What exactly is “game control” anyway?


The latest batch of College Football Playoff rankings have been released. Now a month into this new format, we know a few things about the way the selection committee for the College Football Playoff appears set on operating.

First, head-to-head competition matters, most of the time. Alabama just jumped Mississippi State to take over the top spot in the ranking after defeating Mississippi State on the field. However, Baylor continues to lag behind TCU even though the Bears defeated the Horned Frogs earlier in the season.

Second, strength of schedule is probably important. Mississippi State only fell four spots after losing, dropping from number one to number four after losing on the road at Alabama. The committee seems to view Mississippi State’s loss as the highest quality loss out of all of the one-loss teams. The overall strength of the SEC appears to counterbalance the lack of non-conference schedule Mississippi State played through, something sure to irk Baylor fans as well.

Third, it’s not just about winning games. You have to look good doing it. Which leads me to one final observation.

We have new buzz terms infiltrating our college football conversations. Forget about “margin of victory.” Now it is all about “game control.”

Uh, so what exactly is “game control?”

Game control is a new stat being used by the playoff selection committee and ESPN for its power rankings. As defined by ESPN, game control “[reflects] chance that an average Top 25 team would control games from start to end the way this team did, given the schedule.”

“As with going from basic W-L to Strength of Record, each team’s average in-game win probability gets translated to Game Control based on how hard it would be for a top team to achieve it, given the schedule. Game Control also ends up on a 0-to-100 scale, measuring how well a team controlled games from start to finish, accounting for the difficulty of the games it has played to date.” – ESPN.com, October 7, 2014

How this is calculated is anybody’s guess, so we are left to take it at face value for whatever it is. In a sense, it is what ESPN says it is.

College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Jeff Long, also the athletics director at Arkansas, used game control to explain a number of decisions the committee made with its most recent rankings. Specifically, Long used the term to explain why Alabama could jump to number one and undefeated Florida State could remain third for a second straight week behind two one-loss teams (Alabama and Oregon).

“We look at the games, how they’ve played them, whether they’ve controlled the game,” Long said about Florida State. “They’ve had a number of come-from-behind victories.”

Simply winning games, as referenced above, is not the most important thing in the eyes of the committee. They want you to dominate as well. It is true that Florida State has had to dig out of holes this season to remain undefeated. It is also plausible this year’s team may not be as good as it was in 2013 en route to a perfect season and BCS national title. But, Florida State has never lost actual control of any game on their schedule.

Alabama and Oregon have. How do we know this? They each lost a game. It is hard to suggest they had control of games they lost, if we are to go by the logic apparently being used by the committee.