Cupcake Saturday should have allowed the playoff committee to take a break and leave bad enough alone, but the committee couldn’t resist making one more unwarranted adjustment to their rankings. This adjustment, moving Miami ahead of Clemson into the No. 2 spot, has interesting ramifications. Should Clemson defeat Miami in a close game in the ACC Championship, it could allow the committee to award the Hurricanes the No.4 spot in the final playoff rankings.
This option would become very attractive to the committee should Auburn and/or Georgia beat Alabama and/or if Oklahoma should stumble and Ohio State should beat Wisconsin. In either case, the committee would have a one loss team to make the playoff field more attractive on paper.
Unfortunately, Miami is the wrong team to hold in reserve. We have them ranked No. 8 simply because they have not played as well as the seven teams we rank above them, including Clemson at No. 4.
We take two of the committee’s platitudes far more seriously than the committee does. First, we rank teams according to how good they are, not how good their record appears to be or how well known their reputational brand might be. We do this because we want to suggest the four best teams for the playoff, not the four best records.
Wins don’t all have the same value (neither do all losses). Wins against strong competition are obviously more valuable than wins against weak competition but at this stage of the season unbeaten records are given more weight by the committee than are records with losses. Wins resulting from good play are also more valuable than wins resulting from poor play. Teams can play poorly yet win; teams can play well and yet lose. Note that this week Miami received a lower grade for beating Virginia (79.88), and USC received a lower grade for beating UCLA (82.68), than Michigan did for losing at top ten ranked Wisconsin (84.58). We consider how well a team played to be a far better determinant of how good they are than is the won/lost record.
Second, we evaluate a team’s entire body of work while the committee is swayed by what a team has done lately (like Miami’s trouncing of Notre Dame a couple of weeks back). That means that we consider all games, and game grades, to be equally important, whether they happened in September or last weekend.
Egregious inaccuracy of the week: On the CFP reveal show, Rece Davis proclaimed that Miami had played the toughest schedule this year. According to our calculations, which take into account home and away as well as the precise ranking of every opponent NOW, Miami has played the 12th hardest schedule among the twenty teams we rank. There are many other ranked and unranked teams that have probably played tougher schedules. Maryland comes immediately to mind as they’ve played Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and UCF, and have Penn State waiting for them. Mississippi State has played Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and LSU. C’mon Rece.
Miami is not the committee’s only problem heading into the final two weeks of the season. As you all know, we have little respect for Oklahoma because of their poor defensive play. We also have more respect for Ohio State and Penn State than does the committee. Once these teams disappointed they were kicked to the curb and forgotten. But the RPG system just keeps giving them good grades for the other games they’ve played.
The RPG top six teams now are: Alabama (SEC), Ohio State (Big Ten), Georgia (SEC), Clemson (ACC), Auburn (SEC), and Penn State (Big Ten). The surprise comes at No. 7. For weeks we’ve looked for a diamond in the rough that could be added to the usual suspects in the rankings and now we’ve got one: Central Florida, aka UCF. Although UCF supplants Wisconsin for having the weakest schedule among ranked teams, it has played fantastic football and has beaten some noteworthy teams, e.g. Memphis (ranked), Navy (a tough Notre Dame conquest), SMU (a difficult “out” for TCU), Maryland (among Wisconsin’s, Ohio State’s and Penn State’s victims), and FIU (which contended with FAU for a conference title). UCF crushes its opponents with what is now the best offense among the twenty teams we rank. That’s right, better than Oklahoma and Oklahoma State! UCF is ordinary at third down conversions but rarely sees a third down as it racks up first downs on first down in a demoralizing display of power.
Speaking of power, UCF suffers from a committee bias against Group of Five conference teams as opposed to Power Five conference teams and is bogged down at No. 15 in their rankings. We miss Barry Alvarez and Condoleezza Rice who were members of the committee last year when it made only one mistake in selecting Ohio State. This year’s committee could get two or even three teams wrong.
And, yes, Michigan still grades higher than Washington State, LSU and Michigan State, all of which the committee has ranked.
See all the rankings and the game grades from cupcake Saturday (everyone received a different and specific grade) at http://nemosnumbers.com/football-rankings/.