Playoff profile: 'Best' v. 'most deserving,' Clemson and what if?

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Taking a more in-depth look at Clemson and the new college football playoff, pt. 1…

In 2013, Clemson was as high as No. 6 in the BCS going into the final week of its regular season, but any hopes of reaching the top-four went down the drain with six turnovers in Columbia.

ESPN listed the Tigers last week among 16 playoff contenders in 2014, building on the Orange Bowl win over Ohio State.

The playoff committee, which Clemson AD Dan Radakovich sits on, has laid out a wide range of tools they will use to select those four this year – moving away from the BCS formula that’s governed college football’s championship game since 1998. From their playoff site:

“Selection Committee members will have a wealth of information including review of video, statistics and their own expertise to guide them in their deliberations. They will emphasize obvious factors like win-loss records, strength of schedule, conference championships won, head-to-head results and results against common opponents.

The playoff group has retained SportSource Analytics to provide the data platform for the committee's use. While the details of the platform have not been finalized, it is anticipated that it will include countless pieces of statistical information for every Football Bowl Subdivision team. It will also include general information such as each team's opponents' record and opponents' opponents' records. The platform will allow the committee members to compare and contrast every team on every level possible.

‘People, not mathematical formulas, will pick the teams, and we want to make sure the committee members have all the information they want so they can make the best decisions,’ said playoff director Bill Hancock.”

Last season may have been as good an example as any for determining the four “best” teams.

Back in December, USA Today had a panel of their own to pick the four, which actually lined up with the final four of the BCS. Left out were the nation’s top SOS (Stanford) and 11-1 Big 12 champ Baylor. How?

CBS writer Tony Barnhart says it’s the concept of “best” versus “most deserving.”

“Here's the distinction: Using this year's final BCS standings, the four best teams were Florida State, Auburn, Alabama and Michigan State. An argument could have been made that Big 12 champ Baylor or Pac-12 champ Stanford was more deserving of a spot in the playoff than a second team from the SEC (Alabama).

‘That decision was made early on," Hancock said. "Our committee will be charged with picking the four best teams for the playoffs and the best available teams for the other bowl matchups.’”

Here’s a profile on playoff contenders from 2013, which we’ll dive into some more this week looking ahead…

2013

(Record, BCS percentage, strength of schedule)

1) Florida State (ACC Champion, 13-0, .996, 62)

2013 Returning starters: 10.

Blue-chip ratio (counts 2014 class): No. 7 (56 percent).

Scoring offense: No.2. total offense: No.6. red zone offense: No. 1. yards per play: No. 1. 3rd down %: No. 3.

Scoring defense: No. 1. total defense: No. 2. red zone defense: No. 24. def. yards per play: No. 2. 3rd down D%: No. 8.

Turnover margin: No. 3. penalties: No. 74. field position advantage: No. 2.

2) Auburn (SEC Champion, 12-1, .964, 13)

2013 Returning starters: 15.

Blue-chip ratio (counts 2014 class): No. 10 (53).

Scoring offense: No. 12. total offense: No. 11. red zone offense: No. 21. yards per play: No. 8. 3rd down %: No. 24.

Scoring defense: No. 47. total defense: No. 87. red zone defense: No. 10. def. yards per play: No. 95. 3rd down D%: No. 13.

Turnover margin: No. 61. penalties: No. 30. field position advantage: No. 44.

3) Alabama (2nd place SEC West, 11-1, .906, 39)

2013 Returning starters: 13.

Blue-chip ratio (counts 2014 class): No. 1 (73).

Scoring offense: No. 17. total offense: No. 33. red zone offense: No. 86. yards per play: No. 5. 3rd down %: No. 17.

Scoring defense: No. 4. total defense: No. 5. red zone defense: No.4. def. yards per play: No. 13. 3rd down D%: No. 23.

Turnover margin: No. 49. penalties: No. 28. field position advantage: No. 4.

4) Michigan State (Big Ten Champion, 12-1, .860, 51)

2013 Returning starters: 15.

Blue-chip ratio (counts 2014 class): No. 19 (16).

Scoring offense: No. 63. total offense: No. 81. red zone offense: No. 79. yards per play: No. 82. 3rd down %: No. 39.

Scoring defense: No. 3. total defense: No. 2. red zone defense: No. 36. def. yards per play: No. 1. 3rd down D%: No. 2.

Turnover margin: No. 10. penalties: No. 77. field position advantage: No. 5.

Had a case?: 1) Baylor (Big 12 Champion, 11-1, .772, 48)

2013 Returning starters: 13.

Blue-chip ratio (counts 2014 class): No. 20 (13).

Scoring offense: No. 1. total offense: No. 1. red zone offense: No. 67. yards per play: No. 3. 3rd down %: No. 21.

Scoring defense: No. 36. total defense: No. 27. red zone defense: No. 22. def. yards per play: No. 9. 3rd down D%: No. 20.

Turnover margin: No. 8. penalties: No. 125. field position advantage: No. 14.

2) Stanford (Pac-12 Champion, 11-2, .819, 1)

2013 Returning starters: 15.

Blue-chip ratio (counts 2014 class): No. 17 (39).

Scoring offense: No. 45. total offense: No. 69. red zone offense: No. 11. yards per play: No. 26. 3rd down %: No. 10.

Scoring defense: No. 10. total defense: No. 16. red zone defense: No 16. def. yards per play: No. 15. 3rd down D%: No. 10.

Turnover margin: No. 61. penalties: No. 48. field position advantage: No. 3.

Last-week addition(s)/drop-out(s) to (BCS) final four: In – Michigan State; Out – Ohio State.

What If…

Ranked sixth going into the final weekend, Clemson’s case for a top-four seed was there with a win at No. 10 South Carolina, finishing 11-1, but they’re probably still on the outside looking in.

Ohio State dropped the Big Ten title game to Michigan State to open up a spot, propelling the Spartans six places from 10th to 4th.

It’s hard to argue Michigan State wasn’t deserving – and the title puts them over the top, but on schedule strength, they finished just three spots ahead of Clemson (51).

Stanford’s case was all on strength of schedule – being No. 1 and all – and pairing that with a PAC-12 crown. Their inexplicable loss at Utah (finished 5-7) and two-total was the stumbling block.

We’ll talk more on Clemson’s schedule and the new world order in college football, but they are probably just a closer game with the ‘Noles from really being in the conversation last season. You can look no further than Michigan State, which also only played three ranked teams in the regular season, as an example of taking care of business in conference and a select few big games for a playoff model (Clemson's were all in the top-10 at the time – Michigan State’s No. 21, No. 22, and No. 2).

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