The top ranked teams all won on Saturday and the polls and the College Football Playoff committee therefore maintained the same rankings they had published the week previous. Because a win is a win is a win, right Gertrude Stein? Wrong! Using the Relative Performance Grading system (RPG), every win is different, differentiated by the playing performance of the winner and the strength of the loser. So, here’s what really happened last Saturday:
- Alabama defeated one of two opponents still in this week’s CFP top twenty-five—Mississippi State, at No. 21. Even with a gimpy Tua, the Tide graded out at 98.39 thanks to a defense that hasn’t given up a point in nine quarters.
- Clemson defeated the other ranked team, No. 20 Boston College on the road in the stinging cold of a Yankee winter. Naturally a team gets more credit for beating a ranked team than for beating a weak team so the rich got richer last Saturday. The Tigers graded out at 104.65, best of the weekend performances. That reduced Bama’s lead on the Tigers to just 4.74 grading points.
- Georgia whipped No. 30 Auburn at home and graded out at a respectable 92.30. That means the Bulldogs lost ground to Bama and Clemson.
- Oklahoma turned in another dismal defensive performance and avoided defeat only because Oklahoma State (No. 52) failed to make a last minute two-point conversion. The Sooners’ grade was 77.99. Clearly all wins are different if we look closely enough.
- Michigan basically had the week off, playing hapless Rutgers (No. 117) in the biggest mismatch of the weekend. The Wolverines covered the spread, however, with a grade of 92.24, despite the discount for playing a weak opponent. They now trail Oklahoma by only 0.82 grading points.
- Notre Dame also feasted on an overmatched opponent—No. 80 Florida State—at home, but lost ground to other playoff contenders with a grade of 89.52. The only legitimate chance the Irish have of making the playoff field is to thump a ranked Syracuse (No. 12) team next week and hope for wins by Alabama over Georgia, West Virginia over Oklahoma and Ohio State over Michigan. A lot to ask Santa for Christmas.
- West Virginia posted the second-best grade of the weekend—102.20—with an impressive win over No. 68 TCU. With a game remaining against Oklahoma, they are the lowest ranked team with a shot at the playoffs.
- Ohio State turned in the fifth best grade of the weekend by defeating No. 27 Michigan State and earning a grade of 95.26. The Buckeyes might think themselves a dark horse candidate for the playoffs but even a win over Michigan will not be enough as there are too many teams ahead of them who will win head-to-head matchups, e.g. Georgia-Alabama, and Oklahoma-West Virginia.
- Washington State kept its juggernaut rolling with a 90.02 performance against No. 82 Colorado. The Cougars can begin to plan a trip to Pasadena.
- Washington took the weekend off. Literally.
- UCF had the second-weakest opponent, No. 105 Navy, and managed to play the worst of all the winners, grading out at 57.13. That grade is barely more than Kentucky’s 55.72 in a loss! As a result, UCF lost a lot of ground as it gave up a lot of ground to the Midshipmen.
- Penn State, chronically underrated in the polls, gained a lot of ground with the fourth-best performance of the weekend—96.73—in a victory over sinking Wisconsin (No. 44).
- LSU lost more ground with a grade of 77.96 in a win over Arkansas (No. 103). Since its bubble was burst by Alabama, the Tigers have lost their heart (and their claws).
- Texas got lucky again but posted an excellent offensive grade in a win over Texas Tech. Their overall performance grade was 92.76 because, like other Big 12 teams, they played no defense.
- Like LSU, Kentucky is a shell of the team that started out hot and then had its bubble burst two weeks ago by Georgia. The Wildcats were terrible in a loss to Tennessee—55.72.
So that’s what actually happened last weekend and you can see that every win is different. Rather than all winners being accorded the same credit, we see that Clemson and West Virginia had the best wins while UCF and LSU had the poorest wins. More importantly, Oklahoma and Notre Dame lost ground against their immediate competitors for playoff spots.
In a season when we have two great teams, a handful of good teams, and over one hundred irrelevant slugs, the championship may come down to the tendons and ligaments in one man’s knee, the knee that Tua “tweaks” on every weekend. With Tua, Alabama is the odds-on favorite. Without Tua, but with a healthy Jalen Hurts, it’s a tossup between Alabama and Clemson. If neither Bama quarterback is able to play, Clemson is the favorite but Georgia and Michigan would have something to say about it. Anything else would be a major upset. Note that I didn’t mention either Oklahoma or Notre Dame because one is an arcade game and the other is a social climber. You know which is which.
For a complete list of ranked teams and weekend playing performance grades, visit www.nemosnumbers.com. If you want to know how the numerical grades are calculated, find a copy of Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics wherever you buy books.