There were no changes this week to the College Football Playoff committee’s top 5. But there should have been. Which leads me to believe that this group of experts has fallen into the same trap that invalidates the popular voting polls: Teams hold their positions in line like shoppers at a supermarket until somebody drops out of line to find that jar of peanut butter they forgot. We can conclude that the committee is not meticulously, scientifically or objectively differentiating one win from another.
On the rankings reveal show on ESPN, Joey Galloway theorized that Georgia had increased its lead over Alabama with its lackluster victory over South Carolina this past Saturday. He said the Bulldogs looked better to him. Time for new glasses, Joey. Georgia’s grade of 91.52 was the lowest among the top 5 teams in the CFP rankings. In fact, only Auburn (v. Texas A&M) and USC (v. Arizona) posted lower winning grades among the 19 teams we graded. It was a ho hum win over a ho hum team for Georgia. By contrast, Alabama posted a grade of 98.49 in its win over LSU, a team ranked in the committee’s top 25. Georgia not only lost ground to Alabama, which reassumes its familiar spot at the top of our rankings, but to Washington (No. 2) and Notre Dame (No.3), leaving Georgia at No. 4. To be fair, there is little difference in our rankings between No. 2 and No. 4. The spread is just 0.59 points with three games left on the schedule.
Which brings us to the biggest difference between the committee and the RPG scientific ranking system: The committee loves Oklahoma (No. 5) and hates Washington (No. 9), while RPG loves Washington (No. 2) and hates Oklahoma (No. 14). David Pollack delivered the most intelligent comment of the night on the rankings reveal show when he said (I’m paraphrasing) that maybe defense doesn’t count in college football anymore. Maybe offense wins games and should get the most attention when evaluating teams. In support of David, we can tell you that our statistics show that college defenses stop offenses on only 54.73% of drives begun beyond the fifty yard line and 39.4% of drives started inside the fifty. These are the numbers for the very best teams in America playing weaker competition.
These facts affect RPG rankings because the RPG system gives equal credit to offense and defense (40% each) and adds in 20% for special teams. As a result, Oklahoma, which has the best offensive grade among our 16 teams, gets hurt by the fact that it has the worst defensive grade and the second worst special teams grade. If we gave more credit to offense and less to defense, Oklahoma would rise in our rankings and Washington (No. 1 defense) and Alabama (No. 2 defense) would drop in our rankings. (Easy, Joey, Georgia would drop as well as it has the third best defensive grade.) Because of RPG’s balanced grading approach, Oklahoma’s terrible performances on defense and special teams leave it at No. 14 in our rankings. What we learn from this is that the committee does value offense over defense and that explains their rankings anomalies. Your comments are welcome.
On the other hand, Washington ranks No. 1 on defense, No. 7 on offense, and No. 2 on special teams (thanks to Dante Pettis kick returns). Another comment on the show, justifying Washington’s relatively low ranking, was that the Huskies had lost to a bad Arizona State team. Actually, Arizona State is exactly equivalent to Syracuse which beat Clemson, but Clemson’s loss has been forgiven. While Clemson has managed just three 100+ game grades this season, Washington has racked up seven 100+ grades. Washington plays better football than Clemson so why are they ranked five places lower? One theory is that Washington got skunked in last year’s playoff while Clemson won the title. The stigma has carried over to this season. And the brand recognition for Clemson has carried over as well. As I’ve said before, the RPG system did not watch last year’s playoffs so it is unaffected by brand recognition.
The other thing we’ve learned about the committee is that it is still ranking records and not playing performance. It is very difficult for people inside the game, people who’ve been tutored for a lifetime to value winning above all else, to ignore wins and losses when evaluating how well a team plays the game, i.e. how good it is. As a result, the committee ranks all power conference unbeaten and one loss teams ahead of two loss teams. The RPG system ignores wins and losses, simply grading the on-field performances in each game and averaging them for the season. Thus, two loss teams Penn State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Auburn rank ahead of unbeaten Wisconsin which has not played as well so far. Unbeaten Miami is also ranked behind Penn State, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, and just one slot ahead of Auburn in our rankings.
One parting comment about the committee’s shiny new bauble – Michigan State. Because the committee ranks them No. 12, we added them to our database. Unfortunately, an objective assessment of the Spartans’ playing performances left them dead last (No. 19) among the teams we graded. So, you won’t see the Spartans on our top 16 list. If they beat Ohio State this weekend, they’ll make the list. If they don’t, they’ll be relegated to the committee’s trash heap of mistakes.
Visit http://nemosnumbers.com/football-rankings/ for a full list of our top 16 teams, their game grades for last weekend, and their seasonal grades. This is the definitive list of how well teams play the game.