Mock selection committee (cont.)
The vote (like in golf, the fewer points the better) went:
1) Notre Dame: nine (seven first-place votes)
2) Alabama: 16 (one)
3) Georgia: 24
4) Florida: 32
(Stricklin, Gladchuk and Smith did not vote.)
At that point, Shaheen opened the floor for discussing any remaining team under consideration. And that's when certain dynamics began to develop.
For instance, Ohio State's Smith quickly emerged as the group's alpha dog, in part because of his familiarity with the process from having served as an NCAA basketball committee chairman. He and Livengood often broke bouts of silence. But while others focused mostly on scores and schedules, Smith, a former Fighting Irish defensive end, had strong football-centric opinions.
For example, Smith on Stanford: "Stanford benefitted from playing Arizona earlier in the year. That was a high-scoring contest [the Cardinal won 54-48 in overtime] but it was against an offense where they learned a lot about themselves and what they needed to do in order to face a similar offense that Oregon runs. .... They've definitely gotten better. That's why I have Stanford as a team that should be up there a little bit higher."
Stanford became one of the most hotly discussed teams, in part because of its controversial overtime loss to No. 1 Notre Dame ("I can see where Stanford should still be ahead of Oregon despite two losses," said Holland), but also because the Cardinal embodied a fundamental debate between the members: Is the goal to pick the four best teams of the season or the four playing the best right now?
"I like Stanford because of how they're playing right now," said Livengood.
"Maybe one of the hottest teams right now is A&M," said Washington State's Bill Moos.
Middle Tennessee State's Massaro, an Oregon proponent ("The way they've dominated most of their opponents has been extremely impressive," he said), felt differently than his colleagues. "I'm more a body of work guy," Massaro said. "The games in September are just as important as the games in November. To me, the hot team doesn't matter as much." That prompted West Virginia's Oliver Luck to note, "There's a long break until soon-to-be playoffs and the championship game. There's a long history of teams cooling off because they have 38 days [off]."
It was soon time to cast the second ballot, for which members were asked to rank the four best teams still under consideration. The top two would join holdovers Georgia and Florida on the final ballot. The results:
3) Texas A&M
Stunningly, that meant Kansas State -- a recent No. 1 team and the presumptive 11-1 Big 12 champion -- did not make the committee's top eight. Most members could not get past the Wildcats' 52-24 drubbing by then 4-5 Baylor.
"Even though they [have] one loss, it's a nasty loss," said Moos. "That's why I left them out. The other ones we're talking about are overtime losses and tough opponents."
"I just think Texas A&M and Oregon would beat 'em," Smith said of the Wildcats. Asked if he would have said that even before the Baylor loss, Smith replied: "Yep, I would have."
Demonstrating just how thin the difference is between teams, Stricklin noted, "If Pittsburgh had made that [33-yard] field goal in overtime, I don't know how strong Notre Dame would be in this conversation. Kansas State and Notre Dame both have road wins at Oklahoma and both have good wins, but Kansas State lost to a .500 team basically, and Pittsburgh would have been similar for Notre Dame."
Notre Dame, remember, was a near-consensus choice for the No. 1 seed.
Finally, it came time for the most important vote: The committee would rank remaining contenders Georgia, Florida, Oregon and LSU, with the top two vote-getters claiming the third and fourth playoff spots.
1) Florida: 12 (six first-place votes)
2) Oregon: 19 (two)
3) Georgia: 27 (one)
4) LSU: 32
(Stricklin and Moos did not vote.)
And so the Gators and Ducks would move on to the playoffs. Georgia fans would surely cry foul given the head-to-head win over Florida, and Stanford fans would be incredulous about a bracket that included an Oregon team the Cardinal beat.
"I'm confused," said Shaheen, whose sarcastic sense of humor provided comic relief throughout the call. "This was supposed to be the promised land. I thought we were solving everything with this new system."
In one of the committee's preparation calls last week, there was a moment when it became clear this would be more than just a fun way to pick four teams for a playoff. It came when Shaheen uttered the words: "Lives are going to change." His point: Having seen first-hand the impact of picking the 37th at large-team for the NCAA basketball tournament, he could imagine what will hang in the balance for the fourth football playoff participant.
"It confirmed my thought how hard this is going to be for three, four, five, six," said Ohio State's Smith. "I think one and two are clearly going to emerge. But three and four: Oh my God."
The consensus among SI's mock committee members was that the exercise gave them a better understanding of what will be at stake for the real committee. The difference between teams four and five is a sliver on paper and a canyon in meaning. There's not expected to be a significant financial gap in the monetary payout for teams No. 4 and No. 5, as team No. 5 will still go to a lucrative high-profile bowl. But there's no way to quantify how many millions making the playoff could mean to a school in terms of exposure, recruiting and the university's overall profile.