Play­off con­tenders pon­der run­ning up scores

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Steve Me­gargee

This is the time of year when teams fight­ing for spots in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off might be tempted to run up big mar­gins in hopes of im­press­ing the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee.

Whether that strat­egy ac­tu­ally makes a dif­fer­ence is up for de­bate.

Texas Tech ath­letic di­rec­tor Kirby Ho­cutt, who chairs the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off com­mit­tee, says the com­mit­tee doesn’t take mar­gin of vic­tory into ac­count.

“We talk about how that team has performed each and ev­ery week,” Ho­cutt said. “We talk about ‘Was that a con­vinc­ing win?’ ... I be­lieve, in cer­tain games a con­vinc­ing win can be a 14-0 score, and in other games it can be a 35-7 score. I think in the game of col­lege foot­ball, a con­vinc­ing win can vary. But in no way do we in­cent mar­gin of vic­tory.”

Yet that didn’t stop Louisville coach Bobby Petrino from bring­ing up mar­gin of vic­tory re­cently when he com­plained about his team’s po­si­tion in the rank­ings. “Maybe I made a mis­take, look­ing back at it,” he said. “(Against) Florida State, we should’ve kept all the starters in and scored 80 points and done that.”

Louisville beat Florida State 63-20 on Sept. 17 and has outscored teams by an av­er­age mar­gin of 29.3 points this sea­son. Even after trail­ing Wake For­est at the start of the fourth quar­ter last week, Louisville went on to win 44-12 .

Of course, scor­ing 80 against Florida State tech­ni­cally shouldn’t have mat­tered to the com­mit­tee if it isn’t tak­ing mar­gin of vic­tory into ac­count. But how do the com­mit­tee mem­bers not pay at­ten­tion to the ac­tual scores of games?

“I think they do to some de­gree,” Ok­la­homa coach Bob Stoops said. “That’s prob­a­bly the best way to say it. I think they take all of it into con­sid­er­a­tion. But it’s a very bright group that, in some cases, it prob­a­bly doesn’t mat­ter too much to them, and in some cases it does.”

Jeff Sa­garin, who has his own rat­ing sys­tem to rank teams, says com­mon sense shows that the play­off com­mit­tee does fac­tor in the scores of each game. Sa­garin cited the 2014 sea­son, when even­tual na­tional cham­pion Ohio State leapfrogged TCU to earn the fourth play­off spot after trounc­ing Wis­con­sin 59-0 in the Big Ten cham­pi­onship game.

“Their prob­lem is if they ever ver­bal­ize, ‘Oh, we look at scores,’ then peo­ple will cas­ti­gate them for en­cour­ag­ing teams to run up the score, so they have to pre­tend they don’t,” Sa­garin said.

Sa­garin says his own rat­ings are based on “who did you play, where did you play and what was the score.” His cur­rent rank­ings are vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal to the CFP rank­ings, with one notable ex­cep­tion. The CFP rank­ings have Clem­son fourth and Louisville fifth, while Sa­garin’s rat­ings re­verse the or­der of those two At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence teams.

Both rank­ings have Alabama first, Ohio State sec­ond, Michi­gan third and Wash­ing­ton sixth.

“You get bet­ter ac­cu­racy pre­dict­ing fu­ture games when you use the score,” Sa­garin said. “That’s all I can say about it. If peo­ple want to ig­nore the scores, that’s their busi­ness, but the com­mit­tee, I don’t think they do (ig­nore the scores).”

Alabama coach Nick Sa­ban, whose team has ap­peared in each of the first two play­offs, says he doesn’t be­lieve mar­gin of vic­tory should be fac­tored into the CFP rank­ings.

“I don’t think that beat­ing an­other team by an em­bar­rass­ing score re­ally should be some­thing that (should be re­warded) from a sports­man­ship stand­point or a com­mon re­spect stand­point for the other team and their play­ers and their fam­i­lies,” Sa­ban said. “That’s not re­ally some­thing that should be a part of the game.”

But Ho­cutt ac­knowl­edged the com­mit­tee dis­cusses what con­sti­tutes a con­vinc­ing win. How of­ten has “the eye test” come up as a way to judge a team dur­ing the play­off era? Sa­garin notes the fre­quent ref­er­ences to “style points.”

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher re­calls the ex­am­ple of his 2014 team that went un­de­feated in the reg­u­lar sea­son but only earned a No. 3 seed in the play­off be­hind Alabama and Ore­gon, who had each lost a game. Florida State played sev­eral close games that year, and com­mit­tee mem­bers of­ten re­ferred to the Semi­noles’ lack of “game con­trol” with­out specif­i­cally men­tion­ing scores.

“We were un­de­feated, hadn’t lost in two years, but game con­trol,” Fisher said this week. “I haven’t heard ‘game con­trol’ any­more. Did that one go out of the equa­tion?”

Ohio State coach Ur­ban Meyer says he doesn’t mind a sce­nario in which the com­mit­tee con­sid­ers how well a team played with­out specif­i­cally an­a­lyz­ing the vic­tory mar­gin. Meyer was con­cerned that if the vic­tory mar­gin be­comes an ul­ti­mate mea­sur­ing stick, teams might start act­ing “...I guess the term is very un­sports­man­like.”

“I’m hop­ing the com­mit­tee — I have great con­fi­dence there — just looks at the body of work, the strength of sched­ule and how they played,” Meyer said.

The dilemma in that ap­proach is de­ter­min­ing how a team played with­out con­sid­er­ing vic­tory mar­gin. That backs up Sa­garin’s no­tion that scores are taken into con­sid­er­a­tion, whether or not the com­mit­tee says so.

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