The playoff's SOS problem

New system's handling of schedule strength will determine its success

Updated: December 18, 2013, 4:49 PM ET
By Brad Edwards | ESPN Insider

Stanford CardinalsMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsWill teams who play challenging schedules, like Stanford in 2013, be rewarded?

Last week, I wrote about which teams I thought would've been chosen if the College Football Playoff had begun this season. One key point I made was that the selection committee will discuss a number of factors (including conference championships, injuries and schedule strength) before making its decisions, but committee members won't be bound to any of those factors.

In other words, no single item of consideration will be assigned a specific amount of importance, and the factor that ultimately distinguishes team No. 4 from team No. 5 could be different from one year to the next.

Sound familiar?

If you follow the NCAA basketball tournament bracketing closely, you've probably noticed this type of thing when the committee chair explains how the No. 1 seeds were chosen or why certain bubble teams got in and others didn't. Sometimes it's schedule strength. Sometimes it's number of quality wins. Sometimes it's a conference championship (regular season, tournament or both). Each season, the set of teams and their respective résumés are unique, and the selection committee's guidelines give it the flexibility to justify whatever decision it chooses to make.

Speaking to media in New York last week, newly appointed football selection committee member Tom Osborne, the former Nebraska coach and athletic director, displayed a veteran grasp of the options at his disposal. He mentioned that schedule strength is a factor that will be important to him, as will be margin of victory, injuries and momentum. He and the other committee members are not allowed to comment on how they might have picked the teams for a playoff this season, but it just so happens that for 2013: Schedule strength goes to Stanford, margin of victory elevates Florida State and Alabama, injuries could excuse the one loss for Baylor, and momentum is clearly on the side of Auburn and Michigan State. Those criteria qualify at least six teams for the four spots, which gets us nowhere.

But in front of that same audience in New York, another future committee member, Tom Jernstedt, who spent half a lifetime overseeing NCAA basketball, had a different take on the best method to distinguish between teams.

"Strength of schedule will become such an important factor," he predicted, "that if you want to be under consideration, you need to have a more meaningful schedule than perhaps you've had in previous years."

If he's right, that's a win for college football. It's a win for fans who want to see better games in September. It's a win for TV networks that want to broadcast better games in September. And it's a win for teams that have the guts to challenge themselves more than once in nonconference play.

But is Jernstedt right? Should strength of schedule matter more than ever?


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• Analyzes college football and the BCS as part of ESPN's Stats & Information Group
• Analyst for both College GameDay on ESPN Radio and the ESPN College Football app