In its initial rankings, the College Football Playoff committee guessed that Georgia was the best team in the country. Then a hungry band of Tigers invaded Athens and proved them wrong. The committee’s second guess was Alabama but that same band of Tigers lured Al the Elephant to the Lovely Village on the Plain and attacked it mercilessly. So, the Tigers are now No. 1, right? Well, they are, but it’s the wrong band of Tigers. Like many old school football fans, the committee can’t get over the fact that the Clemson Tigers won the ugliest game of the season back in week two over the Auburn Tigers whose new quarterback hadn’t yet figured out what War Eagle means. The committee doesn’t recognize that Clemson then gave us eight weeks of mediocre football while the Auburn quarterback was steadily improving and meeting his original expectations.
Fortunately, the RPG system knows nothing of newbie quarterbacks or mascots or team nicknames. It simply calculates how well each team has played the game over the course of a thirteen week season. Independent of any football fan logic, the system has calculated that Auburn has played the best football when giving it credit for its full body of work. No other team has played three games against teams in the current top ten. No other team has played seven games–more than half its schedule–against teams in the current top fifty.
To be fair, Clemson has played better in its last three games and has now risen to No. 4 in our rankings. So, we have no problem with Clemson joining Auburn in the top four. Our problem is with the other two teams–Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
We warned you weeks ago to sell your stock in Miami and finally the downfall came when the Hurricanes visited Pitt on Black Friday. We had them at No. 8 and trending downward going into that game. In its wisdom, the committee had just given Miami a promotion. This week we dropped Miami to No. 14 while the committee kept them in reserve at No. 7. If I were an Alabama fan I’d be yelling conspiracy! Conspiracy! The only reason Miami could possibly be at No. 7 is to leap over Alabama if Miami beats Clemson and Oklahoma gets blinded by the sun that streams through those poorly placed windows in Jerry’s World (AT&T stadium in Arlington).
A second spot opened up in the top four when Auburn beat Alabama. The committee would be shocked to learn that in our rankings Alabama has only sunk to No. 2 because it had an enormous lead on the field going into the final regular season weekend. Based upon our team grades, Alabama will be in our final top four no matter what happens in the conference championship games. That’s because we attach no special significance to the thirteenth game on some teams’ schedules. It’s just another grade to be averaged with all other grades. In effect, Alabama has completed its coursework while other teams have one test yet to take. Miami can’t catch The Tide by beating Clemson, Ohio State may catch them by beating Wisconsin, but Oklahoma would need a hundred horses hitched to that Prairie Schooner to have any hope of catching Alabama.
Which brings us to the problem with Oklahoma in the committee’s top four: defense. The Sooners have been somewhat better lately but their dismal performances earlier in the season leave them at No. 11 in our rankings. Unlike most experts, we give equal credit to defense and offense. Doesn’t seem disputable. The truth will out when the Sooners play Clemson, Auburn or Alabama and find that defenders can tackle and receivers won’t be open on every play.
And then we have Wisconsin, the team that hasn’t played anybody. The Badgers are ninth among our top twenty in raw playing performance and that grade is adjusted to account for a schedule that is second weakest, behind only UCF which plays in a Group of Five conference. The Badgers end up at No. 10 and will likely get a sunburn in Pasadena when they play the Pac-12 champ.
If Ohio State does beat Wisconsin, the committee will face the difficult choice between a Big Ten champion and Alabama as its fourth pick. We can make it easy for them: Ohio State is already ranked No. 3 by RPG so they are in if they win.
We don’t make predictions, but if we had to guess, we’d guess that Clemson, Georgia (Auburn’s damaged running backs, the neutral site, and the revenge factor all weigh against Auburn), Ohio State and Oklahoma will win conference championships and will then become the committee’s final four. That will give us an Oklahoma-Ohio State rematch and a neighborhood brawl between Clemson and Georgia. It will be wrong, but it will be fun.
See this week’s RPG rankings, grades for last weekend’s “tests,” and comparisons with committee and poll rankings, at http://nemosnumbers.com/football-rankings/.