July 3, 2020

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Reaction to the First CFP Committee Rankings

By: Zack Lambert

If you haven’t seen by now, the College Football Playoff’s ranking committee has come out with their first official ranking of the year. Many schools, fans, and officials are outraged by their position in the poll, but no one can ever come to a consensus as to what it really should be. Unfortunately none of what we say matters, but getting our reasoning out there can be constructive for the future. Different opinions and ideas will lead to a more educated and better overall fanbase. So let’s dig into it and break down how we feel about this first round of teams.

Top 4 Implications

The first and focal issue jumps right off the bat: two SEC teams and two Big 10 teams in the top 4. Everyone assumed some order of LSU, Alabama, and Ohio State would top the charts, but Penn State was a surprise at 4. The argument for the Nittany Lions is that their strength of schedule and resume are both better than Clemson’s. Penn State plays the 35th toughest schedule whereas Clemson is sitting at 81st. Penn State also boasts two wins over ranked teams while Clemson has only beaten a very disappointing Texas A&M team at home.

The argument for Clemson comes in a much more fundamental form: basic stats. Clemson runs for 272 yards and 3 touchdowns per game. Penn State is at 172 and 2.4. Trevor Lawrence hasn’t been what we expected this year, but Clemson is averaging 273 passing yards and 2.6 touchdowns per game. Penn State is at 252 and 2.6. Clemson’s defense gives up fewer yards and turns offenses over more. As a team Clemson gets penalized less, and for less yards. They get about the same pressure on defense and the turnovers are close to the same.

So what does this all mean? It means that the committee wants to see you win games that mean something. Penn State already has a few big wins, they’ll play a ranked team at least two more times this season, and could actually come into bowl season with four more if Indiana gets ranked and they make the Big 10 championship game. Clemson, on the other hand, will only have an opportunity at Wake Forest and possibly the opposing team in the ACC championship. That doesn’t bode well for Swinney’s side.

However, Clemson knows not to fret at their name outside the cut. Alabama and LSU play this weekend and Penn State and Ohio State meet on November 23rd. Unless something unpredictable happens, Clemson will probably jump to at least third before rivalry week, a very desirable position.

But wait, if the committee is going to focus on the teams that have the best resumes, then what are Alabama and Ohio State doing in the top 4? Ohio State has beaten two top 25 teams. The first was Michigan State, who now sit at 4-4, and Wisconsin, who lost to Lovie Smith and Illinois. That’s not as good as Penn State or LSU. And Bama? They beat Texas A&M in College Station and that’s it. Where are the indications that they should be ahead of Clemson or Penn State? Or even Georgia? If this is evidence of anything, it’s that the committee is fine with ranking some teams based off the eye test while others face scrutiny at random. That doesn’t make any sense.

Other Teams in the Top 10

The biggest matchup to come outside of the games in the top 4 is the possible Utah/Oregon PAC-12 Championship game. Assuming that Oregon and Utah both win out (very likely), they’ll be meeting in that game. The winner will be a 12-1 team with a Power 5 conference championship and a fresh victory over another top 10 team? Does that vault them over the second best SEC or Big 10 team? Do they get in with a better strength of schedule than Clemson? There needs to be room for that team to make it if someone slips late but that door seems to be closing already.

Oklahoma is in the same sort of position as Oregon and Utah. They already beat Texas but will also have a shot against ranked teams in Baylor and Oklahoma State, plus the conference championship game. If a 12-1 Big 12 champion that has proven they can win at a neutral site can’t get in, why are we having this committee rank teams?

And how do you feel about Georgia? They’re in a scintillating position considering that they’ll likely move in during the next few weeks, but will that really help them if they make the conference championship? If Georgia loses to, say, Alabama in the conference championship game, they’ll have two losses. And who would you take a two loss Georgia team over a one loss LSU, a one loss Oklahoma, a one loss Utah or Oregon? For me that choice is easy, and it means that Georgia are sitting in the worst position of any team in the top 10.

The Rest

Florida and Auburn have been effectively eliminated from the playoffs unless the football version of nuclear war happens and the top just falls apart. I mentioned in this week’s power rankings that both teams will be looking at a good New Year’s Six bowl which will be beneficial to them. Neither team is good enough to compete in the playoff right now, but next year could be a different story if they can utilize their experiences into growth opportunities.

Baylor is where things get very convoluted for the committee. It’s clear that teams with undefeated records are sent clear to the top. So what’s with Baylor and Minnesota? Are they ranked so low to give us a false sense that some thought goes into these rankings? Are these predicated on what happened last year? Sure, the strength of schedule isn’t as good, but it isn’t like these teams aren’t impressive. Oklahoma has one loss which came at Kansas State. Baylor won at Kansas State. Minnesota is undefeated. By the standard that the committee set in the top 10, these teams should be up front, but aren’t because they’re not “traditional powerhouses.”

The combination of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Notre Dame makes sense with how they’re ranked but not where they’re ranked. All teams have two losses and they’re all connected. Wisconsin beat Michigan and Michigan beat Notre Dame, making this one of the few areas we might make sense of. But right after those three comes Kansas State, another two loss team. This is more of the same, if the committee want’s resume, why isn’t Kansas State ranked above Wisconsin, Michigan, and Notre Dame? They have a better win than each of those teams and their only losses are to ranked teams, one of which was an away game. Why can’t they be ahead of those three?

Iowa plays a fundamentally ugly form of football which gives them some wins that seem questionable. This type of football is detrimental since a blowout win over a bad team in a bad conference is now just as valuable as a win over a middle of the road conference win. I don’t mean to disagree with this spot, but if they had bigger wins then they’d probably be wrongfully ranked ahead of Kansas State.

19-25 is an absolute mess that not only embarrasses the committee, but absolutely exposes what schools like UCF have been saying for a long time. Wake Forest is 19 which is fine. They’re 7-1 and their loss isn’t too bad. But after them comes 7-1 Cincinnati, 8-1 Memphis, and 7-1 Boise State. Cincy beat a ranked UCF, Memphis beat a now ranked Navy and SMU, and Boise State has proven to be impossible to beat when their team is healthy. All of these teams have better wins and losses than Wake Forest. It’s just Power 5 bias.

After the Group of 5 trio we have one of the more startling teams to make the rankings in Oklahoma State. I know that they’re somewhat of a pedigree school with a good coach and great running back. I know they’ve beaten some pretty good teams. But they’ve also lost three games. They’re 6-3 with a 3-3 conference schedule in Week 11. The fact that they not only make the rankings, but they’re beating out a 7-1 Navy and an 8-1 SMU is atrocious. Teams like UCF, San Diego State, and Indiana are all more deserving in nearly every way than Oklahoma State.

What We Learned

Can we really act like there’s some profound wisdom that was put forth here? The committee is useless. This new ranking system is useless. What’s the point of going away from the AP/Coach’s Poll? Ratings. That’s it. There’s no system. If you’re a traditional powerhouse then you get a boost. If you’re undefeated you might get a boost if you’ve been good in past years. If you’re a Group of 5 team, why even bother winning? If you’re Power 5 you can lose three games and still be considered better than one loss teams that would smoke you in every facet of the game. The committee is a useless, obnoxious, shameless money grab that throws teams out with the knowledge that it’ll all shake out by the end of the season. Their decision making process involved about as much preparation as the person who takes your money by choosing the cutest mascots or best color combinations in the March Madness brackets. The NCAA should be embarrassed by this stupid showing that lacks any semblance of intellect. Get rid of the committee, get rid of the rating machine rankings, and get rid of the NCAA.