LINCOLN — One day, when Nebraska’s good enough to be in the hunt for a College Football Playoff spot, Husker fans will get to worry about game control.
For now, NU is No. 23 in the ratings. Its chances of making that top 12 or so range for the New Year’s Six bowls — an excellent consolation to a playoff berth — are slim to none unless Wisconsin, now No. 16, loses out and Nebraska wins out, thus gaining entry into the Big Ten title game against Ohio State.
Anything’s possible. Not everything is likely.
Nebraska (8-2) is behind 10 two-loss teams and five three-loss teams. Surprised? Don’t be. The committee put the Huskers on notice last week by dropping them three spots in a bye week.
Prove it, the committee seemed to say.
We can’t, was Nebraska’s response. So No. 23 it is. It’s a slot less fraught with the strange drama continuing inside the top seven.
Alabama jumped to No. 1 — from No. 5 — after a 25-20 win over Mississippi State. That wasn’t a terribly surprising win, and the Crimson Tide led all game.
Leading all game, as it turns out, is something the committee finds important.
Just as committee Chairman Jeff Long used “game film” as a justification for overrating the one-loss Tide a few weeks ago, “game control” is a factor now. It’s also a factor in undefeated Florida State — which admittedly futzes around in the first halves of its games — being No. 3.
“When (Alabama) had a decisive win — a game where they controlled that game throughout — they moved all the way to No. 1,” Long said.
ESPN has a metric called Game Control. I’ll call it “futz factor.” It’s hard to tell if the committee is exactly using this formula, but Long brought up game control enough times in interviews Tuesday, that, on some level, “how the game is played” is pertinent and measured.
Game Control, as partially defined by ESPN’s Stats and Info crew: “Each team’s average in-game win probability gets translated to Game Control based on how hard it would be for a top team to achieve it, given the schedule. Game Control also ends up on a 0-to-100 scale, measuring how well a team controlled games from start to finish, accounting for the difficulty of the games it has played to date.”
For example: Nebraska exhibited excellent “game control” in the first 17 minutes or so of the Wisconsin game. Probably had a nice line graph going on the probability chart.
Then the Huskers lost all imaginable control.
This is a metric that can be helpful when you didn’t get the “game film” and want to see how dominant one team was over another. It’s not that “game control” shouldn’t be a factor. But, twice in a month, we’ve heard Long give an edge to Alabama in ways that are just odd.
What’s more, No. 3 Florida State will end this season having played Florida, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame in its nonconference schedule. Let me repeat: FSU is going to play 11 Power Five programs in its regular season.
No. 4 Mississippi State is going to play eight. Do you think it might be a bit easier to express “game control” on South Alabama, UAB and Southern Mississippi than it is on the Irish, Cowboys and Gators? Do you think the Bulldogs got a pretty good break in facing Kentucky and Vanderbilt out of the SEC East? Even if a metric is adjusted for strength of schedule, Mississippi State’s strength of schedule is guaranteed by the toughness of the SEC West. The Bulldogs don’t have near the cumulative test that FSU does, but Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas and LSU winning some isolated nonconference games rubs off on Mississippi State.
No such residual luck for Nebraska. Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa all lost nonconference games, and Miami — despite incredible game control — blew a 23-7 lead in a 30-26 loss to Florida State. The Seminoles, love or hate them, are quite resilient. Cardiac kids!
That used to be kind of an endearing trait. I know fans of Nebraska’s 2012 team appreciated the Huskers’ toughness in several comebacks.
But do comebacks pass the “futz factor” test?
Just another week in the playoff standings.
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