What the CFP Playoff Should Look Like

Sugar: Clemson vs. ??
Rose: Georgia vs. Oklahoma

Before I get to the discussion, I wanted to start by acknowledging that my formula is not always going to align with which teams are deserving of the playoff. I do think it had the top 4 teams correct going into the week, but I think in a way championship week functions as a preliminary round of the playoffs, and Wisconsin was rightly eliminated.

If the Big Ten had not had a championship game and this were just another week of conference play, maybe Wisconsin would be deserving of being ranked ahead of Ohio St. just like last week I thought Georgia and Alabama deserved to be ahead of Auburn. But when you win a championship game over the other team, that should overcome having one more loss. So had Georgia been undefeated going into the SEC Championship Game and Auburn won, I’d be willing to overlook that extra loss by Auburn.

Also, I think it’s fair to say that if there are at least four teams with better schedules and one loss or fewer, you can eliminate teams that do not have schedules in the top 50, which neither Wisconsin nor Central Florida have.

Anyway, if you eliminate Wisconsin and Central Florida, 4 and 5 are Ohio St. and Alabama. Ohio St. is ahead on my list, but I don’t compensate in any way for the fact that Ohio St. got an extra game this week. If you average the rating by playing week, Alabama comes out ahead of Ohio St. instead of one spot behind.

That doesn’t mean Alabama should automatically be considered better, but when it’s a conflict to me that means we need to look further. One reason I didn’t rank Wisconsin #1 on my blog sooner was the fact that they were not first when you divided by average playing week, so that is something that I’ve looked at this year as well as in other years.

As I’ve made clear over the years, I’m no fan of Nick Saban or Alabama despite their being in the SEC. The last time Ohio St. played Alabama, I was for the Buckeyes. So I’m not writing in favor of Alabama out of any personal desire for the Tide’s success.

This article is a good breakdown of all of the statistical arguments in favor of Alabama.

It doesn’t mention that if you want to focus on the top 10 alone, Ohio St. is now 2-1 and Alabama is 0-1; but would you really ignore Alabama’s 11-0 record otherwise? Would you also ignore that Ohio St. lost to a team that isn’t even in the top 25 by 31 points just 4 weeks ago?

Whether it had to do with injuries, the change of location, or the defense just being ready for the way Auburn plays, I don’t think what we saw from Auburn today was the same thing the Tide faced last week.

I hate to be reminded of this, but I think if you look at what Georgia did today, it has some similarities to the adjustments Alabama was able to against LSU in the 2011 season. So I think if you gave Alabama a second chance against Auburn at a neutral location, they would also win.

I didn’t like how Gary Danielson talked about Alabama all night or how he said we shouldn’t look at the SEC Championship game in evaluating Alabama, but Auburn certainly didn’t become inferior to Iowa all of a sudden. I think he was right to say Auburn may have beaten anyone with the way they played at home their last two SEC regular-season games.

If you factor in Iowa, you need to factor in teams that are better than Iowa like LSU and Mississippi St. I don’t care if they’re not “signature wins”, but they’re wins over better teams than the one that dominated Ohio St. four weeks ago.

Another way I can see to rationalize it is to say we should look at wins only. I think if we do that, it’s easy to pick Ohio St. If we pretend Alabama and Ohio St. had the same number of losses, I don’t think that tells you who is likely to be a good team in the playoff, which I think the standard should be when two teams are close enough statistically to get into a discussion like this. The losses are informative about the range of performances that you can expect in the playoff.

In short, I think varying between losing to Auburn by 12 and beating LSU by 14 is better than varying between losing to Iowa by 31 and beating Wisconsin by 6.
I’m not crying for Alabama if they’re left out though. They’ve backed into enough national-championship competitions as it is.

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