Playoff Picture: Welcoming Back Rankings that “Matter”

It’s almost Halloween, which for most people means scary movies, costumes and ruining thousands of dollars of dental work. For me, Halloween means the home stretch of the college football season, the first release of the college football rankings and trying to make sense of absurd statements from whichever poor soul accepted the responsibility of committee chair (this year it’s Kirby Hocutt again). For this week’s playoff picture, I first remind you that these ARE NOT predictions, they are how I would set the bowl games if the season ended today. However, what I will also be doing today is predicting where each of the teams mentioned in today’s post will be ranked on Tuesday, providing Kirby Hocutt’s defense of said ranking and finishing with my response to that ranking.

Sugar Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Alabama vs. UCF

Vasha Hunt:al.com
Photo Courtesy of Vasha Hunt/al.com

Alabama predicted ranking: #1

Kirby Hocutt: “We realize that Alabama hasn’t beaten a team that is currently ranked, but their win over Florida State at the beginning of the season carries more weight than the records suggest because of what happened with Florida State’s quarterback situation. Alabama has also managed to win all of their games decisively at this point in time, so they have earned the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.”

My response: I actually agree with where the committee will have Alabama, so I don’t have too much to say about it, although I’m not sure I can defend the Florida State comment. Nothing we have seen from the Seminoles suggests that they were ever anywhere close to being the 3rd best team in the country even if Francois hadn’t been injured. Alabama’s current strength of schedule is also pretty indicative to how relatively weak the SEC has been this year.

UCF predicted ranking: #14

Hocutt: “UCF is an interesting team and as the lone remaining undefeated Group of Five team, we feel they are appropriately the highest ranked of the two ranked Group of Five teams. They aren’t higher in the rankings currently because of concerns over their strength of schedule, and while we recognize that they have been winning convincingly, margin of victory is not something that weighs strongly into our rankings.”

My response: What a load of crap! I didn’t just make this up either. Former committee chair Jeff Long explicitly said a few years ago that margin of victory did not factor into their decision. How on earth are you supposed to compare games against common opponents (something that is in the committee’s decision process) without considering margin of victory? Looking at UCF’s schedule you will see a 27-point win over a currently ranked Memphis, a 28-point win over Maryland and a 10-point win over Navy. In fact, only two of their six wins over FBS teams are against teams with losing records. I see only one of two scenarios playing out for UCF: either they lose and everything becomes a moot point or they win out and get screwed out of a playoff berth and handed the Peach Bowl as a consolation.

While we are on this topic, let me lay out the three things that any Group of Five team will need to happen to get a playoff berth: 1) they have to be undefeated 2) they need at least two of the other teams in their conference to be ranked when they play and preferably later in the season and 3) they need a minimum of one decent Power 5 win(s). The Golden Knights can check the first two boxes if USF can get back into the rankings after falling to Houston dropped them out for the first time this season this week OR if Memphis wins out and UCF can beat them for a second time in the AAC title game. I’m not sure if the committee will give them due credit for the Maryland win though, and I fear that the cancelled game against Georgia Tech may end up being the death knell for their playoff aspirations.

One last thing and then I promise I’ll move on: my biggest gripe with the committee is the garbage about not considering margin of victory. For one, they absolutely should consider margin of victory otherwise every game is just a binary “win” or “loss” which for teams with different records is completely fine, but when trying to make heads or tails between a bunch of one-loss or undefeated teams it kind of matters.  How you play is just as important as who you play, so to not consider margin of victory is dumb. Also, I suspect that the committee does secretly consider margin of victory at least subconsciously. I think it’s a big reason why Penn State was left out of the playoff last year. If the Michigan loss had been a 3-point loss, rather than a 39-point loss, I think they probably get the nod over Ohio State.

Rose Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- Georgia vs. Wisconsin

Michael Hickey:Getty Images
Photo Courtesy of Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Georgia predicted ranking: #2

Hocutt: “Georgia’s body of work combined with their consistency of play so far has clearly been that of a top two team in the country, especially the road win at Notre Dame, which is one of the top non-conference wins of the season.”

My response: Once again, here is a ranking where I would actually agree with the committee. The Notre Dame game was also the only close game Georgia has had all season, which may not matter to the committee but it does to me. Georgia has been every bit of a #2 team so far this season, and I think a legitimate case could be made to rank them ahead of Alabama based strictly on strength of schedule to this point in the season.

