Though the Cal Poly football team’s nonconference game today with Big Sky Conference opponent Eastern Washington will surely go far in the mind of observers, including possibly the NCAA FCS playoff selection committee, it might not matter much in the conference standings.
Win or lose, both teams could be no better or worse off in their pursuits of the Big Sky Conference championship and the automatic berth to the FCS playoffs that accompany it.
Sure, if both the No. 16 Mustangs (7-1, 5-1 Big Sky) and the No. 7 Eagles (6-2, 5-1 Big Sky) are the two lone teams tied atop the conference standings at the end of the season, today’s head-to-head matchup would be the tiebreaker for the playoff spot.
But there’s another scenario just as likely, and it invovles twice as many teams.
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There’s a chance Cal Poly, Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona and Montana State could all finish with one Big Sky loss and split the conference title four ways.
In order to do so, each team would have to win out in their remaining conference games, and the Mustangs would need to beat Northern Arizona in the season finale. That would ensure that no team would hold a head-to-head advantage and any opponent shared by all four teams would be unable to break the tie.
Since most of the tiebreaker rules in place with the conference were designed with a two-way deadlock in mind, a novel approach would be utilized should the four-way scenario happen.
The automatic playoff berth would go to the team with the highest Sagarin Rating, a computer power ranking system administered by USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin.
Coming into this week’s games, all four teams are relatively close according to Sagarin.
Montana State leads the way with a rating of 65.40. Cal Poly is second in the conference at 64.61. Eastern Washington is at 64.50, and Northern Arizona is at 62.19.