The Case for Ranking M over ND in the CFP

Submitted by Communist Football on November 13th, 2018 at 3:21 PM

The conventional wisdom is that if the top four teams win out, the final CFP ranking will be 1/Alabama, 2/Clemson, 3/ND, 4/Michigan. I will argue in this post that it is at least likely that Michigan will be ranked ahead of ND if each team wins out.

When teams are comparable, the CFP committee is supposed to consider four criteria:

  • Conference championships won
  • Strength of schedule
  • Head-to-head result (if it occurred)
  • Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)

So let's go through these bullets, one by one.

Conference championships won: If each team wins out, the edge goes to Michigan.

Strength of schedule: Through 11 weeks, Michigan's SOS is ranked 32nd by Bill Connelly; Notre Dame's is ranked 59th. And that's before Michigan plays OSU and Northwestern for the second time. Edge: Michigan.

Head-to-head result: Notre Dame, albeit by one score in the first game of the season in a year in which everyone knows that Michigan has dramatically improved through the course of the season. Edge: Notre Dame.

Comparative outcomes of common opponents: This is the factor that people are underappreciating. Michigan beat Northwestern by one score early in the season; ND played a similarly close game (albeit with a slightly higher scoring margin) more recently. But Michigan gets to play Northwestern a second time. If that game's outcome is more lopsided, it could make a big statement with the committee regarding common opponents. Edge: Notre Dame for now, but possibly Michigan after the championship.

That's either 2-2 or 3-1 for Michigan, if Michigan wins out and beats Northwestern soundly in the B1G Championship.

This matters, of course, because the #4 seed is likely to play Alabama in the first round.  Should be interesting either way...


Diagonal Blue

November 13th, 2018 at 3:24 PM ^

My personal top 6, RIGHT NOW:

1 - Alabama
2 - Clemson
3 - Michigan
4 - Georgia
5 - Notre Dame
6 - Oklahoma

Committee will obviously put ND at 3, forgetting that H2H matters ONLY if 2 teams are seen as otherwise equal. Game was in South Bend 10 weeks ago, things have changed.

— Dari Nowkhah (@ESPNDari) November 6, 2018


November 13th, 2018 at 3:29 PM ^

What have we seen to indicate that Notre Dame has not improved as well, though?

They played a shitty game against Pitt.  I will give you that.  But the only other "real" transitive measuring stick to go on is the NW game and Notre Dame beat them more convincingly than we did even if they needed to hang on at the end a little bit.

If they beat Syracuse(#13 Syracuse, the only team to give Clemson a game all year) and USC to go undefeated they should get the nod over Michigan.  Nobody forced Harbaugh to chase down ND to renew the rivalry, particularly with the ultra-shitty term that we played them in South Bend first.  It was a bad deal but we have to deal with it now.


November 13th, 2018 at 3:43 PM ^

There is no way head to head isn't going to trump all other considerations in this debate. If the BIG title game was against a one-loss Wisconsin team I would say it could at least be a realistic debate.  The reality is that if we get to the BIG title game we are going to be playing a team that lost to Duke and Akron at home (and that ND already beat too!), so bad year to pitch the conference title overcoming the head to head.

Yost Ghost

November 14th, 2018 at 10:02 AM ^

Had the loss to ND happened later in the season I might agree but being as it was the first game on the road with a new QB in a new system I'm not sure the H2H may matter as much. Considering how many ranked teams UM will have played vs ND, if both teams win out, UM will have beaten 3 ranked opponents and ND only 2 (based on current rankings) and UM will have one more win (BTCCG) than ND which all may muddy the water even further. 

Ecky Pting

November 13th, 2018 at 6:35 PM ^

As referenced by the OP, the CFP Committee's priorities have been clearly stated:

College Football Playoff Selection Committee Protocol

1. Mission.

The committee’s task will be to select the best teams, rank the teams for inclusion in the playoff and selected other bowl games and then assign the teams to sites.

2. Principles.

The committee will select the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering:

  • Conference championships won,
  • Strength of schedule,
  • Head-to-head competition,
  • Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)
  • Other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.


November 13th, 2018 at 4:41 PM ^

Disagree.  Having a conference championship game definitely makes a difference.  Let's say that ND had a conference championship game and had to play, oh let's say.......Clemson.  That would have a big impact on the rankings.  The Domers should definitely lose style points for not playing in a conference championship game.

G. Gulo of the Dale

November 13th, 2018 at 11:22 PM ^

Both of those examples--which are frequently invoked--don't suggest that conference championships don't matter.  Context:

In 2016, an 11-1 OSU team went to the playoffs over conference champion PSU, because PSU lost two games, including getting blown out by us and losing to a fairly mediocre Pitt team.  All other conference champions made the playoff.

In 2017, an 11-1 Alabama team went to the playoffs over two conference champions:  OSU and USC.  Alabama had one loss on the road, in a rivalry game, to #6 Auburn.  OSU and USC each had two losses.  One of OSU's losses was the blowout to Iowa, and USC's resume was so weak that they finished eighth in the final CFP standings. 

None of this suggests that a 12-1 UM team, having won their conference, would get passed by a one-loss team that didn't win its conference.


November 13th, 2018 at 11:28 PM ^

The point is the committee will put in the 4 best teams, not 4 most deserving teams. If I recall correctly, most were against Bama in the playoff because of resume despite the fact that Bama just had a bad game against Auburn and were the best team all year long. 

I still expect Bama to be in the playoff even with a loss unless they get boatraced by UGA in the SEC championship game. Michigan needs to root for Bama, Clemson and ND to win out. Simple as that.


November 13th, 2018 at 9:20 PM ^

oh Raleighwood I'm not disagreeing with your actual logic...and thanks to the fucks downvoting...sorry I'm not a blind homer. My point was, if you use Michigan bias, yeah winning a B1G championship game should factor above ND not playing one. But reality says, it's a vote, and if ND, bama, and Clemson remain undefeated, those three are in...and will LIKELY be rated ahead of us. We should still get in winning out, as we've done it with style and growth...problem is, ND doesn't need a conference, if they did, how the hell are they rated in the top four now??? I want Michigan to have a shot, as much as anyone. But I also realize how the NCAA screws shit up. I don't toe the company line here that it's blue or nothing. Sometimes staring at reality is helpful. Doesn't mean we can't win, and can't beat ND, can't beat Bama or Clemson...if we want to be big boys that is necessary. 


November 13th, 2018 at 9:42 PM ^

You know what, dude.  Would upvote if I could.

Not because I think michigan should be ranked ahead of nd - although if the argument starts and ends at "who would vegas favor on a neutral field" vs "who are we rewarding for the totality of their season while not weighing early vs late", michigan should be... they'd be a 4-ish pt favorite over notre dame right now, neutral field.

But because it's frustrating as hell for the domers to do their partial acc thing.  And I'm glad you called out what would happen 7 or 8 of 10 times if they had done a not-super-selfishly-beneficial conference thing with the acc.  They'd lose to clemson and be eliminated from the playoff race.   Either in the regular season or in the acccg.  Period.  Well, 8.5 times outta 10 but you get my drift. 

The way they have things set up there'll be years like this where their pick-n-choose across conferences opponents are pretty weak.  And, straight up, stanford is fading and usc is wandering the desert... both in a universally panned pac-whatever, neither gonna sniff the cg in that maligned conference. 

Luckily they have georgia and @michigan next year and clemson (mid season) the year after that so I doubt we'll be worrying about them in the context of the playoff after this year for a while.



November 13th, 2018 at 6:55 PM ^

Hahaha I'm going to be downvoted to hell for this, but...

I'd like to remind people here, if you're going to make the argument that a team that played in a conference championship should get significantly more consideration in the rankings over a team that did not play in a conference championship...

Scott Frost agrees with you.


November 13th, 2018 at 9:01 PM ^

This is my feeling as well.  ND makes this huge point of being independent, and that allows them a number of advantages while still getting to be sorta part of the ACC as it suits them.  But there's a real chance they won't play another team that ends the years ranked in the top 25 beyond Michigan, and not playing a conference championship game should be a consideration, especially since their closest comparison is with Michigan.  H2H should matter, but playing a game on the road to start the year isn't gospel about how both teams are playing at the end of the season.


November 13th, 2018 at 4:03 PM ^

I agree.  We are so quick to say how much we've improved since week 1 ND is a very different team than week 1.  That Northwestern game wasn't as close as the score indicates.  I still think on a neutral field we're a better team today than ND but it'd be tough to keep them out if they win out.


November 13th, 2018 at 7:22 PM ^

Syracuse has a defense that is about 50th in the NCAA depending on the stat  of your choice.  That means that the 3 turnovers by Clemson and the 2 turnovers by Western Michigan were random events or gifts.  Using that technique we could eliminate half of the top 30 but I just can't consider a win over Syracuse to be a notable win.


November 14th, 2018 at 7:31 AM ^

Because the people who watch college football for a living have been wondering if ND is regressing. Many of the talking heads are saying ND isn't really improving throughout the year and if they e teams played again today, Michigan would likely be favored.

M_Born M_Believer

November 13th, 2018 at 6:40 PM ^

No.  No.  No.  No....

