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More than numbers

By ZACH HEILPRIN
 
MADISON - Earlier this week the SEC announced they were staying with an eight-game conference schedule but would require teams to play at least one non-conference game against a team from one of the five power conferences. The decision raised some eyebrows around college football as the sport heads into the playoff era this season.
 
A number of conferences, like the Pac-12 and Big-12, already play a nine-game schedule and the Big Ten will join them in 2016 as they make an effort to enhance their strength of schedule. What the SEC is saying with their decision is that because the conference is viewed as being the strongest in the country they don’t need that ninth game and playing it could mean hurting their chances of getting teams into the four-team playoff.
 
For University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who is part of the playoff selection committee that will determine the four teams, strength of schedule isn’t solely a numbers game.
 
“You’re locked into your conference,” Alvarez said Thursday on Bud Light’s In the Trenches on 100.5 in Madison. “What are you doing in the non-conference? What are you doing in those three games? It’s obvious what (UW is) trying to do – opening with LSU, Alabama and LSU the next three years. And I think you’re seeing more of that.
 
“If you want to be in the game, if you think you should be in the mix to be a top four (team), you’ve got to schedule strong in the non-conference and not schedule patsies just to get wins.”
 
Strength of schedule is just one of the factors that the committee will take under consideration. The win-loss record is obviously a part of it, along with head-to-head competition and where a team finished in their conference.
 
The playoff committee will have plenty of help in coming up with the four teams. Alvarez said the group that manages statistics for them went back over the past 10 years and looked at the top two teams for each season.
 
“They took all of their statistics and their variables and they said, ‘Which ones were the most consistent in the profile of the champion?’ And then rated them,” he said. “This is the most important by percentage. This is the second, this is the third, right down (the line). Which was really impressive. It spoke volumes.”
 
This week the commissioners from the FBS conferences, who chose the 13-member selection committee, met in Texas to finalize the parameters for the voting process. The committee will put out a top 25 each Tuesday. But unlike the Associated Press Poll and Coaches’ Poll, the process will be more involved, with multiple votes taking place by secret ballot in an effort to come up with a poll that’s as close to a consensus as possible.
 
The recusal process for members – like Alvarez – that may have a conflict of interest will be similar to the NCAA tournament committee. While Alvarez will be able to put Wisconsin in his initial list of 25 teams each week, he won’t be allowed to vote for the Badgers.
 
“When we talk about Wisconsin, they can ask me questions,” Alvarez said of the committee. “I can answer any questions about Wisconsin. When it’s time to vote, I have to leave. Same thing with anybody. If you’re being paid by an institution, (or) if you’re affiliated with them, or if you don’t feel comfortable voting for them or discussing them, you can discuss it but when the vote comes you have to leave. That was one of the things we decided.”
 
The committee will meet every Monday and Tuesday in Dallas and the poll will start the week of October 11th.
 
The contract for the College Football Playoff runs for 12 years, and despite many fans hoping and expecting the field to expand to more than four teams, Alvarez doesn’t foresee that happening nor would he be in favor of it.
 
“I don’t,” he said. “I think this is right where we need to be.”
 
 
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin