Saturday night football fans everywhere fell asleep convinced by TV analysts that they had witnessed the de facto quarterfinals of the national championship playoff. The TV analysts insisted that the four conference champions (Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Ohio State) had won the right to play for the title. Of course, the TV analysts were wrong yet again.
At 2:30 am Central Time Sunday morning in Grapevine, Texas, the thirteen men with the authority to name the four playoff contenders retired after hours of exhausting and exhaustive deliberation. They had reached a tentative decision and would confirm it in the morning. Then came the shocking announcement early on Sunday afternoon. The committee had not defaulted to naming four “deserving” conference champions. Instead it chose what it believed to be “the four best teams” in the country. That took guts. That took outside-the-box thinking. That shook the foundations of the inside-the-box thinking spread around by TV “experts.” Kudos to the committee.
But wait! All those hours of agonizing debate had been wasted. The committee had compared the wrong two teams. The fourth slot in the playoffs wasn’t a tossup between Alabama and Ohio State. It should have been a comparison of Alabama to Oklahoma. Ohio State had been No. 3 in our rankings, the rankings that judge how well a team plays the game, going into a weekend on which it defeated a top ten Wisconsin team. At the same time, our No. 1 team, Auburn, lost. And, our No. 2 team? Alabama spent its time recruiting five star athletes. So, Ohio State was the easiest selection for the playoffs, not the hardest.
Our No. 4 team, Clemson, embarrassed Miami in the ACC Championship game. That was to be expected. As we insisted for weeks, Miami was the weakest team in the conference championship games. So, Clemson was in.
The debacle in Atlanta gave us a third team–Georgia. Although the scoreboard didn’t accurately reflect it, Auburn suffered the worst qualitative beat down of the entire season at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs. So, Georgia was in. As we predicted, by the way.
And that leaves Alabama versus Oklahoma. Going into the weekend the Sooners were No. 11 in our rankings because of their nonexistent defense. As we’ve mentioned before, we balance offense and defense in our calculations. Oklahoma is perfectly balanced–their offense is N0. 1 among the twenty-one teams we rank and their defense is dead last at No. 21. An accountant might say that on average, the Sooners are quite average. After all, No. 11 is the exact middle of our twenty-one team rankings. If we wanted to pour salt in their wounds we’d mention that their special teams rank No. 19 out of twenty-one.
If we wanted to add insult to injury we’d mention that the Sooners gave up 52 points against Oklahoma State, 41 points to a rebuilding Baylor team, 38 points in a loss to mediocre Iowa State, and 31 points to a West Virginia team missing star quarterback Will Grier. We might mention that Oklahoma squeaked past Texas and Kansas State.
So, why were the Sooners considered an automatic qualifier? The eyeball test is likely at fault. Our eyeballs love offense and no one is better on offense than Oklahoma. However, we should mention that Oklahoma’s gaudy offensive numbers were produced against Oklahoma State (No.17 defense of our 21 teams), Iowa State (No. 15 defense) and twice against TCU (No. 14 defense), the best Oklahoma has faced so far. Of course, UTEP, Tulane, Baylor and Kansas contributed to the Sooners’ numbers with far weaker defenses. In the playoff, Oklahoma will face the No. 8 defense (Georgia) and either No. 1 (Clemson) or No. 2 (Alabama). Should be interesting.
The other likely factor in the Sooners’ selection was its surprising head-to-head conquest of Ohio State back in week two. Unlike the committee, we assign no cosmic meaning to head-to-head results. Oklahoma received a grade for its performance (110.01) and Ohio State received a grade (74.79), and those grades were combined with all other grades to produce a final grade. Ohio State (and Alabama) earned better grades than Oklahoma in their other eleven regular season games and were, therefore, ranked higher than Oklahoma.
In an article for USA Today, Dan Wolken said that “the four best teams” are “vague terms” for the committee to use and follow. They aren’t vague at all if playing performance is scientifically measured by a system like the RPG system. Then the terms are precise and unforgiving. Had the committee had access to the RPG system, it would have gotten a full night’s sleep, eaten a pleasant, argument-free brunch, and watched with confidence the announcement of their selections. The committee chair would not have sounded unsure of himself in explaining the selections.
Cute tweet of the weekend came from @UCF_Football, the account of the Central Florida football team: “Dang…Bama got in over us.” It should have read: “Dang…Oklahoma got in over us.” We have UCF at No. 7, one position ahead of Oklahoma.
To see our final rankings and weekend game grades, go to http://nemosnumbers.com/football-rankings/.