Understanding the first CFP ranking tomorrow night

Submitted by Arb lover on October 29th, 2018 at 11:31 PM

Tomorrow night marks what may well be an inconsequential night for many of you. For those of you still in college, it may mark the night before you get your freak-on for Halloween, or for those of us who fondly remember those nights, the pucker factor of "Oh no, my house! I forgot to buy candy for poor spartan children!"

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For the few football obsessed, tomorrow night marks the first night that the college football playoff committee releases its weekly rankings. One would hope that they do not simply copy the AP rankings, or merge them with the "coaching"(airquotes) poll, but actually attempt to dive into the deep metrics. In fact, in looking at their most recent announcement you might glean that they were going to come back after a very deep dive into the "data"(enough with the air quotes).

The selection committee gathered Monday for the start of a two-day meeting at a North Texas hotel to go over the extensive data and outcomes from the first nine weeks of the season.

Two days? 

For those of you not familiar with board meetings, the majority of this time will be spent 1) posturing, and 2) fluffing. Now all of you with dirty minds, I was just convinced by my earth loving wife to raise four chickens (hens). If you have not watched four chickens prance around your backyard, trust me, the reference is entirely accurate and appropriate. 

I'm not going to grab their pictures, because it's kinda creepy, but let's spend a second to delve into the 13 committee members and who their loyalty is towards (if  you aren't aware). While some of them have served at multiple institutions, in looking at times served/played, it's pretty obvious in most cases where their loyalty is, and that is what I've included below:

Rob Mullens, Chair, Oregon (Pac-12)
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (ACC)
Paola Boivin, Arizona State University (Pac-12)
Jeff Bower, University of Southern Mississippi (C-USA)
Joe Castiglione, University of Oklahoma (BIG-12) 
Herb Deromedi, Central Michigan University (MAC)
Ken Hatfield, Arkansas (SEC) 
Chris Howard, Air-Force Academy (MWC)
Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt (SEC) 
Ronnie Lott, University of Southern California (Pac-12)
Gene Smith, Ohio State University (B1G) and Notre Dame (Independent)
Todd Stansbury, Georgia Tech (ACC)
Scott Stricklin, University of Florida (SEC) and Mississippi State (SEC)

One point of clarification.

Committee rules are that when the committee discusses "your team" you have to leave the room, but that's it. That doesn't mean that the lone B1G representative, with loyalty to OSU and ND has to leave the room when discussing Michigan, because, you know, that would disadvantage us. So there's that, and I'm sure Delaney had something to do with it. Also there's this:

Also at the entrance to the room is a hat rack where each committee member has a symbolic white hat with his or her name on it to represent the unbiased nature of the process by having everyone “leave their hat at the door.”

I'll believe that when the CFP starts paying Gene Smith more than OSU does.

Still, all that hardly matters push come to shove, in that they will probably just grab some high level data or quasi-pretty chart (below) and talk about it. In fact, from the past four years we have a decent awareness of what they are actually looking at (in terms of what they have cited as factors weighing into team rankings). 

Now don't get me wrong, it's a(n executive) committee. Were it a workgroup, they would have incorporated S&P stats, injury reports, team development, home field/night advantage, and many more useful statistics, with the bulk of the meetings taking place via Skype, the B-school garden and/or Ashleys.

As it is, they are stretched looking at 1) record, 2) strength of schedule (opponent quality), 3) quality of wins and if applicable 4) quality of loss. 

I've made it easy for them, and probably hard for you, especially those of you who can't get away from more in depth metrics. 


So this is the compiled data ranked by current AP ranking, looking at the strength of schedule of the teams each top team has played, their quality of wins (not looking at in depth metrics, just score differential as it appears that is what they are doing, i.e. "bad losses" refer to massive point differentials and not underlying metrics), and quality of loss.

So we have the people looking at the data, and the data they are looking at and talking about. 

Personally I'm in the "just win, baby" camp of things, but it's worth noting that quality of wins do appear to mean something, so for the few people out there saying Michigan doesn't fully control its destiny at this point, I'd say wrong, they do. Just win, and win big. 

A couple of observations from this data,

1) Ohio State looks way over ranked by the AP compared to what the committee relies on. However the committee does appear to factor in these early rankings the potential for certain teams, should they win out or win their remaining games. That said, that Purdue loss was loss caliber enough to keep OSU out, though they still ranked OSU highly leading up to the CFP and even prior to playing Michigan or in the B1G.

2) UCF aside from a loss-less schedule, has nothing to hang its hat on. Even comparing it to two loss PSU, (they both played PITT), PSU dominated PITT at a much higher level than UCF and the last 12 minutes of PSU/PITT was trash time. UCF tends to play its starters through to run up the score. While the committee would normally not look at things like this, they have limited options when discussing UCF. UCF also thumbed its finger at the committee last year in a fairly harsh way, so don't be surprised if UCF comes in behind PSU in the first rankings. 


Hotel Putingrad

October 30th, 2018 at 12:10 AM ^

Bobby Johnson...there’s a blast from the past. And not a good one. He had a no cursing policy, and I just can’t trust a football coach who doesn’t curse. He also sucked at coaching football and gave us Robbie Caldwell...(Shudders)...


October 30th, 2018 at 6:35 AM ^

Anytime there needs to be a private "committee" that's needs to meet behind closed doors to decide a situation a sporting result, the result can never be trusted

Goggles Paisano

October 30th, 2018 at 6:38 AM ^

Great post!  I don't care if we land at 6, 5, or 4 tomorrow.  I would prefer to fall outside the top 4 this week just for motivation purposes going into this very big game against PSU.  Should we win this weekend, we will move into the top 4 (assuming LSU loses to Bama) next week.

As far as UCF goes, I am so tired of them and can't wait for them to lose.  They are a good team but they don't play anyone.  There would be several P5 teams (that won't make the playoff) that if they had UCF's schedule would also go undefeated.  Their only P5 game this year is their win over Pitt.   To me UCF is like the NBA...sports media wastes way too much time talking about them.  


October 30th, 2018 at 8:18 AM ^

 Totally agree.
 The biggest thing that can screw us is if LSU wins this week (or UGA in the championship game) Bama gets in no matter what, and if a 1 loss SEC team beats them they will also.
 I hadn't really looked at individual members before, but what BS that so many members have SEC ties!! It makes that a sure thing.

Arb lover

October 30th, 2018 at 9:24 AM ^

Just to add some more fuel to the fire, there are actually more guys on that list with pretty strong SEC/ACC ties, I just didn't feel that their affiliation was stronger than their roots. 

Rob Mullens, Director, spent nine years at Kentucky (SEC) as the assistant and athletic director and four years at Miami (ACC).

Bobby Johnson played for Clemson (ACC) and coached there for one year though his time at Vandy (SEC) seems to have outweighed this significantly.

Also, Ken Hattfield also coached at Clemson (ACC) for three years, though he is all Arkansas (SEC) from playing their and then coaching as well. 

But, we do have at least one dark horse champion, though he is all MAC - coaching at Central for 38 years... Herb Deromedi was a Michigan Undergrad and Grad student.

None of the other 13 have any real B1G experience either as a student or coach.


October 30th, 2018 at 7:42 AM ^

The SEC champion gets in, regardless of who it is, regardless of record.  Because S-E-C.

Notre Dame: if undefeated, they're in, guaranteed.  One loss at this point in the season and it'll come down to whether the SEC offers a compelling non-champion team.  If SEC only sends one, then a one-loss Notre Dame is in.  Because Notre Dame.

For the ACC, if Clemson, then they're in.  Otherwise, the conference champ go back into the pot to be stirred and see who comes out.  This year that means if not Clemson, then nobody.

For the Big Ten, if Michigan or Ohio State win the rest of their games and take the B1G championship, they're in.  But only if it's one of those two; if some team out of the west trips up the east team in the B1G championship game, then it's into the pot to be stirred.  This year that means if the west representative wins the B1G, the B1G sits out the playoffs.

For the Big 12, if undefeated, then they're in.  The Big 12 has no currently undefeated teams.  Therefore, if Oklahoma wins out, then maybe, depending on the SEC shakeout combined with Notre Dame's final record.  No chance West Virginia gets in, even if they win the Big 12.  Because it's West Virginia.

For the Pac 12 ... forget it.  They're out.  A one loss Washington State doesn't get in, a two-loss anyone else doesn't get it.

UCF: not a chance, they won't be in.  Even if undefeated.  They'd get trucked in the playoff, and the committee wants to avoid that scenario, because then they have to explain themselves.  (Last year the committee's prayers were answered when Alabama won it all.  Had Alabama lost, then they would have to explain why they let Alabama in when they weren't even in the SEC championship game.)

Unless bad things happen, it's: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan.

Chaos scenario: LSU beats Alabama, Alabama loses to Auburn, and the SEC east team wins the championship game; Clemson trips up prior to the ACC championship, then they lose the ACC championship; Notre Dame notches two losses between now and selection; the Big 12 ends up with three teams with two losses, with WVU named the champ; Northwestern wins the B1G; Washington State wins the Pac-12.  The only sure thing from that scenario is the SEC champ gets in.


October 30th, 2018 at 8:11 AM ^

I think your math is wrong on your hypothetical there: you claimed 1) SEC champ in, 2) undefeated ND in, 3) 1 loss UM/OSU in, 4) undefeated Clemson in and 5) undefeated Big 12 (if there was one) in.  Thus the inherent problem with this whole arrangement - potentially 5 undefeated conference champs in a year plus an undefeated ND (not to mention G5 and other independents).


October 30th, 2018 at 8:26 AM ^

 Good comment. Hence what I think is a sure move to at least 6 teams next year.
 With ND doing well, and if a second SEC team gets in this year, that's 3 P5 conferences without so much as a fighting chance for title run. I'd hope they'd be up in arms about it. (I will. Plus, can't think it would help viewership.)



October 30th, 2018 at 8:48 AM ^

I think the committee will be reluctant to send two SEC teams again this year, unless there's a compelling case to be made.  Last year it was dominant-but-one-loss Alabama, and Ohio State with a big fat black eye from the Iowa game.  It was a risky move for the committee last year, but it worked out since Alabama won it all.


