In the popular polls, a team that wins retains its position in the rankings unless teams above it lose, in which case it moves up in the rankings. So long as a team wins, it matters little whether it played well or poorly; matters only slightly whether it played a strong or weak opponent. In the popular polls, a team is handed a position before it plays any games and then “owns” that position relative to its competitors until it loses.
Obviously, this ranking approach is illogical, but it’s the approach the “experts” give the fans until the College Football Playoff selection committee uses its subjective approach to ranking midway through the season.
In the Relative Performance Grading (RPG) system, a team gets a numerical grade for how well it plays each game, relative to the strength of its opponent, just like your kid gets a numerical grade on every school assignment. When the grades are averaged for all games played and then compared to the grades for all other ranked teams, positions in our rankings shift and teams get a “progress report,” just like your kid in school. No team “owns” a ranking position.
Case in point: Clemson. In game two, they slipped past a top fifty team (Texas A&M) on the road. The game was hyped ceaselessly by the TV network because it was one of the few interesting games in week two, i.e. Dabo vs. Jimbo. For a lot of fans, and most poll voters, the win in an exciting game would seem to justify Clemson’s position as the No. 2 team in the country.
RPG saw the game differently. For RPG, Texas A&M is, until it proves differently in games actually played, just an average major conference team. Ignoring the hype, Clemson played a less than average game and was lucky to escape Kyle Field. RPG gave Clemson a playing grade of 77.47, the second lowest game grade among top ten teams. In the first game of the season, Clemson’s playing grade of 94.47 was fourth best among the top ten teams. When the two grades are averaged, Clemson gets a progress report grade of 85.97 and slips from fourth to seventh in the RPG rankings because eight of their competitors played better last Saturday.
The one competitor that played worse was Notre Dame. After its disastrous start in week one, Miami was dropped from our rankings and replaced by Notre Dame which had defeated overhyped Michigan in week one. We’re now hoping we haven’t made a mistake by including the Fighting Irish in our rankings this week. ND may have set a record for low grade in a victory with a dismal grade of 67.08.
Top grade of the week honors go to Penn State (102.54) which had a rocky start against rival Pitt, then cranked up the engines and steamrolled the Panthers in the second half. The average grade for Penn State over two weeks is now fifth best in our rankings, but the polls will see it differently. Because Penn State barely avoided a loss to App State in week one, it was demoted to No. 14 and will not be appropriately rewarded by the polls for its week two performance. In the polls, Penn State will have to wait for teams above it to lose games.
Nothing lasts forever category: After thirty-one years and thirty-one consecutive losses, Kentucky finally defeated Florida and they did it in The Swamp. Kudos to the Wildcats; our sympathies to the Gators who are looking at a very long and unhappy season ahead.
Go to www.nemosnumbers.com to see how the RPG top ten compares to the AP Top Ten after we’ve graded two of the teams’ school “papers.” Alabama retains a slight edge over Oklahoma for No. 1. Tua and Tyler are the two most exciting players at the college level. Find a copy of Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics to read how the RPG system calculates the numerical grades that accurately rank college football teams.