Wisconsin predicted ranking: #5

Hocutt: “Wisconsin’s perfect record is something that we will have to factor in, assuming they stay unbeaten, as we progress to the final rankings, but to this point we don’t feel that their total body of work outweighs some of the one-loss teams.”

My response: This is one place where, even though I would do things differently, I don’t completely hate how the committee has approached this. I try to do my rankings each week as if that were the final week of the season. The big reason I do that is because I feel like it is the best way to appropriately award teams for what they have done to date, as opposed to trying to also consider what they might do in the future. The committee’s past process suggests that they try to rank things to date and consider the upcoming schedule. In the past, the committee rankings have shown a fluidity that the AP and Coaches’ polls have not. The willingness to move teams around based on who they played and how an individual week has affected their total body of work, as opposed to the AP way of “stay put until you lose”, is probably the single best thing that the committee has done so far in its short tenure.

Orange Bowl- Miami vs. Notre Dame

Matt Cashore:USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy of Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports

Miami predicted ranking: #11

Hocutt: “Miami is another undefeated team, who to this point in the season has just managed to keep winning despite not playing at the same level as some of the other teams.”

My response: I agree with the premise, which is why I have Miami ranked the lowest of any of the undefeated teams. I also feel confident that if they beat Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in the next two weeks that they will probably be a playoff team or at least knocking on the door. However, I still feel like being undefeated at this point in the season should be worth a little more, and if they lose in the next few weeks you can always move them to the back of the one-loss line anyway.

Notre Dame predicted ranking: #4

Hocutt: “Notre Dame has the best loss in the country to this point in the season, and in the last few weeks have added great wins over USC and North Carolina State. The Fighting Irish have played every bit the part of a playoff team and were a few plays from being undefeated. They are also a better team now, than the team that lost to Georgia. Plus, they are a huge brand (just kidding…lol).”

My response: I’ve never really bought into the brand argument, but plenty of people do and it would be a funny moment for Hocutt to acknowledge it. I doubt he does that though, because so far the committee has been all business with very little sense of humor with the exception of a few great twitter moments from Jeff Long. Also, for what it’s worth, if Notre Dame can pull off wins at Miami and Stanford down the stretch then they should be a playoff team regardless of the fact that they won’t have a conference title game to add a resume boost.

Fiesta Bowl- Washington vs. Ohio State

Jamie Sabau:Getty Images
Photo Courtesy of Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Washington predicted ranking: #13

Hocutt: “Washington has the worst loss of the Power 5 one-loss teams other than Clemson, but they also don’t have the same strength in their wins that Clemson has, so we currently have them ranked the lowest of the one-loss teams. They also have the advantage of playing so late against non-conference opponents that other teams have their internal “body clock” thrown off when they play at Washington.”

My response: I honestly don’t have much of a problem with this, but I’m also pretty sure that at least one Pac-12 team has to go to the New Year’s Six, so if they close this thing out with one loss they will most likely go to the Fiesta Bowl. I’ll go on record right now and say that I think the Pac-12 has officially been eliminated from playoff contention barring extreme chaos.

Ohio State predicted ranking: #3

Hocutt: “The win over Penn State last week validated that Ohio State is a greatly improved team since they lost to Oklahoma early in the season. While we consider their head-to-head matchup with Oklahoma in the rankings, at this point in time the rest of the Buckeyes’ body of work outweighs the Sooners at this point. Plus, once again, they are one of the biggest brands in college football. (Just kidding…maybe…*insert evil laugh*).”

My response: While I would agree with ranking Ohio State the highest of any of the one-loss teams right now, I don’t think I could put them into the playoff over an undefeated team. The Big Ten will shake itself out though and I do think that one of Wisconsin, Ohio State or Penn State will end up in the playoff. If you asked me who I think belongs right now then I would say Wisconsin, but if you ask me who I think is most likely then I would say the Buckeyes.

Cotton Bowl- Penn State vs. Oklahoma

AP Photo:Sue Ogrocki
Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Penn State predicted ranking: #6

Hocutt: “Penn State is tied with Notre Dame right now for the equally best loss, although since Penn State’s was on the road it might be an even better good loss. The Nittany Lions still deserve to be ranked among the best in the country, although it’s going to be tough for them because they no longer control their fate with Ohio State holding the head-to-head tiebreaker in both the conference and the committee rankings.”

