A 12-member committee released the initial College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night.
Teams–Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn, and Mississippi–all within about a 400-mile range occupied the four spots reserved for the first-ever FBS playoff. Three SEC West programs snatched up playoff spots, with another school–Alabama–from the same conference subsection knocking on the door of a berth in the short tournament to crown the national champion.
So, who did the committee favor? Who did they snub? Breitbart Sports college football writers Dylan Gwinn, John Pudner, and Daniel J. Freeman answer these and other questions.
No Irish Need Apply
The only team that got a terrible deal is Notre Dame at No. 10. They may only be that good, but if they win out including victories at Arizona State and USC, then they must leapfrog No. 6 Oregon, No. 7 TCU, No. 8 Michigan State, and No. 9 Kansas State. That would give Notre Dame two road wins against Top 50 teams. The only non-SEC team to do that so far is Arizona State (going by www.masseyratings.com), so Florida State and Notre Dame should be the two non-SEC teams controlling their own destiny. As for No. 8 Michigan State, you simply cannot put a Big Ten team in position to possibly move into a playoff spot by beating other Big Ten teams. Five of the top six Big Ten teams lost their only non-conference game to a power conference, so the only Big Ten champion you could possibly make a case for is Nebraska for being the one team to win (over Miami at home) if they were to win the title.
Beyond that, I will try to make the SEC and Big Ten fans all mad at me. You need to limit a conference to two teams because even though Massey Ratings has all four of the top four from the SEC (having Alabama over Florida State) you have to prove it again every year – and that means no conference rematches in semifinal games. We almost let Ohio State and Michigan play for the title years ago, and if we had then everyone would have still assumed they were the best two teams instead of Florida. Both SEC teams would be favorites – but you have to limit it to two and make them prove it every year. If we limit it to two SEC teams, then the pecking order for the rest to control their own destiny should be: 1. Florida State, but if they lose they should be out; 2. Notre Dame, because if they win out they will have two wins over the Top 50 away from home and be 3-0 against good Pac-12 teams to edge out Oregon; and 3. any one-loss Pac-12 champion whether that be Oregon, the only non-SEC team with two Top 50 wins away from home in Arizona State, or even Arizona or Utah if they win out.
The Big 12 has been the second best conference, but Kansas State is the only top team with a road win over a Top 50, and with their home loss to Auburn they or any other Big 12 champ would need Florida State to lose and/or Notre Dame and all Pac 12 teams to have two losses.
Who Will Rank the Rankers?
To find the focus of this first week of CFP rankings, look not to the teams, but to the committee itself. How would they vote? What would they value? Who would they penalize? First and foremost, the committee clearly values undefeated teams. Mississippi State and Florida State come in at the top. Next, they seem to value big wins and good losses. Auburn slides in at #3 by virtue of a great road win at Kansas State, a blowout victory over an LSU team that just knocked off Ole Miss, and a closer-than-the-score-would-have-you-believe road loss against the best team in the country.
Ole Miss surprises at #4 despite a loss to #24 LSU. This also tells us something else about the committee, specifically that they will forgive the odd and bizarre. Baton Rouge delivers a notoriously tough place to play at night in primetime. The committee seems to have factored that in to their rankings. Plus, the Rebels have good wins against Bama, Boise, and A&M. Why no Alabama in the top four? Here we get back to head-to-heads and big wins. Bama lost to Ole Miss, with their best win against a two-loss West Virginia. This likewise explains why Oregon ranks at #5 ahead of Bama with wins over Michigan State and UCLA, and why Notre Dame stands way back at #10 with only a nail-biter win against a massively overrated Stanford team to show for themselves.
Takes the BS out of BCS
Agree or disagree, the first ever CFB Selection Committee rankings showed that the committee is not the echo chamber of the AP Poll. With a mission to judge the best teams regardless of conference or preseason rankings, the committee appears to be on the right track.
The inclusion of Ole Miss in the top four, although controversial, shows that the committee will not value an early loss over a late loss (See BCS System). Three SEC West teams in the top four shows that the committee will not arbitrarily limit the number of teams from a certain conference (See BCS System).
Unlike previous systems which were cumulative and largely based on where teams were ranked in the preseason and in the early going, the Selection Committee is solely motivated to pick the best teams. “We’ll have a clean sheet of paper as we begin next week’s meetings,” says Jeff Long, Selection Committee Chair.
The committee’s rankings serve to quiet concerns that the playoff system is the BCS repackaged. College football fans have reason to celebrate.
—Daniel J. Freeman
Follow Daniel J. Freeman on Twitter @djfree, Dylan Gwinn @themightygwinn, and John Pudner @jpudner.