When you beat Notre Dame 41-8 on Saturday Night, you have proven that you belong in the playoff.
No one considered the University of Miami football program fully resurrected in September. The Hurricanes opened the season with wins against modest foes Bethune-Cookman, Toledo and Duke.
In October, Miami defeated Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina each by fewer than nine points. The Hurricanes remained undefeated. Poll voters remained unimpressed.
Miami opened November with a dominant performance against Virginia Tech, then ranked No. 13 in the College Football Playoff standings. Miami stood as one of four undefeated teams in the Power Five conferences but sat behind four one-loss teams in the standings.
Virginia Tech was disparaged more than Miami was commended.
What does a Hurricane have to do to get some respect around here? Simple: Defeat Notre Dame by 33 points.
Miami dismantled the No. 3-ranked team on national television, flashed the turnover chain and vaulted four spots to No. 2 in the coaches poll. Miami most likely will crack the Top 4 of the CFP standings Tuesday night.
Suddenly the team that no one trusted is the new darling of destiny. The abrupt shift reveals that college football’s postseason race is driven more by impulsive declarations than empirical information. We never know as much as we proclaim.
Each year national analysts explain their playoff projections with casual calculus. Some insist that the purpose of the four-team bracket is to determine the best team in the country. Not necessarily to reward the most deserving team.
I suspect I may be in the minority, but I contend that is a foolhardy excursion into a labyrinth of logic. The “best team” is an abstraction, reliant on subjectivity and speculation.
It trusts circular arguments, supposes false equivalences and amplifies assumptions.
It subscribes to the “eye test.” Selection committee members watch multiple games and compare performances. There are no set criteria, no controlled variables, no congruity. Yet, these basic scouting assessments are presented as definitive measurements.
Sounds more like a beauty contest than a playoff system. What did those eyes see when Miami escaped Georgia Tech with a one-point victory? What did they see differently Saturday night?
Other than the number in front of the opponent’s name.
The polls remain a powerful but unreliable barometer. Each poll is constructed on the previous poll, but the root is the preseason poll, which is founded on conjecture.
Florida and Louisville opened the season in the Top 20. Now, they are unranked. Yet, the rankings boost teams earned for defeating them early in the season has not been repossessed.
Timing is everything. Clemson’s front-loaded schedule and midseason loss granted it more grace than Notre Dame has now. Upsets induce mass movement in the poll, but those shuffles are used to substantiate the initial argument.
Defeating Notre Dame earned Miami the respect it deserved, but Notre Dame also could have been overrated. Georgia was crowned prematurely. Alabama may actually be vulnerable. Maybe, just maybe, undefeated Wisconsin really is good.
Convention suggests that Wisconsin “ain’t played nobody.” The committee still asserts that Clemson’s nine wins are stronger than Wisconsin’s 10. But no one truly knows how the other Top 5 teams would fare against Wisconsin’s schedule.
No matter what the algorithms reflect. No matter how convinced one is. No matter how loud one screams it. No one truly knows.
One can only rely on the assumptions of the eye test, but our Southeastern Conference biases, Atlantic Coast Conference allegiances and Big Ten sensibilities shape the lens.
Past achievement influences present regard. Championship heritage grants Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma, Michigan, Southern Cal, Florida, Florida State and Clemson a greater benefit of the doubt than programs with smaller brands.
Their initial positioning informs the remainder of the season. Building a case becomes more important than simply winning games. Every record comes with an argument.
Debating the Top 25 is entertaining. The poll unveiling show is brilliant television. The College Football Playoff presents compelling drama. Its professed aim is laudable, but its process is laughable.
Impeded by perception, Miami was forced to achieve much more than Alabama to reach the same position. This system sits on a logically fallacy. It has never yielded the best team, only the most acceptable consensus.
Expanding the bracket to include each Power 5 conference champion would solve the calculus. Every team would start at the same point with the same shot.
No one can soften the schedule to hide from competition. No one is granted a head start off heritage. Teams advance by surviving.
The victor will not always be the “best team,” but the title will always be earned without dispute.
There would be no need for polls and no room for argument. But as long as this system relies on observations and not solely on outcomes, the champion will always be an opinion.