Week 12 of the 2015 college football season embodied everything that’s great about college sports. Four of the top 10 teams fell in upset fashion and seven additional games featuring ranked teams were decided by a single score. Two teams, Michigan and Utah, played into double overtime on the road. Kansas, 0-10 on the season, had three chances to knock off one of the Big 12’s best teams on the road.
The weekend was perfect, but Tuesday night was not.
At this time of year, Tuesdays become almost as important as what happens on the field on Saturdays. Tuesday nights are when the College Football Playoff committee releases its weekly rankings and reveal which teams have the chance to play for the National Championship.
The committee is given the most important job in college sports. I won’t bore you with details, but thousands of students and coaches dedicate their lives to each season. Hundreds of millions are spent (and more importantly, earned) through games, travel, television deals and merchandise. This entire process is held together by the common aspiration of every major program in the country: To win championships.
Despite all the chaos that happens on the field, the committee’s job is relatively simple. They put two resumes next to each other, and the better one is ranked higher. Is it the committee’s job to guess which teams are the best? No. The ranking process should be all about resumes. If it’s not, then what’s the point of playing the games?
In spite of the beautiful simplicity of this process, the committee still manages to make baffling mistakes each and every week. It harks on criteria like head-to-head outcomes, scores against common opponents and strength of schedule, yet when the rankings are released, those factors seem to take a back seat to a more ambiguous placement process.
It’s not the committee’s job to get most of the rankings right, it’s the committee’s job to get all of the rankings right. If you disagree, just talk to the players who poured their hearts and souls into 12 fall Saturdays only to finish below a team that didn’t have as strong of a season. When the committee can’t correctly rank Nos. 10-25, why should we have any faith it’ll pick the right teams for the final four?
Before you read any further, remember: This is my opinion on the rankings, and yes, I know only the final top 25 matters. But the weeks leading up to that reveal are important because they set the stage and give us a look at how the committee operates.
Take a look at some of the problems I found in this week’s rankings.
|(3) Ohio State ranked above (5) Iowa|
|10-0 (6-0)||Record||10-0 (6-0)|
|0-0||vs Top 25||2-0|
|1||Record vs P5 teams over .500||3|
|Best Wins||at #20 Northwestern
at #25 Wisconsin
One of the simplest mistakes the committee has made in the first three weeks concerns the Big Ten, which features four top-12 teams.
The conference’s remaining undefeated teams, Ohio State and Iowa, would eventually have to meet in the conference championship game, should they both continue to win. But even so, their placement is an example of the committee refusing to use solid evidence in the rankings.
Do I think Iowa is a better team than Ohio State? Absolutely not. But Iowa has three wins over power five teams with at least seven victories, two of which came against ranked teams on the road. Ohio State, on the other hand, has only one win against a winning power five team: A home win over 7-3 Penn State. The best three wins on Iowa’s resume came at (20) Northwestern and (25) Wisconsin and against Pittsburgh. Ohio State’s best three wins came at home against Penn State, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.
So how does Ohio State land in the top four while Iowa sits on the outside looking in? There really isn’t a good answer. The Hawkeyes went on the road and dismantled the 20th-ranked Wildcats by 30 points last month. The only teams Ohio State beat by 30 were Hawaii and Rutgers.
Sure, this will work itself out on Dec. 5 if the teams meet in Indianapolis. But what if these teams weren’t in the same conference? It’s alarming that the committee feels it can take matters into its own hands instead of letting the play on the field determine who makes the top four.
|(11) Stanford ranked above (12) Michigan|
|8-2 (7-1)||Record||8-2 (5-1)|
|2-2||vs Top 25||1-2|
|at #22 USC (41-31)||Best Win||#20 Northwestern (38-0)|
|at #20 Northwestern
|Losses||Current #13 Utah
#9 Michigan State
Here’s the most indefensible example of the committee completely whiffing on teams with identical records and completely different resumes.
Let’s break down both bodies of work. Michigan’s two losses came to the 9th and current 13th-ranked teams in the country and Stanford’s two losses came to the 20th and 23rd-ranked teams in the country.
