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What, Exactly, Are We All Talking About?

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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What do we mean by four "best" teams?

The arguments, regarding the release of the first College Football Playoff poll, are well underway. Before the first rankings were ever released, though, chaos was already the only true order. With updated projections preceeding actual play, history is now unfolding in the theoretical. Each week, we think, is a step closer to reality. While the responsibility of picking a final four belongs to the the 13 members of the College Football Playoff Committee, it's the compelling national conversation at-large that completely captivates the sport.

Amongst all of the records and resumes and speculation and statistics lies one key question that would seemingly offer invaluable insight to the process of picking four teams: What, exactly, are we all talking about?

Meaning, what do we mean by four "best"?

I'm not so sure that distinction has ever been defined. I'm not even sure we even know where to begin.

Sometimes a simple analogy can offer some perspective. If you had a room full of, say, 13 people and had them write down a number that they associated with the term "a lot", you would very likely get a wide variety of responses. You might, in fact, get 13 completely different answers, anywhere from 100 to 100,000 and any number in between. Though that is an exaggerated example, the simple pretense, even when evaluating college football teams, still remains.   

The description "best" is so routine, especially in sports, that we all just sort of nod in concurrence, even if we don't have much detail beyond that deference.

Shouldn't we try, first, to explain what all the fuss is about?

Is "best" a performance-based distinction? A talent-based distinction? A reflection of a schedule played? An anticipation of potential reached? Are certain teams at an advantage before the season even starts? Do pre-season rankings matter? Should a benefit of the doubt be given? Can it be earned? How do you compare a quality loss with a modest win? Can some losses be more impressive than some wins? How much do style points matter? Does public opinion come into play?     

When we say the four "best" teams, do we really mean the four "best" teams and would it, therefore, be fair to use recruiting rankings, draft projections, award considerations and program consistency in evaluations? Is "best" elastic in some sense, going beyond mere wins and losses? For all the data, is "best" as simple as a visceral reaction? 

There isn't a simple answer and maybe that's the point. As situations may change, the nebulosity of the status quo can respond in kind. Mysterious and undefined, "best" can ebb and flow with time and place. It's fluid, equally fun and frutrating. Hence the conversations. Committee members can then use their own frames of reference to make it all fit into those four final slots. And the discord, of course, continues.

It may not be how others see it, but I'm comfortable, for whatever it is worth, replacing "best" with "most-deserving" in this context. I'm not sure "best" is fair. I'm not sure "best" is always updated and refreshed. Though it's hard to quantify or explain why any four teams stand out above the rest, I think the summation "most-deserving" can be one that includes game results, statistical metrics, strength of schedule and personal interpretation. It makes me feel more specific. It's a title you can explain and cite. 

Such a statement may not be any more comprehensive than "best" or any other phrasing but it, at least, feels like a start. 

We, in college football, love rankings. We also love debates. A little clarity on what we are all yelling about just might go a long way.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports