The college football playoff committee, in “normal,’’ times, relies for its judgments on a dense stew of schedule strength and point differential, analytics, the eye test and more, in the context of one constant: a fixed set of 12 or 13 “data points,’’ often referred to as football games.
In this unholy year, even the context lacks context.
The Southeastern Conference’s 10-game, conference-only schedule began Saturday.
The Big 12 and Atlantic Coast are a couple weeks into 11-game schedules with 10 conference games.
The Big Ten starts nine games in nine weeks Oct. 24. The Pac-12 announced last week a seven-game, conference-only slate that begins Nov. 6.
Sample size will be fluid even if all those games are played.
And they almost certainly won’t be. They could be wiped out by COVID-19 breakouts within teams. Or lose their measuring-stick value teams because of teams losing essential players for part of their seasons.
Or local and state governments reacting to a surge in COVID-19 cases by shutting the whole thing down; there are Pac-12 schools that don’t have clearance from local governments to play as this is written.
Also, there will be no meaningful non-conference games. I’m not saying “relatively few.’’ I’m saying zero.
Of the Power Five, only the ACC and Big 12 are even playing non-con games. Clemson, Notre Dame and Texas, the three teams from the ACC/B12 most likely to be in the playoff picture (given Oklahoma losing Saturday), have already played their non-con game. They’ve beaten the Citadel, South Florida and UTEP by a combined 160-3.
There will be no regular-season, non-conference games this year between one Power Five team and another. Not one.
Of the teams outside the Power Five with a real chance to be playoff-worthy, only Central Florida’s 49-21 defeat of mediocre Georgia Tech is of any use. Cincinnati pounded Austin Peay, Marshall pounded Eastern Kentucky, etc etc.
Because of all of the above, this is the year for an eight-team playoff. Even if it’s only for this year.
The familiar format favored by expansion advocates, berths for the Power Five conference champs, one Group-of-Six entry and two wild cards, fits 2020 like a glove.
Some will say, “You can’t just decide to do that now, after games have been played.’’
Really? Before 2020, Notre Dame supposedly would never, ever join a conference. Now, for one year, it’s a full-blown ACC member.
Remember when they used to tell us college football schedules were made years in advance and set in stone? Now we know they can be blown up and re-done in a matter of hours. Of course you can do it now.
This format wouldn’t make the committee’s job much easier. Picking the wild cards will be brutal when some candidates will have played 10 or 11 games and some, perhaps, half that.
If you’re looking for easy, better hibernate. You’re on the wrong planet right now.
The circumstances would give the sport a chance to try an eight-team playoff and then tweak it or, legitimately, scrap it.
It might even be fun. Imagine, say, Penn State-Ohio State, or Auburn-Alabama, or Notre Dame-Clemson, as a rematch for the national championship.
Let’s do this.