CFB Playoff: How Condoleezza Rice, other voters are tracking the chaos

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On the official calendar Condoleezza Rice’s staff keeps — one that includes speaking engagements, teaching MBA students and book-writing — Saturdays and Sundays simply say: “Review football teams.”

Rice, former Secretary of State, current Stanford political science professor and now an inaugural College Football Playoff selection committee member, makes a list at the beginning of each week of 40 teams she plans to scout over the weekend. If she’s not watching on the big screen in her Palo Alto den, she’s got her committee-issued iPad with her while attending Stanford home games. And on Sundays, she watches the coaches cut-ups provided to all 13 members.

“I tell people, especially when we get into rankings season [in late October], Sundays are off-limits,” Rice said. “I used to have a steady golf game [on Sundays]. I’ll get back to it in December.”

The committee does not meet in Dallas to issue its first weekly rankings until Oct. 27-28, but its work began as soon as games kicked off in late August. FOX Sports recently spoke with five members — Rice, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, Dan Radakovich, Steve Wieberg and Tom Jernstedt — whose estimates of how much time they’re spending on committee duties ranged from 12 to 20 hours a week. For now, though, that mostly entails watching college football games.

Gould, the retired former Air Force Academy superintendent, mounted four flat-screens in the workout room of his Colorado Springs home, where he now spends the bulk of his Saturdays. “I wish I had an odometer on the bike so I can keep track of how many miles I’m riding,” he said.

“I wish I had an odometer on the bike so I can keep track of how many miles I’m riding,” Lt. Gen. Michael Gould said.

Courtesy College Football Playoff

Former NCAA executive Jernstedt spends Saturdays in the finished basement of his home along the Indianapolis Canal Walk, where he watches one big-screen and two smaller TVs on either side, with a fourth just a couple of steps away in his office. “I now have the first legitimate excuse for watching college football from noon until 2 a.m.,” he said.

Wieberg, a longtime former USA Today sportswriter, camps out on a leather chair in the corner of his Kansas City living room with one game going on a 42-inch flat screen and another on his iPad. “Right now my grass is about two weeks beyond needing mowing,” he said.

And while Clemson AD Radakovich is busy on home-game Saturdays, he comes into the office early on Sundays to take advantage of the faster Internet speed. “I download some games early in the day, go home and watch them,” both that day and the rest of the week, including when he travels. “I probably haven’t read [books] as much as I have in the past,” he said.

And we know committee chairman Jeff Long is watching. When Washington State’s game-winning 19-yard field goal attempt against Cal sailed wide right at 1:41 a.m. central Sunday morning, the Arkansas AD tweeted: “Wow! He missed it. Wow #goodnight.”) Others might not be quite as intensely dedicated, though. Archie Manning last week told USA Today he “’would feel guilty’ if he’s not watching five or six games a week.”

Wieberg falls on the opposite end of the spectrum. The career reporter (he now works in the public affairs department of the Kansas City Public Library) has been meticulously logging his committee work. Through six weeks he’d seen all or parts of 92 games involving 89 different teams.

And he does so with his laptop open for note taking. He’s maintained a separate Word document for every viable contender with each team’s “dossier.” By the time the committee sits down to determine its most important rankings on Dec. 7, he’ll be able to look back at far more than the final scores.

“If the starting quarterback misses 19 snaps in the middle of the game and his backup struggles a little bit, what does that mean for the team and the team they’re playing?” he said as an example. “By the time we get to the end of November, early December, both of those teams may have played themselves out of the picture, but who knows? Maybe this little note I took back in September may resonate in the room when we talk about them in December.”

Gould also keeps a notebook handy while watching. “The key thing is to write down some things here and there that might help in your decision-making in December when we go back and think about how teams arrived at the scores,” he said.  The former Air Force assistant coach also makes use of the coaches-film cutups, which he casts from his iPad to his TV some weekday evenings.

“You can watch those and it gives a little more critical eye to how well an offensive line or defensive line is performing. You can look at schemes and run it back and forth and see how blitzes develop,” he said. “Watching a televised game and film are two different things.”

Rice, befitting her background in academia, finds herself drawn to the many statistics being provided to the group by SportSource Analytics. She pores over them early in the week after the latest games are played. They include comparative measures by which various categories are adjusted for strength of the opponents.

“I’m a social scientist, and it creeps into the way I watch football now,” she said. “I’m a lot more attentive now to trying to get a sense of whether an offense is performing really well because it’s that good or because it’s playing weak competition or vice versa.”

Interestingly, another committee member, Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, recently mentioned that same analytical measure in an interview with ESPN.com.

“I’ve got one of our statisticians helping me," he said. "He works in our sports information office, and he's a stat nut. We look at statistics, we watch film together, we sit down and he and I talk about the games and put our things together."

And most said they’re actively consuming media analysis of the landscape — watching ESPN and FOX Sports’ studio shows and reading articles from across the country. That may trouble some who wonder whether their opinions will be unduly influenced, but Jernstedt said, “Anything that’s in print or on television about college football is of more interest to me than it’s ever been.”

So we know they’re watching games, taking notes, assessing statistics and reading articles. But what are they doing with that information?

That varies across the group.

Gould is already compiling his own Top 25 rankings each week in anticipation of the group’s first meeting. “For me it’s a way to organize my thoughts and narrow the field,” he said. Alvarez does the same.

Conversely, Rice said she’s “trying to have a sense of the broader picture” and “not trying to establish an order at this point because a lot will change between now and the 28th.” Hence, why she’s still casting a net of 40 teams. “It started out at a lot more than 40 so I’m in better shape now,” she said.

Finally, in addition to evaluating and ranking teams, each member has been specifically assigned one or two conferences to monitor and then report back to the group. For example, Gould’s conferences are the American and Pac-12, Wieberg’s the SEC and Independents. The committee’s weekly meetings will begin with each conference’s point person giving a five-minute update on the league’s latest developments.

Jernstedt, along with Manning, is a liaison to the ACC. They’ve already held one conference call with commissioner John Swofford and his staff and expect to hold regular briefings throughout the season.

“We’re not advocates for those conferences,” Jernstedt said. “We’re asked to gather the information for that first part [of the meetings] and that’s another platform. When you have direct contact with members of the conference, they provide information that may very well be helpful.”

So add those calls to the weekly workload.

In addition to logging how many teams he’s watched, Wieberg, for curiosity’s sake, is keeping track of the total hours he’s spent on committee duties. As of Monday he’d hit 117.5 — just under 20 per week.

“All told, it is a significant commitment for all the members of the committee,” Gould said. “But everyone’s excited for it. I don’t hear any whining.”

Not when they have the world’s most legitimate excuse for spending 14 straight hours watching college football on Saturdays.

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.



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