Final Pre-Bowl Top 25; CFP Plays It Safe but Gets It Wrong

College Football Committee: Top 4, Sugar Bowl, and Orange Bowl

There were some complaints in the media Saturday night about why the College Football Playoff committee even has weekly rankings.

Ideally, I think it’s good to let teams know where they stand from week to week and start the process from scratch after the games are all finished. But I wonder if that really happened or if they just took the easy route and rubber-stamped what they already had as the top four (Clemson and Ohio St. switched spots, but that won’t affect anything except who wears what jersey and who calls the coin toss). Would it have been easier to pick Penn St. over Washington had the committee not declared a few days before that Washington was #4 and Penn St. was #7? If so, the weekly ratings should be abandoned.

The committee also played it safe by picking as the BCS would have in all the major decisions. There were about 15 teams that were in contention for the major bowls (other than the “automatic” Western Michigan). This is how they would have finished if we had just kept the BCS system.

The BCS average of the polls (AP and Coaches' poll since the Harris poll no longer exists) and the medium 4 computer ratings.  They're calculated as fractions of the perfect score and then averaged.

The BCS average of the polls (AP and Coaches’ poll since the Harris poll no longer exists) and the medium 4 computer rankings. They’re calculated as fractions of the perfect score and then averaged.

As I mentioned last week, I also disagree with Auburn’s selection to the Sugar Bowl, but part of the problem was that it was a three-way race. Although LSU gained on Florida in the last couple of weeks (and actually passed the Gators in the most-recent AP poll) and had the highest computer average of the three, obviously head-to-head came into play in subjective rankings and put LSU at a disadvantage. Auburn would have the stronger argument had they not also lost to their chief SEC East rivals and had that team (Georgia) not been worse than Florida.

The answer Auburn people kept repeating about why it should be Auburn is head to head, but if that’s the primary way you decide between close teams (even if the game was early in the season), why is Ohio St. in the top 4 but not the team who beat them and then won their conference? Why is Florida St. in the Orange Bowl but not Louisville, who not only beat the Seminoles but blew them out? 63-20 is not similar to the difference of a foot or two or a second or two at the end of the game like the two relevant LSU games.

Louisville did lose two games late to fall into a “tie” (although they finished two games ahead of the FSU in the conference standings), but so did Auburn. At least in Florida St.’s case, they blew away the Cardinals in the BCS computer ratings.

To turn back to Washington vs. Penn St., one of the rewarding things about having my own objective mathematical system is when it validates my subjective opinion. I also like that I don’t have to do complicated mathematics like algorithms and least-squared regressions to get there. I’m not sure what any of those tell you about how good a football team is anyway.

Washington didn’t play a single team in my final top 10 and went only 2-1 against the top 25. Penn St. went 2-1 against the top 10, on the other hand. The Nittany Lions did lose to #25 Pitt, but I don’t think it’s really fair to eliminate them based upon that when Washington had one of the worst non-conference schedules in college football. The committee has sent a clear message that record counts for more than schedule and (in view of Ohio St. making the field, although I agree with that) for more than championship status.

Anyway, I think Penn St. did enough to overcome the additional loss; but it’s close enough that if Washington had played a slightly better schedule, the Huskies would have been fourth. So I firmly believe I got the formula right. There are teams (like LSU this year) who aren’t necessarily treated appropriately, but for me it’s always been about getting the top two to four teams right.

That said, it will be interesting to see Penn St. against USC. I hope Penn St. can put this behind them, but it wouldn’t the first time a team that was snubbed or fell just short didn’t really show up for the bowl game. Although the Trojans and Nittany Lions have five losses between them, neither has lost since September. Both teams played the best (other) team in their own division and the best team of the other division in that span. Penn St. also played one of the runners-up from other division.

Washington versus Michigan in that game might have been even better though.

LSU in the Citrus Bowl

Also, I want to reiterate that I’m content with LSU’s selection. You have to be extremely lucky to lose four games and go to the Sugar Bowl, so I can’t be too upset there. Tennessee, Florida, and Texas A&M were penalized more for late losses, so at least we got better bowls than they did. I’m not thrilled with it being early in the day on New Year’s Eve, when I’m typically up until 3 or 4 in the morning. Hopefully I can take a long nap.

Also, our opponent will be another team with a legitimate gripe about being left out of a major bowl in Louisville. Financially speaking at least, the Citrus is the top non-CFP bowl, so that’s something else to be happy about. I’m not sure how much of that actually goes to the school, but with what Louisiana has been through lately, every little bit helps. I always enjoy Bobby Petrino though. He’s a guy most of the SEC loves to hate for multiple reasons, but he’s also a very good coach. We’ve seen LSU DC Dave Arranda give Lane Kiffin about all he could handle, so I’m excited to see how Arranda and our defense do in this game.

I’m less excited to see LSU try to produce on offense, but obviously Kentucky gave me some encouragement. There hasn’t really been time to make many adjustments on offense since the dismissal of Cam Cameron, but often bowl prep allows some flexibility in that area. It has helped LSU before even in years with relatively poor offenses, such as last year.

Other Changes

Another team that made significant progress was Oklahoma, who will be the other team in the Sugar Bowl. I mentioned 2003 earlier. Oklahoma was in the Sugar Bowl that year of course, and Nick Saban got the better of Bob Stoops, who repaid the favor against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl 3 years ago. As a former New Orleans resident, welcome back to the Sooners. Oklahoma will play Auburn for the first time since the 1972 Sugar Bowl. This will be Auburn’s first Sugar Bowl in 12 years and only the second since 1989, so I guess that might have been a good reason to let them have this one.

West Virginia also made a significant stride even though beating Baylor wasn’t the best win, but it beat a loss or not playing at all.

Temple was also in the top 25 at this point last year before losing in the bowl game, but the Owls have another chance to finish in the final top 25 for the first time.

I’m not sure if Pitt has finished in my top 25 recently, but I don’t recall them doing so. Of course they were helped out by Penn St.’s win, but it was more about the losses by Navy and Virginia Tech.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 3
3 Ohio St. 2
4 Penn St. 6
5 Washington 5
6 W. Michigan 7
7 Michigan 4
8 Oklahoma 12
9 Wisconsin 8
10 Florida St. 10
11 Colorado 9
12 Boise St. 11
13 USC 13
14 West Virginia 21
15 S. Florida 14
16 Tennessee 16
17 Stanford 17
18 Okie St. 15
19 Louisville 20
20 Nebraska 19
21 Florida 18
22 Temple —
23 Houston 23
24 Auburn 22
25 Pittsburgh —

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings: (24) Virginia Tech, (25) Navy

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