Easy to see now that the College Football Playoff Committee is no longer ranking teams according to how good they have been this season but rather is orchestrating its playoff lineup like chaperones matchmaking teenagers at a sock hop. This week’s lineup positions the SEC, ACC and Big Ten conferences to have their champions play for the National Championship. If Oklahoma wins the Big 12 championship it will be in the lineup and we know now that the Pac-12 champion will be the wallflower at the dance.
Here’s how it works. The SEC has Alabama (#1), Auburn (#6) and Georgia (#7) positioned so that no matter which team wins the Alabama-Auburn matchup, and no matter which of the three wins the conference championship game, the conference champion is in. The ACC is similarly positioned with Clemson (#2) and Miami (#3) and the winner of that title game is in. The Big Ten is a bit trickier but the committee deftly laid the groundwork for the champion to participate in the playoff. Wisconsin is now #5 and if they win out they are in instead of the Miami-Clemson loser or instead of Oklahoma if it trips on the backstretch. If Wisconsin loses to Michigan, a distinct possibility, or to Ohio State in the conference championship game, the Buckeyes, now positioned at #9, will leapfrog two SEC losers and an ACC loser to become the fourth seed in the playoff. The committee even positioned Penn State at #10 in case the Buckeyes fail to beat archrival Michigan in the final regular season game.
Oklahoma’s path is simple but not without risk. The Sooners are at #4 but will have to win a rematch against either TCU or Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title game to retain their playoff spot. Had the committee wanted the Pac-12 to have a chance at a playoff slot, it would have had to position USC (#11) ahead of Notre Dame (#8) and it couldn’t logically do that after the drubbing the Trojans took in South Bend.
So, the likeliest result is that the winners of the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 title games will be in the playoff. Smart! Satisfying for the fans, no room to criticize the committee. The problem is that in its haste to make the rankings seem logical while avoiding all criticism, the committee has jumbled the rankings like a kid who has dumped the box of 1000 puzzle pieces on the dining room table.
Using the RPG system’s scientific and factual rankings, Oklahoma would have no chance of making the playoff as it rests ignominiously at #12 in our rankings. Why? Because although it is No. 1 in offense, it is dead last in defense and second to worst in special teams play. We should also remember that its impressive offensive stats have been posted against other Big 12 defenses nearly as poor as its own. So, the offensive numbers are inflated and the defensive numbers are a disgrace. The RPG system is not swayed by Oklahoma’s record.
According to RPG, the ACC isn’t guaranteed a playoff contender, either. We have Miami at #5 and Clemson at #9. If Miami wins the title game they are likely in the field but if Clemson wins they would have to do it convincingly to have any chance at a playoff slot.
The Big Ten and SEC are well-positioned in the RPG rankings. As with the committee rankings, the SEC champ would be guaranteed a playoff spot no matter which of their three contenders wins the title because Alabama is #1, Auburn is #4 and Georgia is #8. The Big Ten has Ohio State #2, Penn State #3 and Wisconsin #11. (Yes, we’re still punishing the Badgers for having the weakest strength of schedule among these ranked teams.) The Big Ten’s big risk is that Wisconsin could win the title and not make it into the top four in the rankings, because, unlike the talking heads, we don’t rank records, we rank playing performance and strength of schedule. That’s the definition of ranking teams according to how good they are.
Unlike the committee, the RPG system has not choreographed the rankings to make them seem logical to fans and writers to avoid criticism. In our rankings, there are three flies in the ointment – Penn State (#3), Washington (#6) and Notre Dame (#7). Penn State’s low committee ranking (#10) is inexplicable. The Nittany Lions have lost two games (just like Ohio State, Notre Dame and Auburn who are ranked ahead of them) to two ranked teams, both on the road, by a combined total of four points! Why they’ve been kicked to the curb, I can’t explain and neither can the committee. Washington is the other forgotten team, relegated to the #18 position in the committee rankings despite the fact that they are #1 on defense and #3 on special teams (two things the committee obviously ignores given its ranking of Oklahoma) and a respectable #8 on offense. Wins over archrival Washington State and USC (in the Pac-12 title game) would likely thrust the Huskies into our top four. Notre Dame isn’t out of it, either. If Alabama loses and Clemson beats Miami, or if Wisconsin wins the Big Ten title, the Fighting Irish still have a chance to make our top four.
While the committee has strategically filled the dance cards of its favorite teams, the RPG system has left the door open for exciting chaos in the final three weeks of the season. View our full set of rankings, including last weekend’s game grades, at http://nemosnumbers.com/football-rankings/.