Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The playoff rankings are a win for college football

The goal of the playoff rankings is to generate discussion and hype around the college football season, the process, and the eventual playoffs. The more that the committee and ESPN can get people talking and arguing about it all the more interest and passion they can stir up about the sport itself. That's their biggest reason to list these rankings as the season progresses.

But there's also no reason not to indulge ourselves and talk this through, the playoff rankings' goal of fostering debate and discussion about college football is one of their more laudable goals.

Here's what the 2nd top 10 looks like:

1. Clemson (9-0)

2. Alabama (8-1)

3. Ohio State (9-0)

4. Notre Dame (8-1)

5. Iowa (9-0)

6. Baylor (8-0)

7. Stanford (8-1)

8. Oklahoma State (9-0)

9. LSU (7-1)

10. Utah (8-1)

*TCU (15th)

There are obvious problems here just examining the results on the surface stemming from the fact that unbeaten teams like Iowa, Baylor, and Oklahoma State are all ranked behind traditional powers Alabama and Notre Dame, who have each been beaten.

All the fans of underdogs out there smell a rat when they see these rankings.

But you'll also notice that Stanford is ranked ahead of Oklahoma State and the Cardinal is not exactly a blueblood program. The defense offered by the committee in subjectively ranking these teams as they have is based on strength of schedule and quality of wins.

For my own convenience, I'm going to list each team based on their record against S&P top 40 teams to give a glimpse into what these teams have actually done this season and rank them accordingly:

I've ranked teams here according to who they lost to, so Notre Dame goes higher because their loss came against Clemson while LSU lost to Alabama and Stanford lost to a team (Northwestern) that is outside of the S&P top 40.

What we find is that the teams that aren't getting much benefit of the doubt are LSU, Stanford, Oklahoma State, and Iowa. Why? Because Stanford got beat by a marginal team, because LSU got absolutely ripped going up against a top team (Alabama), and because Oklahoma State beat Texas and Kansas State very narrowly and with the benefit of some penalties that were universally recognized as bad calls.

Meanwhile, there are two teams that really stand out as getting a LOT of benefit of the doubt, Ohio State and Baylor. We can assume that Ohio State is getting credit from having won the playoffs in 2014 and returning most of their championship squad intact.

Baylor is getting credit for the manner in which they've been whipping teams to even be ranked as high as 6th based on the (strong) theory that you can tell a good team from the way they obliterate weaker teams. But of course, that resume comes almost entirely with Seth Russell at the helm.

If you look at the pure records of the teams and assume all else is equal, you get the sense that Baylor and the Big 12 is getting absolutely screwed. But everything else is not equal, and the Big 12 teams simply don't have a good case that what they've accomplished this season is more impressive than what teams from other conferences have done.

Of course a lot of this will sort out itself as the season progresses. Ohio State and Iowa are on a collision course, Baylor still has OSU, TCU, and OU on the schedule to bolster their resume, OSU faces Baylor and OU, and Stanford and Notre Dame will square off.

The only really interesting and controversial note from these rankings is that a one loss team that has played a tougher schedule is apparently going to get the benefit of the doubt over an undefeated team that hasn't played a great schedule.

What's the upshot of that? That all college football teams who hope to compete for the playoffs are going to have to schedule competitive games in their pre-conference slate. Who loses from that exchange? Only smaller programs that will have less opportunities to cash in from traveling and playing good teams. Who wins in that exchange? Fans of college football who will get to watch more competitive games. 

This seems to be another major goal of the release of the playoff rankings, to make it clear to college football programs that if you don't schedule good games you will be punished, once again this is very laudable.

Baylor fans, you should be frustrated more with your athletic department that has tried to game the system by playing weak teams and saddling season-ticket holders with crap programming than the selection committee that is actually taking steps to push the game towards a more compelling regular season AND postseason.

No comments:

Post a Comment