“This has been a weird college football season.”

I really cannot recommend Brian Fremeau’s take on the 2018 regular season enough.  I agree it’s been a weird year for exactly this reason:

We have four undefeated teams heading into bowl season, including three power programs. No power programs made it to bowl season without a loss last year, and only three total had accomplished that feat in the three years prior. There were five undefeated teams heading into bowl season way back in 2009, but three of those five hailed from non-power conferences. Going undefeated through the regular season is rare. This year, with Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Central Florida all accomplishing the feat, is especially rare.

The 2018 season has been largely devoid of drama. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Washington all finished the pre-bowl season ranked among the top eight teams in the FEI ratings. They’re also seven of the top nine teams in the College Football Playoff committee rankings. All seven of those teams were projected as top-eight FEI teams at the beginning of the year. I can’t even boast about that prediction — I didn’t really go out on a limb with any of the picks. Six of those teams appeared among the top seven teams in the preseason AP Top 25 poll as well. If it felt like there weren’t many surprises this year, you’re absolutely right, there weren’t.

It hasn’t been a chaotic year; it’s been the opposite, a very stratified one.  The best teams have separated themselves from the pack by significant margins and that gap is exacerbated because the teams in the next tier haven’t been that great.

… Good teams — the teams that fill out the second half of top-25 polls — haven’t been performing like good teams usually do. Instead, they performed more like the next tier down in quality. That feeds right into the first point – part of the reason why the top teams had staying power this year is that they weren’t challenged by the next tier down.

That’s something I noticed beginning mid-season as I worked up my weekly SEC Power Poll.  The middle part of the conference was a jumble because so many SEC teams after, say, the top two or three were flawed, in some cases significantly, yet, still, I had to pick some program as the fourth best.

Brian picks up on one thing I hadn’t noticed that may have contributed to the overall look, weaker than usual non-conference scheduling.

I compared the 2018 season with each of the last four years, the College Football Playoff era. Through this past weekend, a total of 733 games between FBS opponents have been played. Only five of those games pitted one top-10 team (according to end-of-year FEI ratings) against another. There were eight such games played prior to bowl season last year, and an average of 7.5 such top-10 matchups from 2014 to 2017. There have been fewer games between top-20 teams played this season than any other playoff year as well. Same goes for games played between top-30 opponents. What is the story here?

The drop-off in games played between top opponents is chiefly tied to non-conference scheduling. The Notre Dame versus Michigan game played all the way back in Week 1 remains the only non-conference game played this year between FEI top-20 opponents. There were seven such games played prior to bowl season last year. There have been only seven non-conference games played between FEI top-30 opponents to date, half as many as last season.

To be fair, while to some extent that might be the result of deliberate action, in many cases it was simply a case of teams not turning out to be as good as preseason expectations led us to believe.

While the year may not have been that interesting overall, what is of interest to me is how folks are grabbing on to what for now looks like an anomaly to justify major change to the sport, as Andy Staples does here:

… An eight-team playoff with automatic bids for Power Five conference champions would only increase the value of Power Five conference title games, which currently go for about $30 million to $40 million a pop. Imagine if Oklahoma or Texas could have made the playoff by winning the most recent Big 12 title game. Or if the winner of the Ohio State-Northwestern Big Ten title game was guaranteed a berth. So if everyone is chasing the biggest positive incentives, no one would want to ditch their conference title games…

If the wind keeps blowing in the direction that the discussion of 11-2 Georgia as a legitimate final four possibility seems to have taken it, White may eventually get his wish. The incentives have begun to align for an awful lot of people. “There are a lot of things we can point to that maybe help people recognize that four was a lot better than two and two was a lot better than nothing, but we’re still not there,” White said. “I think an eight-team playoff would be great for the game.”

You’d think better in-season scheduling would accomplish much the same in terms of determining quality, but we all know what the movers and shakers mean when they talk about incentives.  In the end, this is all about excuse making for growing the size of the pie and little else.

28 Comments

Filed under College Football

28 responses to ““This has been a weird college football season.”

  1. Keese

    8 team playoff with conference champ tie in sounds wonderful to me. Get rid of a cupcake game and we’re all set

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    • Otto

      Problem is, any nonConf game will be a cupcake is Conference champs get an auto invite.