October 30th, 2018 at 10:39 AM ^

Six teams next year?  I don't see how it happens.  Maybe in 8 years.

We are currently in the 5th year of a 12-year contract among the conferences, the bowls, and television.  Any mid-contract change would require acceptance from all 10 conferences, all 6 bowls, and ABC/ESPN.

The Rose Bowl isn't ever going to accept anything that might require them to move the game away from 2:00 PST on January 1.  The other bowls won't accept losing the possibility of hosting semifinals on their cities' prime tourism days.  The networks won't accept the #1 and #2 teams having byes on NYE/NYD.  And most importantly, the G5 won't accept any change that doesn't get them a team in the playoffs every year.

Also, controversy is good for viewership, not bad.  It's only bad for the fans...but they don't stop watching the games.  Once the contract expires, it will all be fair game.  But right now, with every stakeholder having veto power over any change, inertia is going to take us to 2026 with the current format.

Arb lover

October 31st, 2018 at 1:20 PM ^

Re: contract negotiations,

The bowls would likely love to fight for the right to have their new year's day bowl be one of the 3-4 1st round of the playoffs. A nyd bowl is not usually sold out. A playoff bowl always is. It's also adding not only interest for the existing nyd bowls, but increasing number of bowls due to a 2nd and 3rd round.


October 30th, 2018 at 8:44 AM ^

Well, there will be no undefeated Big 12 champ this year, so your problem of five potential teams doesn't apply.  The Big 12 will not send a rep this year unless the other things I stipulated don't happen.  It'll be SEC, Big Ten, ACC, and Independent.  

In short, the SEC champ is always in, unless it's a really, really flukey year and a team like Kentucky wins the SEC with a loss or two.

An undefeated Notre Dame is always in.  But they have to be undefeated.

An undefeated conference champ from Big Ten, Big Twelve, or PAC-12 is in; and if each has an undefeated champion, then the order of preference is: Big Ten > Big 12 > Pac 12.

The ACC is a weird one ... if Clemson is champion, they're in over Big Ten or Big Twelve.  Otherwise, the ACC is probably on par with the Pac-12 in terms of conference order.

I tend to agree that a four team playoff is a problem.  I think they'll go to six or eight eventually, but not right away.

Also, I tend to think the playoff system itself is horrible and is killing college football.  But then, I'm an old guy who grew up in 60's / 70's, and I loved the way the bowl games worked out back then.  New Years Day was special.  


October 30th, 2018 at 8:58 AM ^

I didn't say the problem was this year (although the chance exists for some form of debacle in selecting teams).  You said that if there had been an undefeated Big 12 champ they would be in.  My point is that, if forced to choose between 5 or more equally deserving parties, the current system will only create more controversy than the last (which is likely intentional to increase fan/marketing interest).


October 30th, 2018 at 9:12 AM ^

if forced to choose between 5 or more equally deserving parties, the current system will only create more controversy

Most certainly true.  No disagreement there.

The committee hopes there each year will bring four clearly deserving teams.  So far they've largely accomplished that.  Last year was the closest call with disaster: they let Alabama in as a one-loss, no championship team.  The Big 12 and Pac 12 are helping by being pretty meh.


October 30th, 2018 at 9:14 AM ^

That's true..but it just moves the argument. It used to be #2 vs #3...now it's 4 vs 5. it would still be there with 6 vs 7 or 8 vs 9.  With a 6 team playoff this year hypothetically...as it stands now Bama, Clemson, ND, Michigan, LSU and Oklahoma. in 2 weeks lets say LSU is 7 and Georgia is 6, would GA get in after losing to LSU?  What about Wazzu? if they were undefeated, would they be in the conversation? Their only loss was an officiating travesty. If there are 6 spots, it would probably be all 5 P5 champs and an at large...so Bama, Michigan, Wazzu, Oklahoma, Clemson, and ND. Although everyone knows Georgia and LSU and maybe even Ohio State and WVU are better than Wazzu. I think the controversy is part of the plan.


October 30th, 2018 at 10:24 AM ^

True, but I think the intensity of the controversy diminishes considerably from 4 teams to 8 teams.  The debate about the 5th best team in the country is a more significant discussion than who's the 9th best.  Beyond about 8 teams we're down to teams that very likely have little claim on being the best in the country.


October 30th, 2018 at 10:06 AM ^

Three big potential opportunities for moves for Michigan (this weekend, OSU, Indy) so any reasonable initial ranking is fine.

As that applies to OSU, I expect them to debut behind Oklahoma and maybe Washington State. If they do the terrible thing and win out think they end ahead of both regardless of what those two do based on their big opportunities (M, Indy) and MSU adding a notch to the P5>.500 column.

Looking WAY ahead Michigan's upcoming openers vs Oklahoma and Texas will have interesting playoff implications but I'd expect to be at 6-8 teams by then. The aggressive scheduling will put Michigan in great shape to be the top 1 loss or 2 loss team in a given year if they can put together those types of seasons.