The advent of the four-team College Football Playoff system, which replaces the Bowl Championship Series after this season, will shift responsibility for selecting the top teams in college football to a committee of more than a dozen people, adding a human element to a postseason format recently dictated by polls and computer rankings.
As the playoff prepares to formally introduce its initial committee members Wednesday, several coaches across the five power conferences say a team's strength of schedule, the best measurement of the team's road through the regular season, should be among the selection committee's deciding components when selecting the four playoff-bound teams.
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"I would like to see the component of strength of schedule so we can go back to seeing great teams playing each other out of conference across the country," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I've always felt like that we need to get something in place that just doesn't have to do with a conference champion from a weaker conference or doesn't have to do with money. It has to do with pitting the best teams at the end of the year against each other."
To coaches, this would force would-be contending teams to schedule marquee opponents during non-conference play; in turn, this would help create a more clear picture of which teams belong in the playoff conversation – or, better yet, which teams do not.
"I don't think there's any doubt the goal of all of us is going to be to get in that four-team playoff and win it," Brown said. "So if you allow teams not to play a tough schedule, and get in the four-team playoff, it's going to be encouraging people not to play great games across the country."
Strengthening non-conference schedules to match up with the new playoff format was ostensibly behind the upcoming home-and-home series between Oregon and Nebraska, with the Ducks traveling to Lincoln, Neb., in 2016 and the Cornhuskers returning the favor a year later. Oregon has also signed upcoming non-conference agreements with Michigan State, Virginia, Texas A&M and Ohio State through the 2021 season.
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Relying on the strength of a team's schedule – its 12- or 13-game résumé, in essence – could help the committee ignore "a political agenda" or outside influences like "the media or some relative statistic," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, and "instead look at who's playing against who."
"I guess I would like to see them use the win-loss percentage against teams that they played, so value the opponents but also the skill level that's on the field," he said.
Bolstering the non-conference schedule with one marquee game against a program from another power league takes on added importance with the near-universal shift toward a nine-game conference schedule. The Pac-12 and Big 12 have already adopted the in-season format; the Big Ten and the SEC have alluded to a similar shift in the near future.
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre advocated for a strength of schedule component "like they do in basketball" and alluded to the "fine line" that the committee could face in weighing a team with a better record against weaker opponents against a team with a weaker record against better opponents.
Having an FBS standard on conference games – having each major league play nine games, for example, and play three out-of-conference games – would give the selection committee the sort of empirical data it would need to settle on a final four teams, Stanford coach David Shaw said.
"The one thing that I'll say, and not that everybody needs to be a former coach or whatever, is I I would love for them to be able to watch the games and watch the teams and have discussions amongst themselves about who does what better than who else," Shaw said. "Because it can't come down to rankings, it can't come down to stats, it can't come down to things that come off a computer because otherwise we'll just have a computer instead of a committee. There has to be some objective conversations about which are truly the four best teams."
Paul Myerberg, a national college football writer for USA TODAY Sports, is on Twitter @PaulMyerberg.
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