No matter how you look at it -- with your own eyes or through a computer forecast -- the College Football Playoff's selection committee is going to have one of the most difficult, scrutinized jobs in sports this fall. The 13-member committee will choose the top four teams in the country using a truly subjective vote. To better understand some of the issues the committee might face in the future, ESPN.com looked to the past.
This is what the brackets might have looked like every year since 2004. ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach selected teams based on the eye test, and projecting for the computer was ESPN's Championship Drive Ratings, which evaluated teams based on how difficult it would be for an average Football Bowl Subdivision team to achieve their record given their schedule and accounts for how well teams controlled games throughout the season.
Knowing that the selection committee will weigh factors such as strength of schedule, head-to-head results and conference championships, each bracket was analyzed to see what challenges would have been presented to the committee and how it might have addressed them. Of course, in most years, the pool of qualified teams went deeper than four, and choosing No. 4 might just be the committee's biggest task. The definition of "best team" will likely differ for each committee member. Will an undefeated Boise State team ever unseat a one-loss team from a Power Five conference? Or will history repeat itself, even in a new era? A look back foreshadows more questions are in store.
2004: The top three teams (USC, Oklahoma and Auburn) were pretty easy to discern for both the eye test and the computer, as all three finished the regular season undefeated. They weren't the only ones, though. Utah earned its first undefeated season since 1930, and then-coach Urban Meyer said, "I truly believe we are one of the top six in the country." The selection committee would have had to make a choice between Utah's historic run and a one-loss Texas team that fell to highly ranked Oklahoma at a neutral site. Texas was shut out 12-0 for the first time in 281 games and had lost five straight in the storied rivalry. Utah, though, didn't face a ranked opponent all season. Louisville also made a case that season, with its lone loss coming on the road to a 9-3 Miami team.
2005: USC and Texas would have been no-brainers for the committee, as they were the only teams to finish the regular season undefeated and held the top two spots in the BCS standings all year. Beyond that, it gets a little tricky. Both the eye test and the computer went with Penn State and Ohio State. But what about Virginia Tech? LSU? That season, the Tigers' only two losses were to Tennessee and Georgia, which were both ranked. LSU beat Alabama on the road in overtime. How much weight would that carry with the committee? More than Ohio State's win at Michigan? Penn State was deserving with three wins over ranked opponents, and its lone loss came on the road against Michigan. The Nittany Lions' head-to-head win over the Buckeyes would bump them above Ohio State, but two Big Ten teams wouldn't have been a guarantee.
2006: This is where the committee could have given the Big Ten more credit than the computers. Ohio State was undefeated, including a road win over Texas and a win against Michigan to end the season. Undefeated with two wins over top-five teams? Committee members would have to be wearing blindfolds to miss that No. 1 résumé. Knowing head-to-head results matter to the committee, the Buckeyes should be No. 1 ahead of Michigan, but that was the Wolverines' only loss of the regular season. How could Michigan not be in the top four? Depends on which committee member you ask. They would also have to consider USC, LSU, Florida and Louisville. Florida beat everyone but Auburn. LSU lost to Florida and Auburn. Louisville lost to a ranked Rutgers team but beat two ranked opponents in West Virginia and Miami.
2007: The selection committee will factor in conference championships, and Missouri lost the Big 12 title to Oklahoma, its second loss to the Sooners that season. Would those losses negate wins against three ranked opponents in Kansas, Nebraska and Texas Tech? On the flip side, would Oklahoma's upset of top-ranked Missouri in the title game trump its two road losses to unranked teams? A two-loss team certainly can't be ruled out (especially when there are so many of them). LSU's two losses were in overtime, including one on the road at Kentucky. In reality, the Tigers became the first two-loss team to win a BCS title -- a reminder of the value of the eye test. How much credit would the committee give Virginia Tech's two losses, which came to a highly ranked LSU team on the road (granted, a bad loss) and in a close game at home to a soaring Boston College team? Ohio State had a close loss at home to an unranked Illinois team, while Georgia had two losses to unranked opponents.