      Why schedule a game that is far more likely to hurt you? and why leave your campus when you can make more $$$ at home?

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      • JCDawg83

        I see it the opposite. A loss to a non conference foe won’t have any effect on your chance to get in the playoff if you go on to win your conference. Georgia could play Clemson, Texas, USC, etc. in home and home matchups and neither team would have any worries about a loss in that game knocking them out of a playoff as long as they went on to win their conference.

        My thought has always been, go to an 8 team playoff made up of 8 conference champions. Each conference could have up to 14 teams and each conference could decide how it wanted to name a champion. Notre Dame would have to get over itself and get in a conference or be left out. Do away with the beauty pageant/figure skating aspect of the playoff committee and have a legitimate playoff with an objective method of getting in. Since the 8 team playoff would add a game to the playoff teams schedules, cut the regular season back to 11 games and do not allow FBS teams to play FCS teams so the regular season would have better matchups and fans wouldn’t have to sit through horrible mismatches.

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        • Otto

          85 scholarships, teams won’t risk the depth. Maximizing home games creates the most revenue. Do you really think ADs care what you think of the mismatch?

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          • JCDawg83

            Programs like Georgia are becoming the exception, not the rule. Most college games don’t sell out anymore and boring mismatches are one reason why. Even Saban was griping about fans not showing up for some of their games in Tuscaloosa.

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        • Morris Day

          JCD, in your first paragraph you are basically describing the GHSA regular season and playoffs where, this year, a 5-5 Bainbridge made the playoffs, got hot, ran the table and are now state champs in their class. Is that optimal for college football?

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          • JCDawg83

            If a 5 loss conference champ could make it through the three rounds of the playoff and win the championship game, more power to them and congratulations. Who knows, maybe that team would have come out of a conference full of great teams where they beat each other up all season and that team was truly the best team in the nation? Or, maybe that team had scheduled a slate of brutal out of conference games and lost three of them. Either way, the champion would be decided on the field, not by some beauty pageant committee who decides who is worthy of even having a chance.

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  2. Faltering Memory

    They will keep messing with it until they are served humble pie, only no one will admit to being the baker.

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  3. JasonC

    Since I don’t tweet, Senator, can you ask Mr. Staples or Mr. Mandel, “what happens when they go to an 8-team playoff featuring the power 5 conference champs + 1 non-power 5 team + 2 other worthy teams and it works out that those 2 other worthy teams are the SEC runner-up and another SEC team?” So essentially, you have UGA, Bama + LSU/TxA&M/Auburn and the other conference champs?

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    • Otto

      No brainer it goes to 16, where UGA and LSU both get in as well as likely other SEC teams. What will they do when it is an all SEC final 4?

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      • doiknowu

        They’ll put all the SEC teams in the same side of the bracket so that can’t happen.

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        • Tony Barnfart

          …….and then they’ll say whoops when the Benz is 2/3rds full for the SECCG because everybody knows the same matchup will happen again in 2 weeks and actually “matter” then.

          This whole god damn charade is nothing but a “you have the money (sec), and we want the money, so we need you to give up this, that and the other……btw, I don’t know why you even care so much, I haven’t watched our conference championship game in years. It’s so boring.”

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  4. Jared S.

    On the topic of non-conference games….. here are a few I’m looking forward to watching in 2019:

    8/31: Florida – Miami (Orlando)
    8/31: Oregon – Auburn (Arlington)
    9/07: Texas A&M – Clemson
    9/07: LSU – Texas
    9/14: Stanford – UCF
    9/14: Kansas St – Mississippi St
    9/21: Notre Dame – Georgia
    11/01: UAB – Tennessee
    ^^^^ I know the last one isn’t two P5 teams, but GO DRAGONS or whatever your mascot is…. lol

    Glad there are so many NOT at neutral sites.

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  5. Dawg151

    Clemson’s PSOS on the FEI rankings is comparable to Ohio’s. Not Ohio State University…Ohio University.

    Clemson basically plays a MAC schedule.

    Notre Dame’s not the only program that needs to join a real conference.

