I don’t generally regard Jameis Winston as a font of wisdom, but hell, stopped clocks and all, and so after Florida State survived another game in infuriatingly precarious fashion last Saturday, outlasting Boston College 20-17 on a last-second field goal, Winston made a point that possessed a certain amount of blocky logic.
“Well, you know, we were downgraded every time we blew someone out last year, so think of the irony of that,” he said. “If we win the game close, we’re bad. When we blow someone out, we’re bad.”
There’s a smidge of hyperbole in there, since the Florida State team that blew most of its opponents out of the water in 2013 did wind up playing for (and winning) the national championship, despite being ranked below Alabama for most of the season. And there was a bit of Winston-esque obliviousness in the way he followed this thought by noting that “what everyone else thinks about us is none of our business.”
But amid the inflations and absurdities, there’s also a certain amount of truth in there too, because no team has won so many games while arousing this level of animosity in recent college football history.
The obvious reason for this is because the Seminoles are now being judged on two levels at once; they are being judged for their seeming lack of structure off the field, and they are being judged by the College Football Playoff committee for their lack of discipline on the field. The former deals with some extremely serious issues, and the former should not be conflated with the latter, but this is human nature we’re dealing with, and so it’s not always easy to extricate the two things when they push at the same narrative arc.
But let us dispense with the non-football issues, at least for the sake of this column (and our own sanity). Let us assume that the playoff committee is performing its job the way it should be, in a narrative vacuum. Let us say the playoff committee has dropped Florida State to third for reasons that have to do with the Seminoles’ inherent inability to play a 60-minute game. Let us accept that this whole Florida State argument comes down to Game Control, the wonky statistic that playoff committee chair Jeff Long launched into a meme when he brought it up last Tuesday night.
Here is how Game Control is defined, according to ESPN’s rankings: “Reflects chance that an average Top 25 team would control games from start to end the way this team did, given the schedule.”
It is an intriguing idea, a way of equalizing for late-game garbage touchdowns and contests that may adhere to the old saw of “being closer than the score indicates.” The playoff committee is not officially using ESPN’s Game Control statistic (since the formula itself has not been revealed to the committee), but the idea of Game Control has clearly become part of the discussion, another in a list of subjective talking points that guide the committee’s thinking.
So in ESPN’s Game Control rankings, Alabama is first, Mississippi State is second and Oregon is third – and these are three of the top four teams in the current playoff standings. And Florida State, the fourth team in that top four, is 32nd in Game Control. It is a stark number. And it should not count for much of anything.
I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve grown to loathe watching Florida State play this season. They are sloppy and obnoxious and dilatory; at some point, this formula of pulling out games against inferior opposition in the final minutes will almost certainly catch up to them. I don’t think they’re as good as Alabama, which is the best team in the country at this moment. I don’t think they’re as good as any of the other teams in the top seven. I think Las Vegas is probably right about Florida State, and I will be surprised if the Seminoles win the national championship.
But I also think they should be the playoff committee’s number one team.
The most intriguing thing about college football is that it is inherently imperfect. The best team doesn’t always win the national championship, and the goal of the playoff committee, contrary to Jeff Long’s claims, should not be to determine the four best teams rather than the four most deserving teams. That logic should essentially be reversed, and this is why the committee is making some obvious mistakes.
This is college football, and there is something to be said for going undefeated, no matter the schedule. This is why it is patently absurd that Marshall is not even ranked by the playoff committee; this is why it is equally absurd that the Seminoles continue to slip down the rankings, even as they keep on pulling out games in exasperating fashion. I agree that they’re objectively unlikable, and I agree that their wins are increasingly enraging and I agree that they are probably, in a best-case scenario, the seventh-best team in the country at this moment.
But the ultimate measure of Game Control occurs in the final seconds. The ultimate measure of Game Control is one that Florida State has yet to relinquish this season.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb