Monday, October 29, 2018

A CFP Rankings Primer

 We're just about to see the first week of the College Football Playoff Rankings, which means people are about to go insane complaining about nothing.

Which is fine, kind of, because it gives people something to talk about, and god knows there's ten thousand hours of radio and podcast time to fill up nowadays. Seriously, who listens to all these? It's really easy to talk for an hour, it's much harder to listen for an hour. I subscribe to more than a few podcasts that are done by people whose opinions I like because they seem well informed when they write stuff, and their 'casts are about ten minutes of good content and 90 minutes of nothing. I learn more reading their stuff for five minutes than I do listening to them talk. My general rule is that if your podcast is more than 45 minutes, you've gone too far and need to do some serious editing and thinking about what kind of gunk you are spewing, because as a good writer you would never allow that stuff to be published.

But that's not why we're here. We're here to remind ourselves the crucial unwritten rules of the CFP committee and what they're trying to accomplish. The committee will never say this out loud, but you need to remind yourself of this when the rankings come out every week.

1.  The first rankings mean nothing

The first top 4 of the year could very well be undefeated Alabama, undefeated Clemson, and two of the three one-loss teams: LSU, Michigan, or Ohio State, with undefeated Notre Dame on the outside looking in.

This would naturally cause Lou Holtz, wherever he is, (and that is currently on YouTube doing a show with Mark May that's averaging fewer than 100 views a go) to blow a gasket. A lot of purportedly neutral CFB analysts who went to Notre Dame would also argue that ND should be in the top 4.

And you need to remember that should this happen.... it doesn't matter.

Because Alabama is at LSU the very next week (November 3rd) and Michigan plays Ohio State the final week of the regular season, there's no way two of those teams will stay in the top 4 over Notre Dame (provided, obviously, the Irish stay undefeated... a one-loss Notre Dame team is probably out, but we'll get into that as the weeks unfold.)

Here's a true thing: since the 2014 season, when the CFB Playoff, the first rankings and the eventual playoff teams have NEVER been the same four teams. (Check them all here)

The closest they got was last year, when Georgia, Alabama and Clemson were all in the first rankings and made the playoff. The 4th team that didn't make it? Notre Dame, replaced by Oklahoma. (After being ranked 3rd in the initial rankings at 7-1, Notre Dame lost two weeks later to Miami and never contended seriously again.)

The committee can claim the first rankings are to "give you an idea what the committee is thinking." That is poppycock, because....

2. The in-season rankings are designed to make money 

Panorama photos make movement look weird (Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn)
CFP Director Bill Hancock has said many times when asked about expanding the playoff that the regular season is the most important regular season of all and they have no plans to change that.

This is executive code-speak for "the job of the CFP committee is to make the schools money, and adding more playoff teams will lessen that."

Take the above example, with LSU/Bama and Michigan/Ohio State in the top four and still having to play each other in the regular season. Those games will absolutely draw more interest because there's only a four-team playoff. In an eight-team playoff, the loser of those regular-season games is still virtually assured of making the playoff as the 7 or 8 seed. In the current setup the loser is out, which means those games are much more important.

Thus, more eyeballs on those regular season games, thus, bigger ratings of those regular season games, thus more ad dollars spent on those regular season games.

You argue, what's the real difference? As a college football fan you're probably going to watch those games anyway.  Yes, you are, but the casual fan in a non-college football town will be more likely to watch the game if it "means something" as opposed to hearing that it doesn't make a real difference.

You counter-argue that an 8-team playoff makes more money. Well, maybe it does overall for the conference, but an important regular season game in Ann Arbor or Eugene or Austin means more revenue for the host school that they don't have to share with anybody. An extra playoff game, even if it involves the Wolverines or the Ducks or the Longhorns, wouldn't be played on their turf, thus an overall loss of revenue. That is what they mean by "the regular season matters."

So, now that one and two are clear, three becomes more of a corollary than an actual point, but it's still worth putting out there in bold type:

3. The in-season CFP rankings are a complete smokescreen designed to make the schools more money

Why, how convenient it is that LSU and Alabama are ranked in the top four and have yet to play each other.

Why, how convenient it is that if Michigan and Ohio State win out until The Game that they will both be ranked in the top four, or close to it.

It's almost like the committee is intentionally tweaking the rankings to make those games more important so those schools can make more money.

How conveeeeeeeeeennnnient.
Autzen Stadium, home of the Oregon Ducks
4.  The final rankings are the only rankings that really count

As you have seen, the in-season rankings matter absolutely zilch. They could rank 3-5 Kansas over 8-0 Clemson in November and it would make exactly zero difference in the final rankings.

This is why in 2015 Iowa, who remained undefeated until the Big 10 title game against Michigan State, remained ranked over Michigan State (who ended up making the playoff) until the very final week. It just didn't matter.

Rank LSU over Alabama right now if you want. Hell, put one-loss Kentucky and one-loss Washington State in now and leave Michigan and Ohio State out. There are seven 7-1 teams right now in the Power 5 Conferences. And then there's 7-0 UCF (again, a discussion for future weeks) and three more "Group of 5" 7-1 teams- Houston, Utah State and Fresno State.  Put one of them in and leave LSU out just to rankle people. Doesn't make a difference in any ranking until the final one.

The best example here is from the first year of the playoff, 2014. Ohio State was 16th the first week and sixth the final week of the regular season. They won the Big 10 title game, moved up two spots and made the playoff. And then they won the whole thing. So yeah, a one-loss Big 10 champion is going to the playoff every year, bank on that action.

And now, rules to remember about the final rankings:

A. Any undefeated Power 5 team will get in

If Iowa had won that game and remained undefeated, they would have been in regardless of the fact their strength of schedule was atrocious.

And it should really be called "Power 5 Plus Notre Dame," because if Notre Dame finishes undefeated, they are in.  Their schedule this year is pretty doggone bad except for the 1st-game win over Michigan, and that was when the Wolverines really had no idea what they were doing.

Remember: the CFP and the resulting committee was created by the Power 5 for the Power 5. To not include an undefeated Power 5 team would undermine the entire thing.

B. A conference that doesn't get into the Playoff will most likely get two teams into the "New Year's Six" Bowls.

It is not a coincidence that last year when the Pac-12 and Big 10 got left out of the Playoff that both USC and Washington made "New Year's Six" games and that the Big 10 got three teams in (Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State).

Obviously, this is not a given. Two years ago, the 10-team Big 12 didn't make the playoff and only had Oklahoma in a big 6 bowl because Western Michigan (ROW THAT BOAT) "qualified" as a "group of five" team- aka forcing their way into the big boys party in lieu of a lawsuit that would bring the NCAA to its knees as a monopoly. But that's not important right now (even though it is).

C. A two-loss team will never get in over a one-loss team

Never. Gonna. Happen.

Look at last year, the best chance for it to happen: Two-loss Ohio State (who didn't win their division) or Penn State (who did win the Big 10 title game) over one-loss Oklahoma, the Big 12 Champ? Over one-loss Alabama (who didn't win their division, either), whose only loss in the regular season was to the team that was number one?

Zero. Chance.

If there are four one-loss Power 5 teams, they will be your final four, no matter what the two-loss teams have as credentials. You see, losses make the committee look bad in the eyes of the Power 5 schools, who, as we have mentioned, control the committee. It is the committee's interest to keep the Power 5 schools happy.

Now, go do your podcast and let the rankings commence.....

Levi's Stadium, home of the 2019 Championship

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