PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz.-- The million dollar question is the same for every program in America. What does it take to make the College Football Playoffs?
The answer in truth, is fluid. Each year is situational but the answer is no less important. A way to look into the future and position your program in a way that will result in strong resumes and compelling arguments to be included in the conversation.
For Penn State and Washington they both know what it's like to be close to the cutline. For the Huskies they were the last to make it into the conversation in 2016. The Nittany Lions just on the outside looking in. Now in 2017 both programs find themselves on the outside looking in, a product of their own seasons, but both once a playoff hopeful.
So what does it take to make it? That's still the biggest question.
"From an institutional standpoint, I think the biggest challenge is what signals does the playoff committee send?" Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said on Thursday. "What guidance is the college football playoff giving us from a non conference scheduling standpoint, because what we want to do is put ourselves in the best position to be selected, to be in the conversation."
For Penn State it doesn't seem like the answer will change the Nittany Lions' strategy all that much. Penn State has the vast majority of its future schedules already mapped out with a mix of Power Five and "cupcake" opponents. That's unlikely to change and the value of wins against quality opponents is unlikely to diminish.
Even so, Barbour continues to evaluate what the committee is looking for, especially as six members are set to leave to committee this year, bringing in new viewpoint in the process.
"I will say this, I think there have been mixed signals, and I think that it does make it difficult," Barbour added. "Given that we're in year four...there are going to be some conversations, and there are always going to be conversations [nationally] but as Penn State, from our perspective, one of the main things I'm looking for is what we need to do from a non conference schedule to put ourselves in the best position to be in the conversation."
"I think the first couple years they were focused on strength of schedule, I think these last two years they have looked at it differently."
In the end the committee may have unintentionally declared its consistency in other ways. Teams that make the playoffs don't lose twice, and if they do they don't get blown out. Avoid both of those pitfalls and your team might just make the final four.
It might be as simple as that.