Was Stanford more competitive in those loses? Well, the Cardinal lost its season opener by 10 points. The Wolverines lost their first game of an entirely new system by a touchdown. Stanford lost to Oregon after being outplayed from start to finish. Michigan lost to Michigan State after outplaying the Spartans start to finish.
Okay, so it’s not because of the losses.
Maybe Stanford has a better win? Strike two. Stanford’s best victory came over the 24th-ranked team in the country. Michigan blew out the 20th-ranked team in the country.
How about their performances against common opponents, which is specifically outlined as one of the main criterion of the rankings? Michigan finished 2-0 against the common opponents (Northwestern and Oregon State) with a combined score of 73-7. Stanford finished 1-1 with a combined score of 48-40. The Wolverines beat Northwestern by 38 points and Stanford lost to Northwestern by 10 points. That’s a 48-point difference.
But it’s not enough for the committee. Jeff Long and company can’t even build a top 25 by the standards they created. Michigan has a far better resume than Stanford, but the committee threw the Cardinal one spot ahead of the Wolverines. Strike three.
|(17) North Carolina ranked above (20) Northwestern|
|9-1 (6-0)||Record||8-2 (4-2)|
|0-0||vs Top 25||1-2|
|at Pittsburgh (29-16)||Best Win||#15 Stanford (16-6)|
|South Carolina||Losses||at #14 Michigan
Now I’ll give you an example of the committee completely overreacting to one week. On Tuesday, it announced that North Carolina, previously ranked 23rd, jumped up six spots to 17th.
You’re probably thinking, ‘Wow, which top 10 team did the Tarheels knock off to earn such a jump?’ Actually, all UNC did was knock off one of the biggest dumpster fires of the season, Miami, at home. How does a win over a team that’s lucky – and I mean LUCKY (see Miami’s win over Duke) – to have an above .500 record vault North Carolina over a team like Northwestern?
North Carolina hasn’t played a single ranked team this season. In fact, UNC’s best win came over a Pittsburgh team that has one win over an above .500 team. The Tarheels spent their preconference season playing two FCS schools and two bottom-feeder power five teams. Oh yeah, and they lost to a 3-7 team.
Meanwhile, Northwestern already played three teams ranked in the top 12 of the playoff rankings, including a comfortable 10-point win over Stanford. The Wildcats also won at Duke before the Blue Devils had the wind taken out of their sails by the officials in the Miami game. For good measure, Pat Fitzgerald’s team won at Nebraska and knocked off seven-win Penn State.
Sure, Northwestern has two losses and North Carolina only has one. But as we’ve seen in Alabama’s rise to No. 2, that isn’t the most important factor in the rankings. It’s flooring that a win over a team as bad as Miami can boost North Carolina over a team that’s played a much better schedule and has much better wins.
|(21) Memphis loses… but doesn’t fall|
When I saw Memphis ranked at No. 21 in this week’s polls, I couldn’t help but laugh.
After getting dumped by Navy – by a score of 45-20 – Memphis fell eight spots to No. 21 in week 11. This weekend, the Tigers blew a huge 4th-quarter lead to Houston and lost their second straight game. But despite the two-game losing streak and the clear exposing of this team’s defense (80 points allowed in the last two weeks), Memphis didn’t fall a single spot in the rankings.
Here’s the kicker: Memphis didn’t even lose to a team ranked higher in the rankings. The committee ranked undefeated Houston 24th in week 11 and Memphis lost to Houston. Clearly, that means Memphis isn’t as good as the committee thought. But there isn’t any accountability for the loss.
How can you lose a game and not be penalized? That’s a world of college football I don’t want to live in. Most of these teams will have a chance to move up over the next few weeks, but that doesn’t change the clear miscues the committee has made through three weeks.
College football deserves a committee that can get this right. Every season is a clean slate and teams that earn the right to compete for a title this year should be given the chance to do so by the committee. If not, the playoff is no better than the BCS.