My favorite seasonal TV show returned on Tuesday night for another limited run. No, not one of those sappy holiday movies that flood the Hallmark Channel with their happy, warm, nice-looking people that find their way to true love and a very Merry Christmas while standing under fake flakes of snow on a film set in Canada.
I’m referring to the 2021 premier of the College Football Playoffs Rankings on ESPN. This one isn’t full of snow. It’s full of … never mind.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
This event is entertaining for many reasons.
We get to feign surprise after seeing rankings that did not match our internal biases.
We give a strenuous workout to our fake-outrage muscles.
And as thes CFP rankings episodes continue through the weeks, we can laugh at the selection committee’s hypocrisy, shifting standards, weasel-like movements.
We can snicker at the little white lies that spout from the voice box of committee chair Gary Barta.
We get to keep track of the conspiracy theories.
On Dec. 5 the star chamber of judges will reveal its final selections for the four-team playoff. If you didn’t catch last night’s ceremony, don’t worry. You can catch up, and get your anger and confusion up to speed.
If you don’t want to read this entire column, here’s a very short recap:
1–There’s no room at the four-top table for the Group Of Five. And the pro-Cincinnati demonstrations are underway.
2–The top four: Georgia, Alabama, Michigan State, Oregon. Cincinnati was sixth, behind Ohio State, with Michigan checked in at No. 7.
3–The Committee loves the SEC.
4–The Committee loves the Big Ten.
5–The Committee really, really loves the Big Ten West.
6–Alabama haters are hatin.’ This is a cherished ritual.
7-Head-to-head results matter. Example: Oregon’s impressive road win at Ohio State. Well, that outcome matters for now, until the committee decides to rearrange the dominoes to set up the desired outcome.
8–Oklahoma (No. 8) has work to do. The Committee does not love the Big 12, but is keeping its heart open to the possibility.
9–The Pac 12 has fewer teams ranked in the top 25 than the Mountain West.
10—Wake Forest (No. 9) may go 13-0 and get excluded from the final fab four. Committee does not love the ACC. But there’s no conspiracy theory — just mediocre quality in the ACC this season.
Here are more words.
CINCINNATI, UP AGAINST IT
The AP voters have Cincinnati ranked No. 2 in the nation. The Committee does not share the enthusiasm. To have a chance to climb into the top four, the No. 6 Bearcats will need to win out, and hope for stumbles by multiple teams ahead of them. This works against Cincinnati: They will play 7-1 SMU on Nov. 20, and could meet 7-1 Houston in the American Conference championship game. Both are good teams … but also unranked by The Committee at this time. What about Cincinnati’s 24-13 win at Notre Dame earlier this season? It broke Notre Dame’s 26-game home winning streak, and the Fighting Irish are sitting at No. 10 in The Committee’s first ranking. That victory presumably impressed The Committee. But The Committee was substantially less impressed by Cincinnati’s weak strength of schedule overall.
As chairman Barta said Tuesday night: “Who else have they played?” Barta went out of his way to downgrade the Bearcats’ recent wins over Navy and Tulane. So let’s make sure we understand this: the best Group of Five team must win every game — and win every game by blowouts. The Committee isn’t interested in Cincinnati’s grind-it-out victories.
Two one-loss Power Five teams (Alabama, Ohio State) have more juice with The Committee than an unbeaten Group Of Five contender. There’s still a way in for the Bearcats — but obviously they’re going to need a lot of help. Teams ahead of Cincinnati must lose, and teams closely behind the Bearcats must fall instead of running the table and bypassing UC. Cincinnati’s strength of schedule leaves them extremely vulnerable.
This note from ESPN’s Heather Dinich: “According to ESPN’s Strength of Record metric, even if Cincinnati finishes 13-0, its résumé would be worse than any playoff participant’s in the first six years of the playoff (excluding the shortened 2020 season).”
WHY IS ALABAMA NO. 2?
Because they’re Alabama! No, there’s more to it than that. The Committee, as flawed as it may be, has the annual assignment of picking the four best teams to play in the national semifinals. It isn’t about who has the better record at the moment. For example: does anyone with a capable mind outside of the Wake Forest fandom believe that Wake is superior to Alabama?
Alabama is 7-1 and has done well against Top 25 teams as ranked by The Committee. The Tide have two decisive victories over No. 16 Ole Miss and No. 17 Mississippi State, winning those games by a combined 91-30 score. The Tide has three other wins over .500 Power 5 teams (Miami, Florida, Tennessee.) And their lone defeat was on the road, by three points on the final play of the game, against No. 14 Texas A&M.
When a team plays a tough schedule, The Committee will forgive one loss — as long as the team, in this case Alabama, stacks up wins over good or respectable opponents.
And except for 10th-ranked Notre Dame, Alabama so far has played the most difficult schedule of any of The Committee’s Top 10 teams so far.
From the Sagarin Ratings, which is always my go-to for strength of schedule:
Notre Dame, 9th
Ohio State, 43rd
Michigan State, 47th
Wake Forest, 83rd
CAN BAMA GET TO THE FINAL FOUR AS A TWO-LOSS TEAM?
Maybe. The possibility is enhanced by Bama’s entry point at No. 2. If the Crimson Tide can avoid a loss in their sneaky-difficult upcoming game at despised-rival Auburn, they’ll meet No. 1 Georgia in the SEC title game. If it’s a street fight decided by a point, or a field goal, Alabama certainly would receive strong consideration for a playoff spot. That would give the SEC teams two teams, and everyone outside of the SEC will go bonkers. I’ll add this: with Texas A&M at No. 14, Alabama’s loss isn’t as damaging as it appeared at the time, and the Tide can strengthen its resume by winning at Auburn, which is currently ranked 13th.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey developed the 12-team playoff proposal that seemed to be on a fast track for approval — until Oklahoma and Texas applied for SEC membership, and agreed to join the top conference in the land. The other conference commissioners got angry, really angry, at Sankey. They had quite a fit. And in their infinite wisdom, they decided to gum up the 12-team proposal, slow it down, stand in the way of it — with the possibility of going with an eight-team format instead.
These dimwits are so mad at Sankey, they’re trying to get revenge by HURTING THEIR OWN TEAMS. Sankey wants to expand the playoff field, which opens spots for eight additional teams over the current system. This 12-team set-up would clearly lead to more teams, from more conferences, getting an invitation to the tournament. But no, we’re ticked off at Sankey, so we will get red-faced and hold our breath, and continue to miss out on having our teams compete for a national championship — THAT WILL SHOW YOU SANKEY!
The stupidity is breathtaking.
OKLAHOMA IS LIVING DANGEROUSLY
Starting out at No. 8 is hardly ideal, especially considering OU’s 9-0 record. The Committee was displeased by Oklahoma’s sluggish, close-call wins over Tulane, Nebraska, Kansas State, West Virginia, Kansas and Texas. And as it stands now, Oklahoma does not have a win against any of the teams on The Committee’s first Top 25 list. Duly noted.
It will take some big wins to pull it off, but the Sooners can maneuver their way into the semifinals. First of all, coach Lincoln Riley fixed a problem by benching quarterback Spencer Rattler and installing freshman Caleb Williams as the starter. The Sooners’ offense is zooming now. Riley’s next project is tightening his team’s defense.
The Sooners have multiple opportunities in front of them, with games against 7-1 Baylor, 7-1 Oklahoma State and 5-3 Iowa State. (OU will play Baylor and OK State on the road.) Oklahoma will have to push through and reach (and win) the Big 12 championship game. Winning out won’t be easy, but if the Sooners get it done they’ll make the playoff. But this is hazardous; The Committee put only two other Big 12 teams in its first Top 25; Oklahoma State at No. 11, and Baylor at No. 12.
When your top three teams can do no better than come in at No. 8, it doesn’t bode well for the Big 12 to have a one-loss team receive a bid to the tournament. OU can’t mess up. At all.
OREGON AHEAD OF OHIO STATE?
Yes. And I don’t think it matters. Oregon is No. 4, Ohio State is No. 5, and this situation will be resolved over time. For now The Committee went with the head-to-head factor. The teams played a game on Ohio State’s home turf, and the Ducks won easily.
The Ohio State supporters were pushing the “who has the better loss?” narrative. Nice try. Obviously, Ohio State losing to Oregon had little stench compared to Oregon’s stinker loss at Stanford — a team that’s 0-3 since upsetting the Ducks. But The Committee is aware of a factor in the Stanford loss: Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was rushed to the hospital on the morning of the game because of an undisclosed medical emergency. Moorhead missed the game, and that’s no small thing. He has an important role in guiding the Ducks.
Oregon can’t slip during the remaining games on their schedule and could go down on Nov. 20 at Utah. The Ducks must win out and show dominant form.
If Ohio State can avoid a disaster in its next two games — at Nebraska, and home vs. Purdue — then it comes down to a home game against No. 3 Michigan State, and a road game at No. 7 Michigan. A spot in the Big 10 title game — and a lot more — is on the line.
Ohio State’s better strength of schedule (compared to Oregon) can elevate the Buckeyes, or sink them. Based on The Committee’s rankings, Ohio State’s best win came against No. 20 Minnesota. (Penn State, which lost to Ohio State, is unranked.) Oregon’s schedule is softer, but the Ducks have that win over Ohio State to stand on.
IT’S AN SEC AND BIG TEN WORLD!
The two most powerful conferences in our great nation claimed four of the top five spots in the first ranking, with Georgia (1), Alabama (2), Michigan State (3) and Ohio State (5.) More than half of the first Top 25 was filled by SEC and B1G teams.
+ Seven from the SEC: Georgia, Bama, Auburn (13), Texas A&M (14), Ole Miss (16), Mississippi State (17) and Kentucky (18).
+ Six from the Big Ten: Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan (7), Minnesota (20), Wisconsin (21), and Iowa (22.)
Most notable is The Committee’s unconditional respect for the Big Ten West. Minnesota is 20th despite losing at home to Bowling Green. Wisconsin has three losses. Iowa has no offense and has lost two straight, getting outscored 41-14 in the process.
Sleep well, Big Ten. The friendly Committee is your friend.
WHAT ABOUT WAKE FOREST?
Wake Forest is 8-0 overall and 7-0 vs. FBS teams. That’s fine, but the ACC is having an off year, and Wake Forest has only two victories against FBS teams with a winning record — and Syracuse and Virginia are unranked. The only other ACC team to get a nod in the first Top 25 is Pittsburgh — which in fact came in at No. 25. Wake Forest could meet two-loss Pitt in the ACC championship game.
Even if the Demon Deacons scoot through unbeaten and win that ACC title game, it doesn’t guarantee a spot in the final four. If the brush-off happens, Wake would be the first undefeated Power 5 team snubbed by The Committee since the current format went into place in 2014.
This would lead to a delightfully loud argument, with an abundance of conspiracy theories from Wake Forest bandwagon fans that haven’t attended a game in 28 years. But alas, it may not come to that. ESPN’s FPI gives Wake Forest less than a 50% chance to win each of its next three games, against North Carolina, NC State and Clemson. Wake is also 74th in the nation in defensive efficiency.
Thanks for reading …
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