Like millions of college football fans, Jeff Bower will have a television tuned to Monday night’s semifinal games of the College Football Playoff.
The following Monday, Bower and wife, Debbie, will be in Atlanta at the Mercedes-Benz Dome for the CFP championship game.
And while the former Southern Mississippi football coach doesn’t have a dog in the hunt, so to speak, he will be watching from a rather unique point of view.
After all, he helped select the four-team bracket that will crown college football’s new champion.
For the past two years, Bower has been one of the 13 members of the CFP selection committee that is charged with sifting and evaluating a mountain of metrics to come up with the four teams that will compete for the title.
“The question always is: Did we make the right call?” Bower said. “Probably the biggest thing that I can tell you is that it’s important to all of us that we make the right call for college football.
“It’s simply the best four teams, this year, and you can’t imagine how many times that is brought up.”
A little history
College Football Playoff Administration, LLC, was birthed in 2013 to create a four-team playoff that would replace its predecessor, the Bowl Championship Series, with the new system implemented for the 2014 season and the first CFP championship staged in 2015.
The two semifinal games would rotate annually among six bowl games: Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach. The national championship game would be staged at a host site chosen through a bidding process similar to how Super Bowl sites are chosen.
Starting in the middle of the season, the selection committee collates a weekly Top 25 ranking, and following the weekend of conference championship games, the final ranking is released, with the top four teams earning spots in the playoff bracket.
The rankings also help determine who will play in the other “New Year’s Six” bowl games that are not being used as semifinal sites in a given year.
Bower, who recorded 119 wins at USM from 1991 to 2007, was on vacation early in 2015 when he received a phone call from Conference USA Commissioner Judy McLeod.
“I can remember it vividly, I’m in Orange Beach, sitting on lounge chair, and she says, ‘I’ve been asked to contact you about if you would have any interest on being on the CFP selection committee,’ Bower said. “I said, ‘Judy, I don’t know much about it. Can you send me the demands, the criteria, this and that,’ and she did.
“Then, they called me back and I said I would do it, and it’s gone from there.”
Bower, who said he never has been told who nominated him, is in the second year of a three-year term. He’s one of five former college coaches on the committee, joined by Bobby Johnson (Vanderbilt), Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech), Tyrone Willingham (Notre Dame/Stanford/Washington) and Herb Deromedi (Central Michigan).
Each of the “Power 5” conferences is represented by a current or former athletic director, including Gene Smith (Ohio State); Rob Mullens (Oregon); Dan Radakovich (Clemson), Kirby Hocutt (Texas Tech); Jeff Long (former Arkansas).
This year’s committee also includes Robert Morris University President Christopher Howard, former NCAA Executive Vice President Tom Jernstedt and former USA Today national college reporter Steve Wieberg.
Beamer and Smith are in their first year, replacing former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, respectively.
Bower said he was honored deeply to be a part of the group.
”Not including myself, it’s the best of the best,” Bower said. “There’re just so many people of integrity and character. There’s so much character on that committee. There’s nobody in that room who would not make a decision that they felt was best for college football.”
Bower said while not everyone is always of one mind, the differences of opinion are debated, not argued.
“It’s all so non-contentious,” Bower said. “Condoleezza Rice said this, ‘I’ve been on a thousand committees and I’ve never been on a committee this good. We can all sit back, without raising our voice and arguing, and pick what we believe is the right decision, (which) the majority of us believe in, without raising a voice.’
“And that’s true.”
Not always happy
But that doesn’t mean that the sporting public or college football pundits believe the committee makes the right decisions.
Take Bower’s first year on the committee. Ohio State was thumped 31-0 in the semifinals by a Clemson team that went on to win the 2017 national title. Some cited the margin of defeat as evidence that the Buckeyes should not have been in the field.
“I think we got the four best teams,” Bower said. “I don’t think there was a 31-point difference. Clemson came in hot at the time. In my opinion, and I don’t mean to step on anybody’s toes, because they are all great coaches (who) are involved in that, but (Clemson was) the hot team at the time.”
This year, more complaints were lodged, when a one-loss Alabama team that didn’t reach the Southeastern Conference championship game earned the fourth slot over an two-loss Ohio State that won the Big 10 title game.
The decision gave the SEC two schools in the four-team bracket, a situation that had turned the volume up on the BCS’ flaws when Alabama played Louisiana State in the 2012 championship game.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with who you are or what conference you are in,” Bower said. “Y’all (the media) brought up, ‘Well, y’all don’t like Ohio State because the year before, Clemson beat ‘em 31-0 in the semis,’ and I’m saying never, ever, ever was that brought up.
Bower said the committee’s major debate was between Alabama and Ohio State over the fourth and fifth spots in the CFP’s final Top 25 ranking.
“Well, we got through that night, Saturday night, at 1:30 (a.m.), got up the next morning, started at 7 (a.m.), met another two hours and probably 90 percent was Alabama-Ohio State,” Bower said. “There’s a lot of criteria, a tremendous amount of data, and we looked at everything.”
Time to watch
Bower said the committee members feel an obligation to make the right call, and that all points of view are open for discussion and consideration.
“There was a lot more pressure on fourth-and-one,” Bower said, laughing. “I did my homework on the top 25, and that’s all you can do. But you do listen. You listen to other people. You listen to their rationale and their explanation for what they think, and then we look at all the data.
“Do I ever waver? Yeah. Have I ever changed my vote? Yeah. But that’s why we got 13 people on there. You listen to what people have to say, you look at the data, you make up your mind.”
Monday, the committee’s handiwork will be on display. Georgia will meet Oklahoma in The Rose Bowl Game sponsored by Northwestern Mutual, followed by Clemson and Alabama III in the AllState Sugar Bowl.
The winners meet Jan. 8 to play for the 2018 national championship.
And, in a few months, Bower and his 12 compatriots will begin the process all over again to determine who will have the opportunity to play for the 2019 crown.
Bower said he looks forward to the process.
“I love it,” Bower said. “I do. I’ve just enjoyed it. When you look at all the people on the committee, and the people you surround yourself with and you get to know, it’s just been so enjoyable.
“The associations and friendships that you make, there’s a great camaraderie in there. It’s that much fun to me. I look forward to going out there. I look forward to seeing all those people. We do have some association other than just being in that meeting room all that time.
“At the end, though, and it’s kind of a (cliché-sounding) deal, but we’re all dedicated to making the right call.”