College Football Playoff: A Standings Model for Selection Committee

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College Football Playoff: A Standings Model for Selection Committee
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A most contentious element of the 16-year BCS era was its standings. Love it or hate it, the standings had the attention of the college football world from its midseason unveiling to the end of the regular season, when the all-important final standings were published.

And it was a most useful tool. It was transparent and predictable, even if it was flawed.

The College Football Playoff, set to kick off for the 2014 season, did away with the standings—at least not in a way that may be projected. The entire decision-making apparatus of the CFP rests with its 13 committee members, who will have complete discretion in deciding not just which four teams get to make the playoff, but also the other eight teams that will play in the major bowl games in the playoff rotation.

CFP executive director Bill Hancock said four standings will be released to the public starting at the midpoint of the season before the final pairings are revealed the day after the regular season ends. Other than that, the details are incredibly vague. 

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From the drip-drip information the committee has given to the public during the 2013 season, we only know these factors will be strongly considered: 1) strength of schedule, 2) winning the conference championship, 3) head-to-head results, if applicable. But just how much each criteria matters, we have no clue (and probably neither does the committee at this point).

With so much uncertainty, it only makes sense to construct a model that would be useful for the committee to consider. But more importantly, it has to be transparent and predictable so we don't end up with an outrageous surprise come the first Sunday of December.

My standings model fulfills all these requirements. They're comprised of these elements:

1) AP Poll (20%): It's the only poll that's completely transparent, with each voter's ballot available for the public to scrutinize each week. It's also the most prestigious poll that's widely used by the media.

2) Computer rankings (40%): Kenneth Massey compiles the median and mean rankings of each team from over 100 computers each week. It's less biased than the human polls, and the large sample size removes undue influence by outliers.

3) Strength of schedule (30%): While there are many models to choose from, Jeff Sagarin has the most time-tested SoS formula—including results from all Division I games, FBS and FCS—that's meticulously and promptly updated each week. 

4) Conference championship (10%): It matters, but only winning it matters. Teams that win their divisions but lose in title games don't get consideration for making an appearance.

With that in mind, this is what the final standings would've looked like at the end of the 2013 regular season (see complete standings with breakdowns):

College Football Playoff Standings Model
Rank BCS Rank Team CFP Score Conference
1 2 Auburn .9149 SEC
2 5 Stanford .9071 Pac-12
3 1 Florida State .8507 ACC
4 3 Alabama .7459 SEC
5 4 Michigan State .7424 Big Ten
6 6 Baylor .7364 Big 12
7 14 Arizona State .6515 Pac-12
8 8 Missouri .6501 SEC
9 7 Ohio State .6203 Big Ten
10 9 South Carolina .6169 SEC

See Playoff Guru for complete standings

And this is what the playoff and major bowl matchups would be had the committee followed the results of the final standings:

2013 Projected CFP Bowl Matchups
Bowl Tie-In* Matchup
Rose Bowl Semifinal #2 Stanford vs. #3 Florida St.
Sugar Bowl Semifinal #1 Auburn vs. #4 Alabama
Chick-fil-A Bowl At-large or 'Group of 5' #8 Missouri vs. #22 UCF
Cotton Bowl At-large or 'Group of 5' #5 Michigan St. vs. #12 Oklahoma St.
Fiesta Bowl At-large or 'Group of 5' #6 Baylor vs. #7 Arizona St.
Orange Bowl ACC vs. SEC/Big Ten/ND #9 Ohio St. vs. #16 Clemson

* Based on 2014 CFP setup

Do you agree or disagree with the methodology of this formula? Please submit your comments, and I'll make every effort to answer your questions. Thank you.

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