2008: It worked! Wait, what? Boise State and Utah beg to differ after their undefeated seasons. Ah, but the eye test! Strength of schedule! Isn't there anyone from the WAC or Mountain West on that committee? In a season in which 10 teams finished with zero losses or one loss, odds are it's not going to be as easy as one, two, three, four. You can't ignore an Alabama team that finished the regular season undefeated, but conference champs count and Tim Tebow won that one. Speaking of title winners, what about USC, which had won its seventh straight league title? "It upsets me a little that two one-loss teams will go to the BCS championship game and we'll be left out," former USC linebacker Brian Cushing said then. Would the committee have overlooked that close road loss to an unranked Oregon State team on a Thursday night? Oklahoma's lone loss was to a top-ranked Texas team that finished 11-1.
2009: Five undefeated teams and conference champs. A one-loss SEC team. Four spots. Ready, go! The eye test and computer agree on Alabama, Texas and Cincinnati, but what about TCU and Boise State, which were also undefeated and won their respective conferences outright? TCU beat two ranked opponents and won the Mountain West title while Boise State kicked off the season with a win against Oregon and won the WAC title. Florida, though, steamrolled its way through a daunting SEC schedule until it ran into Alabama in the SEC title game and lost 32-13. Would that loss give TCU the edge in the committee's eyes?
2010: With flawless records and conference titles, it would be hard to argue against Auburn and Oregon as the nation's top two teams, and the computer and eye test agree. After that? Let the debates begin. TCU earned its second straight undefeated season and Mountain West title, beating two ranked opponents along the way (Oregon State and Utah). Stanford's only loss was on the road to Oregon, and just like TCU, it beat Oregon State -- even more convincingly. By that time, the Beavers weren't even ranked anymore. The Big Ten would have been sure to give the committee some headaches, as Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State shared the league title. Head-to-head results matter, and Wisconsin lost a close game on the road to a Spartans team that finished 11-1. The computer liked Oklahoma, which lost two games but won another Big 12 title.
2011: This was one of the few years that the committee could have just ordered some pizzas, put their feet up and mailed in its top four. LSU, which was the only undefeated team left in the country after beating Georgia convincingly to win the SEC title, would have been an easy No. 1. With wins over eight ranked opponents, including Alabama, there should be no doubting the Tigers' strength of schedule. The computer and eye test also agreed on Alabama, as its lone loss was in overtime to LSU, and Oklahoma State, which won the Big 12 championship by drubbing a ranked Oklahoma team. USC's postseason ban would have made the decision even easier, along with the head-to-head result that Stanford won -- at USC -- albeit in three overtimes. Boise State was the only other one-loss team the committee might consider, but the Broncos lost at home to an unranked TCU team.
2012: We've got a winner. The eye test and the computer agreed. Florida, though, might have something to say about that. Notre Dame was undefeated. It's in. Alabama won the SEC title. It's in. Ohio State was undefeated and banned from a bowl. It's out. What about the Gators, whose only loss was to a ranked Georgia team? "We should be playing for the national championship," coach Will Muschamp said after his team whupped top-10 rival FSU to end the season. Would the committee have listened and agreed? It would have to weigh Florida against the other one-loss teams in contention. Oregon's only loss was in overtime to Pac-12 champion Stanford. K-State's only loss was at Baylor.
2013: Many fans last season wanted to see the Noles line up against Alabama, and the committee could have made that a realistic possibility. Unless, of course, it went with Stanford like the computer did. (Huh?) Would the committee really ignore two losses, including that eye sore at Utah? FSU's undefeated run would have made it a lock for the playoff, and Auburn's only loss was on the road to a top-10 LSU team. Michigan State's résumé included a Big Ten title win over Ohio State and a close loss on the road to a ranked Notre Dame team. How could the computer overlook Alabama, which only lost one game -- on the road to a ranked rival -- thanks to an improbable 109-yard field goal return? It's the kind of scenario the committee could help avoid.