Nick Saban readies for more subjective College Football Playoff selection process

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and linebacker Rashaan Evans (32) celebrate with the trophy after the College Football Playoff National Championship game.

TUSCALOOSA  — Even in seasons when it lost a regular-season game, Alabama has been given the benefit of the doubt by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Alabama’s SEC schedule tends to give it the inside track to stacking quality wins needed to make the four-team field despite a loss.

The SEC schedule may not be a saving grace for the Crimson Tide this year, should it drop one of its 10 games.

UA coach Nick Saban told ESPN’s Chris Low that the College Football Playoff may have to be subjective in 2020, as the Committee deals with teams playing different numbers of games and few non-conference games for comparisons among leagues. Going 10-0 and winning the SEC Championship Game is almost certain to be enough to get Alabama into the College Football Playoff, but if it falls short of that, it is not certain to benefit from the same factors it has in the past.

“I don’t envy the people who have the challenge of trying to make those evaluations,” Saban said.

One measure that could be used is margin of victory, one that has benefitted UA in the past. Last year, the chair of the CFP Selection Committee, Oregon athletics director Rob Mullens, consistently praised UA for dominating its competition up until the loss to LSU. UA’s dominance helped it rise above what was considered a tame schedule at the time.

The pitfall to rewarding margin of victory is incentivizing running up the score on opponents, something UA hasn’t typically done despite plenty of opportunities.

In the last three seasons, UA has scored 27 second-half touchdowns when up by 30 or more points; 13 of those touchdowns were scored by freshmen, and 14 scored by clear non-starters on the given year’s team.

Four of the 13 touchdowns scored by starters were scored in the first five minutes of the third quarter, when UA tends to play its starters to work on applying halftime adjustments before ceding to the backups. 

Saban doesn’t plan on changing that ideology to fit a more subjective comparison method.

“I still think that there are still things like sportsmanship and having respect for your opponent,” Saban said. “It shouldn’t be about how bad you beat someone but actually how well do you play on a consistent basis.”

Given the Crimson Tide is favored by 28 over Missouri in the BetMGM sports book, and likely to be favored by at least two scores in the two games that follow (Texas A&M, at Ole Miss), it will likely have an opportunity to dominate an opponent to any subjective measure.

UA will have to discover what that subjective measure is, since Saban is less confident in the value of strength of schedule in 2020.

“I just think because everyone is not playing the same number of games and some teams are playing conference games, I think strength of schedule is going to be really difficult relative to different conferences and who plays who,” Saban said.

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