The College Football Playoff and the Pac-12 title game, revisited

The College Football Playoff and the Pac-12 title game, revisited


Here’s an important question: Why did the Pac-12 choose conference record, not College Football Playoff rankings, as the basis for determining the two teams in the Pac-12 Championship Game?

It’s a great question, given that the Pac-12’s College Football Playoff protection is at six years and counting.

We have written about this topic and talked about it on national broadcasts, but there is more to say about the matter.

One obvious question: How would previous Pac-12 Championship Games have been altered if the College Football Playoff rankings were used to determine the two teams in the game?

Jon Wilner of The San Jose Mercury News and the Wilner Hotline did the digging.

As many readers undoubtedly know, the Pac-12 recently changed the process for determining its championship game participants. Instead of division winners advancing, conference winning percentage will determine which teams collide.

The penultimate CFP rankings were one of several options ultimately discarded.

Resistance came on two fronts:

— Allowing an outside entity to select teams with a system that would incorporate non-conference games and potentially limit the impact of head-to-head results.

— Logistical issues associated with the penultimate rankings, which are released on a Tuesday — just three days ahead of the game itself.

Based on research by the conference office, we know the championship game matchup would have been different on five of 11 occasions had the new system (winning percentage) been used previously.

But the reader raises an interesting question:

How many matchups would have been different using the penultimate CFP rankings?

We checked.

The CFP rankings would have changed the matchup three times, in 2015, 2018 and 2020.

In 2015, No. 7 Stanford would have faced No. 16 Oregon instead of No. 20 USC.

In 2018, No. 11 Washington would have faced No. 13 Washington instead of No. 17 Utah.

In 2020, No. 13 USC would have faced No. 25 Colorado instead of unranked Oregon, which was a substitute for unranked Washington, which couldn’t play because of COVID.

Would the revised matchup in ’15 have led to a different playoff outcome?

Stanford moved up one spot in the final CFP ranking, to No. 6, after beating USC. But because the Cardinal had two losses, I doubt that a victory over the No. 16 Ducks would have changed its fate.

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