College Football Playoff Odds and Ends

We have to endure just one more week before we are treated to the last CFP ranking that will give us our four playoff participants. With one glaring exception, I don't think the committee has done too poorly thus far. But let's start with that one exception, with the ranking released on Tuesday, November 28th.

* Yes, add my name to the chorus: it is a crime that UCF is ranked 14th. They are two spots behind Stanford, who has three losses and zero wins over the CFP top 10.

Group of Five schools will have to just accept the new reality: they are never getting in this playoff, at least not with this committee and a four team playoff. If UCF's undefeated resume can't even crack the top dozen, then the only way for a G5 school to get in is to schedule and beat Oklahoma, Ohio State, and Alabama. Those schools would never schedule a dangerous G5 school never mind all at once, so they are all simply out of luck.

The same is true for college basketball these days, by the way. In 1995, 25-4 Manhattan, out of the MAAC, got an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Can you imagine a four-loss team from a conference with no national cache getting an at-large bid in 2018? The smaller conference I follow, the MAC, would get an at-large bid about every second or third year. That's also a distant memory. I don't know what happened to prelude all the important committees start worshipping at the altar of the power conferences, but it sucks.

* I'm also an Ohio State fan, and a lot of OSU (I won't say OSU, and I share the detractors disdain for the term) are fantasizing about destroying Wisconsin and sneaking into the playoffs despite being ranked 8th now. The mainstream media is abetting this fantasy; ESPN is writing things like, "If it comes down to Ohio State vs. Alabama for the final spot, the Buckeyes might need a 2014-like smashing of Wisconsin in Indianapolis, plus a Georgia win over Auburn, to get the nod over Nick Saban's team." Read: unlikely, but plausible.

It won't happen. There is absolutely no scenario, including one where Ohio State beats Wisconsin 70-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game, that presages Ohio State getting into the playoff.

To be sure, they do not deserve to be in the playoff. Ohio State fans (and others) like to point out how Ohio State has stronger victories, and they do. Alabama hasn't defeated anyone better than No. 17 LSU, whereas Ohio State would have three scalps ranked higher than that if they beat Wisconsin.

What Alabama also doesn't have, however, is a 31-point loss to a 7-5 team. There are teams in the mix (Clemson, Miami) that have loss to teams worse than Iowa, but the fact that it was an unmitigated blowout more than "makes up" for the fact that Iowa is a bit better than Syracuse and Pitt. Frankly, unless it's a chaos year, no team should ever be able to withstand a 31-point loss to a so-so team and still make the playoff.

* When the National Championship Game was driven by a computer formula, pundits bemoaned the lack of human understanding of nuance, intangibles, and the failure of an "eye test" that a computer, of course, cannot give.

Now that we have a human committee, pundits bemoan the fact that they don't have an ironclad formula for their decisions, and it's all eye test.

For example, last year when Ohio State got in over a Penn State team that both won the Big Ten championship and beat Ohio State, pundits said, "Okay! Now we know the committee does not care about conference championships!" Well, no, we don't know that. All the committee seems to be doing — and I think this is reasonable — is saying, "Who do we think are the best four teams?" In trying to answer that question, sometimes it will appear they are favoring factors A, B, and C, and other years it will appear that they are favoring D, E, and F. There is no code to crack here.

And if you lament that, I better not be able to find a single word from you lamenting computers picking our championship participants.

Comments and Conversation

November 29, 2017

Anthony Brancato:

If you can’t beat them, join them! I have seen the future - and it works: The conferences formerly known as “AQ” conferences expanding to 15 teams, which will allow for conference semifinal playoff games as well as a conference title game. The three division winners plus one wild card team in each conference would make the conference playoff. This would also eliminate the problem that is going to get Alabama snookered this year.

And don’t even get me started about how the national championship field needs to be expanded - preferably, all the way to 16 teams.

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