ACC coaches conflicted on upcoming playoff system

The college football universe is justifiably anticipating the new playoff system, which starts next year. And while the ACC is excited about its new additions and the potential of some of its old members to take the next step, the perception problem surrounding ACC football is still going to be there.

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about exactly how the playoff is going to work, too. The BCS might have been vilified, but at least it involved math and took some of the human element out of it. Now, a selection committee will choose the final four teams based on “strength of schedule, head-to-head results, championships won and other factors,” according to the official College Football Playoff site.

Those “other factors” might be part of the ACC’s problem. 

Defenders of the league would say that it’s gotten an unfair rap over the last few years, and it’s a deeper league than the rankings would indicate. But the rankings don’t paint a pretty picture: the ACC hasn’t finished in the top four of the final BCS conference rankings since 2009. Last year, the ACC finished sixth, tying its worst finish in the BCS era.

To make matters worse, the league hasn’t had a team finish in the top 10 of the final BCS rankings since 2009. The last time a team was even ranked in the top five was nearly two years ago (Nov. 27, 2011; Virginia Tech was fifth before losing in the ACC title game the next week). The ACC hasn’t had a team in the top three in going on six years now (Oct. 28, 2007; Boston College was No. 2). 

Last season, the highest any ACC team got in the BCS rankings was ninth.

The SEC is king, and that’s not just because its members are winning all of the national titles. The SEC finished first in the BCS conference rankings three of the last four years, and it finished second the other year.

Computers or not, ACC teams are going to have to do better on the field to have a better chance of being selected. And there are mixed opinions among the league’s coaches as to whether or not the departure from the BCS system is a even good thing. 

“To me, I think we made it more complicated. I don’t know why they didn’t just keep the BCS formula and take the top four teams and go,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “This next step is kind of a combination of both worlds, both sides of the argument, if you will, in that you’ve got the four teams that — most of time time, we’re not sitting around arguing for the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth team. It’s been that third team or that fourth team or whatever.

“You still have the bowl tradition and the bowl experience that a lot of teams would get the chance to be a part of, which I think is great and wonderful. These student-athletes have a chance to really focus and get that experience and finish on a positive note. And you have a chance to settle the argument with the top four teams. So it’s a little bit of the best of both worlds, and I think it’s going to be fun.”

Maryland head coach Randy Edsall, though, has roots at a school that’s not really a powerhouse (Connecticut). He knows the struggle those smaller Division I schools face to try to get respect. And his perspective seems similar to that of a lot of fans clamoring for a playoff. 

Edsall seems to already anticipate what is likely to happen if something doesn’t change for the ACC in the next few years: an ACC team could win the league and still be left out of the playoff. There are five major conferences and just four spots. Someone is getting left out. And to Edsall, that’s unfair.

“The issue that I had with it … is there’s a chance that if you win your conference, you might not even get to the (title) game. When the people talk about how the regular season means something, well how does the regular season mean something if you could go undefeated and not be one of the top four teams?” Edsall said. “That’s what I don’t understand and I don’t get as a coach. How do you as a coach tell your kids, well you can go undefeated, you can win your conference championship, you might not even get into the four-team playoff?”

Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer seemed to be more mixed on what the right thing is to do. He mentioned 2004, when an undefeated Auburn team was left out of the national title game and played his Hokies instead.

“I’ve said for a long time there probably needs to be more than two teams. The year we played Auburn, they were good enough to play in the national championship. They were undefeated along with two others,” Beamer said. “I think when you get four, there will always be arguments about that fifth team, but I don’t think there will be as much argument about the fifth team as there is about the third team. I think we’re getting closer.”

Beamer understands that there are logistical issues with the playoff. As he said, football teams can’t play Thursday and turn right around and play on Saturday like college basketball teams can. So it will be more and more difficult to add teams to a playoff, if that ever happens. 

But perhaps the biggest concern is that selection committee. There’s a committee for college basketball, but so many teams make the NCAA Tournament that it’s hard to argue an injustice occurred if one gets left out. Basketball’s committee makes an effort to make the process as transparent as possible. That hasn’t always been college football’s strong suit. And there’s still no process in place to select committee members. Will it be former players and coaches, or media members? How strong will their allegiances be? 

“That’s probably always a natural concern when you have people involved, but at the end of the day, you just have to — the system is what it is,” Swinney said. “You just hope that the people that they put on that committee will be of great character and integrity and will just do the best job and vote what they truly believe, outside of any other bias. We’ll all live with the result.”