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    • JCDawg83

      ACC has been that way for decades. For 20 years it was FSU and everybody else, now it’s Clemson and everybody else. The biggest issue with the ACC is the “everybody else” is a bunch of really bad football teams now. UNC hiring Mack Brown again shows it’s not going to change any time soon either. Football fan expectations in the ACC are more aligned with the Pac 12 than the SEC. Richt is probably about to coach his last season at Miami, FSU doesn’t show any signs of doing anything, VT and NC State are perennially overrated programs that fade quickly once the season starts, tech is tech and always will be, Duke and Wake Forest aren’t good and don’t care that they aren’t, Syracuse and Pitt are both perpetual mediocre programs. Clemson is the only program in the whole conference that puts SEC level resources into football and has a fan base that really demands anything. Dabo is putting on a good show with all the rah-rah BS and has convinced ESPN and tv that players riding a bus from one end of the stadium to the other and then touching a rock that was used as a door stop for a while and running down a hill into a stadium is some sort of great thing.

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  6. Snoop Dawgy Dawg

    It’s crazy to me, as a UGA fan, whose heart broke late in the SEC CG, to think that should they move to an 8 team playoff, that that game would be irrelevant. I’m convinced 4 teams is the best way to do it and that that is the best we can hope for to retain value for the regular season.

    Shift to 8 teams, and 2 loss teams will litter the playoffs forever more. Big games will still be big games, but LSU beating UGA in Baton Rouge at night is just a part of the story, rather than a defining moment for the season.

    One would think writers, paid to ponder the larger picture, would be writing thousands of words describing that ephemeral loss of core meaning to a sport rather than the fig leaf they give to that these days.

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    • Russ

      “Ephemeral”, is that one of those new cryptocurrencies? How many of those to the dollar? Where can I spend my ephemeral?

      /s

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  7. illini84

    Well I just completed my plans for a trip to the meaningless Sugar Bow, GO DAWGS! Laissez les bons temps rouler !

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    • Russ

      Yep, I’m hoping to be there. Just need to convince the treasurer/wife (who is a UT alum – the real one). Dawgs vs Texas is big in my family.

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  8. DawgPhan

    Doesnt this just continue the trend of pulling the tops games away from the schools?

    Neutral site games, bowl games, playoff games, kickoff games, and whatever other excuses they can come up with to get games off campus and into NFL stadiums.

    Leave the cupcakes and lower quality conference games on campus and pull all the premium games towards other venues where promoters control more of the action.

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  9. Tony Barnfart

    Here’s what I have to say about UCF and their contract with FBS: https://youtu.be/hT6jMeQCkyU

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  10. ASEF

    “It will be good for the game.”

    The motivation behind every move that turned college basketball into a bloated mess of 100,000+ regular season games, a sport where being the biggest fish in your pond matters way more than a bigger pond (which is why mid-majors that dominate their conference are vastly superior coaching gigs to, say, Georgia and Alabama), a sport where no one gives a crap until March.

    If we’re going to do auto-bids, then I have news for Andy – Northwestern and Pitt have zero business making it no matter what happens in that championship game. There should be a cut–off. Use advanced metrics, whatever, to create a BCS-type formula cut-off. If you’re a conference champ and you’re not in the top 12, tough, You stay home. That spot goes to an at large who deserves it more. Maybe even the team you just beat.

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  11. Hal Welch

    Unintended consequences though… As long as they keep pretending that every schedule is created equal and place weight on going undefeated moreso than paying a competitive schedule this trend will absolutely get worse before it gets better. If you’re Georgia why in the ever loving hell would you go through with this Clemson game now? Lose it and lose the conference championship and the season is a waste. Nevermind that those losses were took #1 & #2. I’d cancel it post haste.

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  12. UGA '97

    Kickoff games that were over hyped/over ranked for TV possibly contributed here. Need a 6 team playoff. 8 already established by best 4 conf champ games- Sec, ACC, Big 12, Big 10. Drop pac12 to group of 6 status. All 4 champs go. Remaining 2 come from highest ranked group of 6. Give #1 & #2 seeds a bye. Pair #3 with #4 and #5 with #6. Winner of 3/4 match up plays #2. Winner of 5/6 match up plays #1.

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  13. Olde Dawg

    No automatic bids. Dust off the old BCS computers to determine the eight best teams to remove the human biases of the selection committee. First round Christmas weekend, second round New Years weekend, and the championship game the first or second weekend in January.

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