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The SEC West's Place in the Playoff Puzzle

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The SEC West's unprecedented performance in 2014 will force the inaugural selection committee to answer one impossible question: What constitutes fair representation in the inaugural playoff for college football's premier division?

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama won its first national title under Nick Saban in 2009; this seminal moment in college football history foreshadowed a historic run by programs in the SEC West. Ten weeks into this season, SEC West programs have posted a record of 21-1 in FBS games played against non-divisional foes. This post's Tableau Viz compares the SEC West's performance with other divisions and leagues with less than twelve teams since 2005 based on expected winning percentage, starting field position, yardage-based statistics, turnovers, and scoring.

Please click on the Viz below to compare college football's divisions:

The following table ranks the West's performance this season against non-division foes in offensive, defensive and net statistics. This details how the SEC West ranks in various statistics when compared to the 163 other conference divisions since 2005.

Stat Off. Def. Net
Starting Field Position 96 3 14
Ending Field Position 4 1 1
Rusing Yards per Play 7 1 2
Passing Yards per Play 1 7 1
Yards per Play 3 6 1
Rushing Yards per Play 1 1 1
Passing Yards per Play 21 20 10
Net Yards per Play 2 1 1
Pct. of Available Yards Gained Rushing 2 1 1
Pct. of Available Yards Gained Passing 22 12 8
Pct. of Available Yards Gained 2 1 1
Punt Pct. 6 1 1
Effective Turnover Pct. 1 47 4
Touchdown Pct. 2 1 1
Efficiency 1 1 1

The SEC West not only towers above its divisional brethren in 2014, they stand out among all divisions in the past decade. Prior to the formal announcement of the playoff, Spencer Hall brilliantly summarized each power conference's negotiation strategy and philosophy by creating a table. In this table, he argued that the SEC's wanted a playoff format that includes "the four best teams from the nation's best conferences, the SEC's East and West."

Spencer Hall's sarcastic comment would have proved prophetic had the SEC East been excluded from that joke. Two of the most highly regarded ranking systems include the F/+ Ratings and Ed Feng's Bowl Subdivision Rankings at the Power Rank. Each ranking system lists Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss in the top five. Even my comparatively unsophisticated ranking system that ignores home-field advantage rated Mississippi, Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State as the country's four best teams. (This also makes it difficult to grasp why so many have prematurely discarded Ole Miss from the playoff hunt when Mississippi State, Alabama, and Auburn each have brutal road games on their November schedule.)

This all places the selection committee and its vague criteria in an unenviable position for their first season. The debate for the selection criteria often involved questions that pertained to strength of schedule, conference championships, revenue, bowl rotations, and the committee's membership.

The debate should now center around one question:

Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, or Mississippi State each play three games against one another. No other playoff contender comes close to playing three games that arduous. Consequently, how many teams from the SEC West should be in the playoff without unfairly penalizing the SEC West's four powerhouse teams?

For those interested in more drive-based analysis, please visit FBSDriveStats.com. A glossary of statistical terms can be viewed at the FBS Drive Stats Glossary. CFBStats.com was used as the data source for this information.