The College Football Playoff era has started off predictably - with even more snark and sarcasm from the media and fans concerning which teams are in and which teams are out - in September.
Interestingly, one criteria seems to get the most press and seems to be the determining factor in a lot of minds for the inaugural members of the football Final 4. Wins? Nah, not important. Oh, well, then the best team? Nope. Hmmm, perhaps the team that's ranked the highest? You're joking, right.
None of those factors or any of the others released by the Selection Committee on their official protocol have been discussed much by the media and fans; instead, everyone seems to harp on one thing and one thing only - out of conference schedule.
To be fair, we're at the tail-end of the brutal part of the college football season, at least for most conferences, where plenty of teams have what amounts to preseason scrimmages against teams of lesser abilities. Schedule talk is rampant because we're being treated to a bunch of beat-downs week in and week out through the early to middle part of September.
Unless you were lucky enough to have your conference schedule a big early conference season game (looking at you Texas A&M), then you're likely to be the target of the scorn and cynicism that college football watchers can't stay away from.
What's interesting though is this - it appears any case for actual intellectual honesty is lost on those we hear from the most. Whether it be game announcers during broadcasts on ESPN, or studio hosts for FoxSports1 or any other network, to Podcasters like the Solid Verbal, to the local beat writers in various regions - everyone is doing the same thing - bagging on the non-conference schedules of certain teams.
One such team is the Baylor Bears, who seems to have taken the most heat. That is probably because they are a top 10 team and whether they want to admit it or not, most of these media members would MUCH rather see all big state universities like Oklahoma or Oregon get in the playoff over a school like Baylor. What Baylor fans have to hope for is that unlike the media and casual college football fan, the selection committee will actually have some intellectual honesty.
If you will humor me for a few moments more, I'll show you clearly what I am talking about. First, you will have to concede with me that Baylor seems to take a lot of heat over its schedule. If you will concede that, I will concede that the non-conference schedule this year and for certain future years is indeed soft. Of course, many teams have been doing this for years all over the country, but I suppose it is a perfect storm of the Playoff combined with Baylor's top 10 ranking that has people calling them out so often.
We should note that Coach Art Briles and Athletic Director Ian McCaw do not really shy away from the topic. Sure, they might throw out what sounds like an excuse in how far back these games were scheduled - but the bottom line they admit is that Baylor plays 9 power conference teams every year and 3 not-so-power conference teams, so if you're going to complain about them, then you better complain about the other teams that also play only 9 power conference teams every year and 3 not-so-power conference teams.
Who are those other teams this year? Glad you asked. Let's take a quick look through the current top 10 polls and see:
Full disclosure, I clearly left off the 4th game on a lot of non-conference slates referenced above. The reason? Because those are the equivalent of what Briles and McCaw would say is another conference game. For instance, a fairly recently new opponent in conference for the Bears is West Virginia, also happens to be the extra non-conference game Alabama played this year. So does Alabama get more credit for playing the exact same team just because Alabama plays them in non-conference?
I know what you're thinking. Those are all SEC teams and they play in a tougher conference. That may be true, and if that's your case, then let's debate tougher conference schedules. But that's not what we are debating, is it?
No, we are telling Baylor, already in September, that if the circumstances arise and they have a shot at the Playoff, that they should be left out because their non-conference schedule was somehow worse than all others. That simply is not the case.
Just because the SEC played an early conference game and saves a cupcake for November, does not mean that the actual teams they play are any different. Think about it. If those 5 SEC teams listed above played all 3 of those opponents the first 3 weeks, in the same way Baylor has - wouldn't they deserve equal scorn? Do you think they would get it from the media?
So in the end, we are one of two things as a college football nation. We are intellectually dishonest, or we are intellectually lazy. Call Baylor's non-conference schedule soft all you want, as long as you are doing it to all the other schools that play 3 lesser teams.
And once we can move beyond that, maybe we can actually start watching games, seeing results, and then determining who should be in the playoff, rather than relying on 1 arbitrary and potentially misleading factor this early in the season.