Juice! Notre Dame crushed the Orange (Syracuse) in the best performance of the weekend (118.32) and finally made their case to be included in the College Football Playoffs at #4 in our rankings. Barring a calamity in LA this coming weekend (against hapless USC), the Irish have the most secure of all playoff spots. All other teams still have dangerous opponents ahead and the calm rankings of the past two weeks could easily become chaos before this is over.

Clemson has the second most secure position in the playoff field. At #2 with mediocre South Carolina and rising Pitt remaining, the Tigers could suffer a big upset and still get in.

The toughest road ahead falls to top ranked Alabama. First comes archrival Auburn which has underachieved for much of the season and is waiting for the Iron Bowl to make a bold statement. And then comes Georgia, the committee’s mistake of the season. We have the Bulldogs at #3, ahead of both Notre Dame and Michigan but the committee, which has them #5, is waiting to see if they can beat Alabama in the SEC title game.

They’re hoping they don’t beat the Tide because the specter of two SEC teams in the playoffs for a second year opens them up to claims of bias. As it stands, two major conference champions are at risk of being left out of the playoffs—if Bama, Clemson, Notre Dame and the Big 10 champ are in—and that opens up the debate for an eight-team field. If two SEC teams are in the field, three major conference champions would be on the sidelines and the debate would have real legs.

Politics play a role in the CFP rankings, my friends!

The only way the Big 10 champ will be left out of the field is if the Michigan – Ohio State winner loses to Northwestern AND Oklahoma beats both West Virginia and Texas.

The committee has over-ranked Washington State (at #8, we have them at #10) and that gives the Cougars a chance IF Ohio State beats Michigan and loses to Northwestern AND West Virginia beats Oklahoma and then loses to Texas. Possible but not probable.

As in the CFP rankings, UCF finally moved into our top ten at #9 by posting the second-best grade of the weekend (92.97). But let’s not get carried away like the ESPN crew did on the reveal show. UCF beat Cincinnati, the #34 team in the country. Not earth-shattering stuff.

We’ve often said that this is a down year for college football and we’ve been asked how we know. Here’s how it works:

  1. We divide the 130 teams in FBS (Division I) into six groups according to their relative performance.
  2. Group I consists of the top ten teams in the CFP rankings.
  3. Group II consists of the remaining top twenty-five according to the CFP rankings.
  4. Groups III through VI are twenty-five team groups according to the Massey Composite Rankings (the average of 90 rating services, much like the poll averages in political races).
  5. Then we average the RPG game grades of our ranked teams against each group and that gives us a relative ratio for computation of strength of schedule (something the CFP committee admits it doesn’t know how to do).

In comparing the average grades from 2017 against those of 2018 we can see how much better teams played one year ago.

Group I            Group II          Group III         Group IV         Group V            Group VI

2017    73.19               80.67               86.01               90.67               100.67             104.96

2018    65.60               75.89               76.66               82.09               83.90               90.75

In both years we see that average grades get progressively better as we move from the top of the rankings to the bottom of the rankings. That shows that teams are probably ranked in the right groups, that the top ranked teams are tougher “outs” than the lower ranked teams.

The clear difference year-to-year is that our 2018 teams have played worse across the board than did our 2017 teams. Especially stunning are the poor grades of this year’s teams against the fifty-five worst teams in FBS, teams ranked 76 – 130 in Groups V and VI. Also worth noting is that this year there’s little difference between teams in Groups II and III (ranked #11 through #50) and between teams in Groups IV and V (teams ranked #51 through #100).

In other words, we have mediocrity right across the board. That’s one reason why Alabama and Clemson look so good, they are light years ahead of the rest of this year’s crop of teams. The gap between #2 Clemson (97.16) and #3 Georgia (88.92) is the gap between excellent teams and decent but not great teams. This year, the best playoff format would be Alabama versus Clemson, best two out of three. I’d pay to see that.

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.