Due to the coronavirus, the college football season, and especially the College Football Playoff, has a lot of questions surrounding the possibilities of playing. The BIG 10 and the PAC 12 have already announced they will be playing conference only games for the 2020 season, and the other power five conferences, the SEC, the ACC, and the BIG 12, are all expected to follow the conference only games model. The Group of Five conferences have not made decisions on their schedules for 2020. This will be an exceptionally hard year for the committee to decide who will get into the Playoff because there will be no common opponents, and the Group of Five will also be even more unlikely to get a bid into the playoff with no power five contests. The CFP directory has announced they will be flexible and ready for any situation that results in a season.
The question on a lot of minds right now is what does a conference-only schedule mean for the Playoff? The committee will have to adjust the way they review teams – that is the only option. In past years, common opponents and strength of schedule were weighed heavily; this year, these categories will not have the same effect. I believe that this year will mostly be an eye test. The committee will have to watch the top teams, and I believe they will have to rank them based off of which teams are dominating. I also believe this will be a “what have you done for me lately” situation. Although the committee is not supposed to take prior years into account, these are human voters and prone to biases. \
This also raises even more questions. First is how do you rank conferences? For example, say we have a situation similar to 2019 where Ohio State, Clemson, and LSU are undefeated. Hypothetically, you have an undefeated Oregon and an undefeated Oklahoma, and both are conference champions. How will the committee rank the PAC 12 versus the BIG 12? This situation, which would be highly unlikely, but could arise, would come down to margin of victory. However, the BIG 12 is stronger then the PAC 12, so if Oregon has a better margin of victory, but Oklahoma is in a tougher conference, does Oklahoma get in?
Another question is that of a team is dominating but has a slip up in one close road game, and then you have another team that is undefeated but has one all close games, which gets in? Another hypothetical situation that could possibly happen: Ohio State loses to Penn State in a close game on the road, but blows out every other team, whereas Oregon is undefeated but most of their wins is close, which team will get in?
What happens if Clemson loses a tight game although Clemson has been a consistent performer in the playoff semifinals and national championship. In a season full of questions, will the Committee look at past seasons? With all of these questions, the biggest factor for the committee’s decisions will be the eye test – the teams that are truly dominating will be ranked the highest. Another unknown is what does the committee decide when teams have quarantined players and drop a game because they lose a key piece. For example, what if Justin Fields, quarterback for Ohio State, is sidelined because of the coronavirus, and Ohio State drops a game to Rutgers (an extreme example) because of it, a game they easily would have won with him? How does that factor into the committee’s decision?
An intriguing option that is being discussed around college football, is the one year expansion to an eight team playoff. I like a lot of college football fans would love to see an eight team playoff. The reason that this is almost necessary for this season is the fact that the committee is not going to have enough information I believe to properly rank these teams. Because of these circumstances, I don’t know if there will be enough evidence to name definitively the best four teams, That is why I believe if they expand to eight teams fir one year, they can duke it out on the gridiron and the committee will not face as much scrutiny, and it will give more power five teams a chance within the confines of these strange circumstances. The Committee announced they are weighing there options, but experts do not expect that they will make a decision until late October, because there first rankings will not be out until the first week of November.
The biggest takeaway I have for teams with CFP aspirations, is that there is even less room for error this year then in past years. Teams need to go out and dominate every night they play and can leave no questions unanswered. The committee will have to base their final decision on how a team looks to determine who the best teams are, so top teams must avoid any slip-ups or close and overtime games against a bad team – nobody can question that this will be a radically different season, and that extends from season openers to the Playoff.