My response: One of the funniest things about how the committee has explained things over the past few seasons is the way they discuss “good losses”. That oxymoron has become one of the defining characteristics of the CFB Playoff Committee. The sentiment is understandable: “All losses aren’t created equally.” That’s clearly true, but it also sometimes tends to take precedence over things like good wins and overall body of work, which should not be the case. All that being said, I do agree that Penn State should remain a top 10 team.

Oklahoma predicted ranking: #8

Hocutt: “The Sooners are still trying to overcome the loss to Iowa State earlier in the year, and while they have won every game since, they haven’t performed like a playoff team at this time. Oklahoma is still alive, and should they progress to the Big XII title game, the early season win over Ohio State would factor into the committee’s decision.”

My response: So the win over Ohio State doesn’t matter right now, but it might later if Oklahoma doesn’t lose again? That makes perfect sense. Granted, nothing really matters for OU right now, because Bedlam is this weekend and for playoff purposes that will be a “Loser Leaves Town” match.

Peach Bowl- Clemson vs. TCU

John Bazemore:AP
Photo Courtesy of John Bazemore/AP

Clemson predicted ranking: #7

Hocutt: “Clemson has the worst loss of all the one-loss teams, but we have to consider the injury that played a major role in that loss. Also, we feel at this time that Clemson’s earlier season wins against Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech are collectively strong enough to keep them firmly in the playoff picture.”

My response: I’ve always thought it was kind of a slippery slope for injuries to factor into the decision to be honest. Using that logic, pretty much any loss can be explained away as some kind of aberration. Also, why is margin of victory not important, but injuries matter? That seems like wrong to me. However, I do agree with the second half of that statement and feel like if Clemson wins out and wins the ACC (which would include knocking off Miami or Miami losing before making it to the ACC title game) then Clemson will rightly be a playoff team.

TCU predicted ranking: #9

Hocutt: “TCU’s loss to Iowa State is an okay loss, and the Horned Frogs still have decent wins against Oklahoma State and West Virginia to fall back on. We feel like, at this time, TCU belongs in the middle of the one-loss teams with real ‘climbability’ over the homestretch.”

My response: Climbability? I actually like it. This is probably about right for TCU and honestly they timed their loss at a good time because Iowa State’s stock is rising and there is just enough time for the Horned Frogs to wipe it out if they can pick up a win at Oklahoma in a few weeks and then go on to win the Big XII. The Big XII might actually be the strongest Power Five conference this season (crazy I know), so its champion should be in the playoff…as long as it’s not Iowa State, speaking of which…

**Bonus Bowl** Camping World Bowl- Virginia Tech vs. Iowa State

Korrie Bysted:Iowa State Daily
Photo Courtesy of Korrie Bysted/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State predicted ranking: #16

Hocutt: “Iowa State has really put themselves on the map in the last few weeks with their wins over Oklahoma and TCU. Unfortunately, the losses to Texas and Iowa earlier in the season can’t go overlooked. Much like USC last year, a quarterback change has really jumpstarted the Cyclones season, but the slow start puts a ceiling on just how high they can get. Plus, they don’t have a strong enough brand to be the first ever two-loss playoff team anyway (just kidding…kind of).”

My response: Everything except the last part is pretty fair. I think Iowa State has absolutely earned a top 20 ranking, but the losses to Texas (by ten) and Iowa can’t be ignored. They would need a real doomsday CFB scenario to even sniff the playoff. However, they control their own destiny in the conference and if they could somehow manage to win the Big XII then they’d probably end up in the Cotton Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl, and consequently without a coach.

Virginia Tech predicted ranking: #12

Hocutt: “I’m not gonna lie, if it wasn’t for Frank (Beamer) we would have forgotten Virginia Tech was a one-loss team altogether. They do have a pretty good non-conference win over West Virginia, but they blew their golden opportunity in losing by double digits at home to Clemson. Once again, the margin of victory had no bearing on our decision though.”

My response: Virginia Tech has kind of been the forgotten team since the Clemson loss, but it is their only loss and if they can avenge it in the ACC Championship game and get a big road win at Miami this weekend then their playoff hopes are still very much alive. Also, if Virginia Tech is anywhere outside the top 10 then the committee is full of it when they say margin of victory doesn’t matter. If that’s true, then Virginia Tech’s loss is no worse than Penn State’s and better than Oklahoma’s and TCU’s.

Cover Photo Courtesy of collegefootballplayoff.com

 

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