With news of a college football playoff going official last week, we as fans did what we always do in situations like this… and overanalyzed the crap out of everything.
We overanalyzed who the winners and losers in the new playoff format would be. We overanalyzed which teams, conferences, coaches and players that benefited the most. We basically overanalyzed just about everything. And yes, it was all for a playoff that won’t be played for another three seasons. You really do have to love college football fans, huh?
Regardless, one thing that has yet to really be discussed is what type of teams will most be benefitted by the playoff. After all, in other sports- the MLB and NFL in specific- teams are carefully crafted by their front offices not just to win, but to win specifically in the playoffs. And as fans we all spend hours in the days before the NCAA Tournament filling out our brackets trying to figure out which are best suited to take home a title.
So what types of college football teams will fair best in the new-look 2014 playoff? What are the characteristics which will make them successful? Let’s take a look.
Teams With the Most Depth: This is the simplest, and most logical requirement of any team that’ll find success under the new system.
Simply put, it takes a lot of things to survive a college football season, but nothing helps more than having the highest volume of quality players. Being able to survive injuries, suspensions, disappointing play and the overall attrition are all keys to making it through any college football season.
And with an extra game? It’ll only be more important, especially when that extra game will come against a high-quality opponent on short rest.
Another thing to consider too: Having the most depth also allows for the most versatility in preparing for opponents who might have little in common. After all, say you’ve got to play a fast-paced, athletic team like Oregon one week, and then a bigger, more physical team like Alabama the next. It’s the teams with depth to switch out players, positional groups and schemes which are most likely to have the most success there.
Being from the Big XII: This seems like a totally abstract, impossible to prove thing, but it’s also reality. As things stand right now, teams from the Big XII will have an advantage over their counterparts from every other major conference in college football.
Why is that? Well, it’s because right now the Big XII is the only major conference in college football without a conference championship game. It means one less game on the schedule (most likely against a high quality opponent) meaning one less opportunity to lose. And one less opportunity to lose obviously means better odds for a champion to finish undefeated, or at the very least in the driver’s seat to make it to a playoff.
Obviously, there are still rumblings that the Big XII is looking to expand to 12 and go back to a championship game format. But right now? It’s advantage Big XII.
Teams Able to Run The Ball: So one of the new quirks of the four-team playoff is that the championship game will now be “bid out” to whichever city is willing to pony up the most cash for it. And while it doesn’t seem likely that the title game will end up in a cold city (especially one without a domed stadium) you just never know. Could someplace like Chicago end up with the title game? It doesn’t totally seem feasible, but certainly not impossible either.
And if the game does end up in an outdoor stadium in a cold city, well, you better darn well be able to run the ball. It’s no secret that if the game were to hypothetically be played in the cold (and the irregular weather patterns that comes with it) it would be a great disservice to teams that rely on a passing game to score points. Cold weather means it’s tougher to grip the ball, which leads to more wobbly throws and dropped passes. More wobbly throws and dropped passes mean fewer points, and in games with top teams in college football, points will most certainly be at a premium.
Teams that Protect the Ball: This has been pretty standard operating procedure since the game of football was first invented by Nick Saban 100 years ago (Ok, I guess it only seems like the game was invented by Nick Saban. Still!): Teams that protect the ball put themselves in the best position to win.
There’s not much to add here, other than to say that this fact won’t change under the new system, or any system for that matter.
Having a Veteran Quarterback: Besides the obvious benefits to having a veteran quarterback, remember too that we’re now looking at a scenario where after having a month to prepare for a semifinal (which is basically what we have now), there will also be a quick turnaround with a championship game just a short time later. And that’s why a veteran quarterback will be a key. After all, who better to have under center than someone who has not only been there before, but also someone who won’t be overwhelmed by unfamiliar teams or defensive schemes?
To put it in a different perspective, think of it like this: As great as A.J. McCarron was against LSU last January (and he was great), he did have six weeks to prepare for them. Could he have pulled off a similar performance if he had to play another game, against another high-quality opponent a week later? It doesn’t seem nearly as likely.
In the same way that having a veteran point guard always seems to help in the NCAA Tournament, you’d have to assume that having a veteran signal-caller would help here too.
Having the Most Talent: Again, let’s reference the NCAA Tournament and let’s reference the simple fact that above all, the most talented team in college basketball usually ends up winning the title.
There are rare exceptions of course (UConn ’11, Duke ’10), but looking through the recent history of the sport, the greatest common denominator between title teams has been pure, unequivocal basketball talent. More than being a No. 1 seed, more than having a good coach, playing tournament games close to home, whatever, it’s almost always talent which wins out.
Think about it. Kentucky was the most talented team in the country last season; they won the title. North Carolina the most talented team in 2009; they won too. They won the title too. It’s the same with Kansas in ’08 and Florida had a bunch of future pros in 2006 and 2007. It’s not coincidental that they all ended the season as champions.
Will it be the same in college football? It’s impossible to say, but it does seem likely.
But the good thing is, that starting in 2014, we get to find out!
For all his insight, analysis and opinion on college football, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.