Nick Saban picks up off-the-field win in Baton Rouge over IRS: report

Alabama head coach Nick Saban greets LSU head coach Ed Orgeron before the Alabama vs. LSU SEC football game, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Back in the BCS era, when a complex yet well-defined formula of computer rankings and human polls determined the national championship, trying to figure out the two teams that would reach the title game was a pretty scientific process.

Now in the College Football Playoff era, when a 13-person committee determines the four teams for the national semifinals via their collective opinion, figuring out what they will do is more art than science.

Trying to read the CFP selection committee’s tea leaves is still the job of ESPN’s Brad Edwards, one of the hosts on its “College GameDay” show every Saturday on ESPN Radio. We asked him about a variety of CFP topics Wednesday, from whether LSU has to worry about staying at No. 1 in the CFP rankings if it wins out, to the big question still stalking Tigers fans in the wake of Saturday’s 46-41 win at Alabama: Could LSU have to play the Crimson Tide again like in 2011?

Do you think if LSU goes 13-0 with a win in the SEC Championship Game it will stay No. 1 if Ohio State also goes 13-0?

“I do, but I wouldn’t say it’s a lock. Basically, LSU has one more chance for a big-time win in the SEC Championship Game. They have a bunch of them (four over CFP top 20 teams).

“Now, if Ohio State destroys Rutgers this weekend they become the first team since Nebraska in 1971 to win their first 10 games by 24 points or more. They’re the most dominant team in the FPI (ESPN’s Football Power Index) era going back 16 years. It’s possible Ohio State’s resume gets into the same ballpark as LSU if LSU were to play a closer game. But I’d say it’s about an 80% chance LSU is No. 1 if it’s undefeated.”

There is a lot of talk about ‘game control’ as a metric? How do you quantify it?

“It’s the probability of your record given your schedule. What it looks at is the chance an average top 25 team has at having that record against your schedule. Right now, LSU is No. 1 and Ohio State is No. 2, but it’s the largest gap I’ve ever seen. It’s like LSU is in a different stratosphere. An average top 25 team, say No. 12 or 13, has a 1% chance to go 9-0 against LSU’s schedule. It would have a 16% chance of being 9-0 against Ohio State’s schedule. Baylor is third at 17% and Minnesota fourth at 23%.

“LSU’s résumé is such that even if they don’t add another quality win at the end, they still have the best résumé in the nation.”

Alabama fell from No. 3 to No. 5 after losing to LSU and a lot of people say its hopes are slim of making the CFP. You disagree if Bama was to win out and finish 11-1. Why?

“They are making the mistake of only looking at one side of the story. You look at the schedule and say they would only have one top 25 win over Auburn. In most seasons that looks really bad. What they fail to notice is if everything plays out as expected, look at LSU, Ohio State and Clemson having the top three spots. The fourth spot would between Alabama, the Big 12 champion and the Pac-12 champion. But right now, Oregon and Utah have zero (CFP) top 25 wins (Oklahoma has one over No. 19 Texas). The teams competing with Alabama have as bad a résumé as they do.

“I think Alabama is way more in this than a lot of people recognize or admit.”

In the first five years of the CFP, no 11-1 team that didn’t reach its conference championship game has made it over a 12-1 conference champ. If Alabama got in over a 12-1 Pac-12 and/or Big 12 champ those conference commissioners would immediately be yelling for an eight-team playoff. Could politics play a factor with the committee?

“While it’s true they’ve never taken a one-loss non-champion over a one-loss champion, they’ve never been forced to make that decision. I think it’s lazy to make that statement and make it a reason why it won’t happen this year.

“This is the important question: Do the members of the selection committee take any instruction whatsoever from the conference commissioners? There was a story around Big Ten media days that (former Big Ten Commissioner) Jim Delany and (former CFP committee member and Wisconsin athletic director) Barry Alvarez thought the committee screwed up taking non-champions a couple of times and leaving conference champions out. They have to have heard it.

“The question is, do they care? They are given a very simple task: to choose the four best teams. The Pac-12 has been left out the past two years in a row. Can you for political purposes afford to leave them out? Some people say Alabama could be in big trouble if they’re looking at it that way. That this is a political exercise.”

Say Alabama gets in at No. 4. Could you see the committee tweaking the semifinals so they don’t play LSU right away, like in 2011 after LSU beat Bama in the regular season?

“If LSU is No. 1 going into the SEC Championship Game and wins, there’s no flexibility to change that. They’d have to think ahead to drop LSU before that weekend to avoid an Alabama rematch.

“I imagine everyone on the committee is aware of what happened in 2011. We all saw (Saturday’s) game and we can’t say the same thing would definitely happen. A lot of plays went LSU’s way for the win. But I wouldn’t be shocked if two or three people on the committee said, ‘Let’s not put them through that again.’ I don’t think they’d make a decision based on that, but we’re all human.”

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com