pulled up both teams’ statistics side-by-side on a platform furnished by Atlanta-based SportSource Analytics. It turned out the two teams, both 9-4 and conference runners-up, had played Clemson and Florida within a two-week span. I voted for the Gamecocks based on their winning more convincingly against both teams, and they ultimately carried the vote. (You may recall FSU ultimately beat South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, a result we weren’t allowed to consider.)
In the other, as we reviewed our top 25, CFP executive director Bill Hancock noticed that we had FSU three spots ahead of N.C. State despite the fact that the Wolfpack had beaten the Seminoles. As head-to-head competition is a primary principle for comparing teams, we discussed and re-voted 21-25, which ended up moving FSU up to 21 and N.C. State to 22.
My takeaway was that evaluating teams in smaller pools led to rankings that were fairer and more thorough. Also, in this scrutiny, it would be difficult and maybe impossible to carry an agenda for a team or conference (or network) through weeks of rankings. Given that 21 vs. 22 can get as much debate as 1 vs. 2, it would be difficult for biases to not be exposed or go far in a room of invested and informed individuals.
Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan went through the same exercise on Tuesday with conference and bowl officials.
“It was very comprehensive, very inclusive and very fair,” he said.
I’d have to agree. On the other hand, those hats at the door were provided by Nike …