Rivalry games are unique creatures in the world of college football. They serve as examples of games in which the records of teams don’t always matter, and in which the margins of victory might not reflect the quality (or weakness) of the teams involved.
How should the College Football Playoff Selection Committee evaluate this particular set of data points, and what might this say about other granular aspects of a team’s schedule?
The Student Section editors discuss in these final days before Championship Weekend and Selection Sunday.
Many playoff contenders — Baylor, Ohio State, Florida State, and even Alabama to a degree — played close rivalry games against markedly inferior opponents. How should the committee view the “rivalry game” factor when evaluating teams?
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I’d put it like this: it’s a little like going into a restaurant where you don’t know the staff … and then like going into a restaurant where the pretty waitress is the girl that just broke up with you.
That analogy works in the sense that something that is perceived to be easy to some is difficult to others, in this case, the participants in these rivalry games. Now, I don’t know where you define the line between “hated rival where you throw out the records” and “secondary rivals where regardless, you should be belting them,” but I know games like The Game, the Iron Bowl, and Florida-Florida State are immensely looked at when the schedule comes out.
It was during this year’s Iron Bowl that it was mentioned Gus Malzahn and Auburn work on Alabama weekly, from an early point in the season and on through the fall as they prepare for other opponents. The gravity of rivalry games is rarely lost on those participating in them.
So, while a lot of narratives will be, “How could Team X let Team Y nearly beat them or hang around so long,” understand that Team Y’s season depends on the game with Team X. Since it’s the end of the season, the playbook is Kitchen Sink and all of it.
I think, hope, and assume the CFB Playoff committee … chosen because its members have been around the game and offer unique insight (though how they’re using that unique insight to this point is debatable) … understands from their lifetimes around college football the unique rivalry element and what it brings to the sport.
I go back to the same thing: winning is hard, and it’s especially hard when the other team’s season and morale depends on beating you. Win by one or win by 50, just win.
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To answer this question, I think the Selection Committee should use the Ricky Bobby approach with respect to rivalry games, as well as every other contest.
That metric: “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”
In other words, the only thing that matters is whether or not the team won the game. Regardless of whether it “controlled the game” (has there ever been a more arbitrary metric?) or mounted a ferocious comeback to take the lead as time expired, a victory is still a victory. To penalize a team because it didn’t win big enough is simply ignoring the fact that regular season is a long grueling one, in which teams are going to have good games and bad games. Given the parity which exists in college football today, its unrealistic to expect any squad will win every game by a certain number of points.
Sadly, this still exists in the “mainstream” media. After Ohio State beat Indiana by 15 points, a commentator on one of the networks viewed it as a bad thing because “you’ve got to win those games by 30.”
It’s too bad he forgot that the Hoosiers defeated two-time SEC East Champion Missouri earlier in the season.
Translation: don’t worry about how much Team A should beat Team B by. The only relevant number is whether they were first or last.
Please note that I am not suggesting that strength of schedule is unimportant by emphasizing wins and losses. When comparing teams with similar records, the one that played the toughest opponents should always get the nod. By following this guideline, the Selection Committee will encourage more of the top contenders to play a more rigorous non-conference schedule, which will result in more high-profile matchups.
Everyone wins in that situation.
On Twitter: @SectionMZ
The main point to keep in mind here is that a rivalry game is, in the end, one game of 12 or 13. If a comparison of 12 or 13 games reveals two very similar resumes, and the rivalry game becomes a conspicuous point of differentiation, then said rivalry game might turn into a real factor. On a larger level, this rivalry-game discussion is helpful because it should make us aware of various schedule nuances, creating a fuller idea of how strong or weak a schedule is. Rivalry games are unique parts of a schedule, and should be noted.
So should the other particularities you’ll find in each team’s schedule.
For instance: How many bye weeks did a team get during the season, and how well did it handle them? How many consecutive weeks did a team play? Did a team have to play consecutive road games or face a similar gauntlet at some point in its schedule?
An example of this last point is 2008 Texas.
The Longhorns played four straight tough games against Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech that season. Oklahoma didn’t have to deal with such a murderer’s row — either in terms of the composition of teams (OU didn’t play Missouri in the 12-game regular season) or the succession of them on the slate. That’s part of why the gap between OU and Texas in terms of strength of schedule was overrated. Yes, OU had the better resume when removing the 2008 head-to-head result from the equation, but the resume wasn’t that much better — it wasn’t enough to override Texas’s head-to-head win in Dallas.
If there’s a 2014 team which is similar to 2008 Texas, it’s TCU. Everyone in the Big 12 had to play everybody else, so in terms of the composition of teams on the schedule, there was no differentiation among league schools. However, TCU had to play Baylor and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks. It then had to play West Virginia and Kansas State in consecutive weeks. The Horned Frogs didn’t have a bye week from Sept. 20 to Nov. 22. When they finally got a bye week again in November, they thrashed Texas by 38 on the road. Those kinds of details should be noticed.
Yes, let’s evaluate rivalry games. Let’s also evaluate the other nuances of a schedule and how teams deal with them. If we do, we get a much better feel for how a team fared over 12 or 13 games.
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