If you think the weight of a head to head competition makes things interesting now.  Have ND lose a game and finish with one loss.  All the whining and crying you will hear is the "ND is a 1 loss team and STILL has a head to head win over Michigan."

Im just saying the LAST THING any Michigan fan wants is a 1 loss ND team and the final selection to come down for the 3rd/4th spot and these are the teams that will be in the bucket:




The plain and simple fact is that ND can state they are the ONLY team in that group with a win directly over anyone else.  And that will carry significant weight.

As tough as it is to say this, we want ND, just like Bama, to win out.  Leave no debate.

Win out, and have ND and Bama win out and we are in.


November 14th, 2018 at 9:01 AM ^

Listening to the media narrative around Notre Dame this season, there definitely seems to be an unspoken suspicion amongst most that the Irish are pretenders, but nobody is willing to rate an undefeated team of their prestige accordingly.  It seems like most are waiting for ND to stumble so they can sweep them aside for the teams that everyone feels are better.

M_Born M_Believer

November 13th, 2018 at 7:04 PM ^

Essentially yes.  This thread is already debating about Michigan or ND if ND is undefeated.  I am just saying that a 1 loss ND does not automatically eliminate them.  The loss would depend on how that games goes.  If they get punked by 'Cuse, then its a non issue, ND gets tossed aside like Ohio State.  Ugly loss = elimination....

But if it is a very competitive loss to Cuse.  I just feel that they will not be automatically out of it like most believe because they can say that they beat Michigan.  And like it or not, that will still carry weight with the committee.

To me the cleanest path to the playoffs is for Bama AND ND to win out.  I will have no problem stacking up Michigan resume against anyone else with 1 loss (even if Clemson loses) outside of a 1 loss Bama.  So in this scenario, an undefeated Bama gets the #1 seed, ND gets the #2 seed, Michigan would have the #3rd seed and Clemson/Oklahoma can debate forever on who the 4th seed will be.



November 13th, 2018 at 7:39 PM ^

Think again about what you're saying.  It makes absolutely no sense.

Even if you're right, and a one-loss Notre Dame team isn't eliminated, and is still ahead of Michigan -- and you might be -- that's certainly not a worse scenario than having Notre Dame undefeated.  At worst it's a push; at best, it's positive for Michigan.

Unless you're somehow arguing that Michigan is more likely to be ranked ahead of Notre Dame if Notre Dame is undefeated than they are if Notre Dame loses.

M_Born M_Believer

November 13th, 2018 at 9:49 PM ^

OK, I guess my message is not clear.  I am trying to say is, in terms of getting into the playoffs, it is better for ND to win out.  Personally I could care less about the seeding.  If your in, you have a chance.  But while NBC was stating ND is out, tonight ESPN started to debate that very topic.  That is all I am saying, it will not be a slam dunk that ND is automatically out if they lose a game, as most people want to believe.

It would just be a data point that would work against Michigan cause ND can always say, we won the head to head.  Herbie just went into great detail explaining how the head to head is only used as a last data point to determine a pecking order between two teams "If they are perceived to be close."  And as much as I love how Michigan is playing right now, there is not that much difference between Michigan and ND. (For the record, I believe that Michigan has a better resume).  But by how much?  Enough to override the head to head loss??????  Maybe?  Most likely?

I certainly do not want it to come down to that.  I would prefer that Bama and ND win out, then Michigan gets in for sure when they win out.  Hopefully that clarifies what I am trying to say.


November 13th, 2018 at 10:28 PM ^

OK, I think I finally get what you're trying to say -- a loss to a 12-0 Notre Dame team is more impressive than a loss to an 11-1 Notre Dame team, and if they're going to stay in front of Michigan anyway, you'd rather have the loss be more impressive.

That's way more work than I expect anyone on the committee is going to go into.  If Notre Dame is judged ahead of Michigan, the loss to them is going to be a good loss -- and if Michigan jumps Notre Dame, then it won't matter.  And I do think 12-1 Michigan is ahead of 11-1 Notre Dame -- but I don't think this level of detail would be the difference even if they're not.


November 13th, 2018 at 7:09 PM ^

This is just wrong. You think a 0 loss ND team with a head to head win over Michigan is better for Michigan's chances than a 1 loss ND team with a head to head win over Michigan? Assuming Bama wins:

If ND wins out, it's UM, OU competing for the #4 spot. 1 spot for 2 teams. 50%. Need to be best one of two. 

If ND loses it's UM, ND, OU competing for #3 and #4 spots. 2 spots for 3 teams. 66%. Only need to not be last of three.

Give me the ND loss every time. 

EDIT: I also want ND to lose because then they're only one loss away from eliminating themselves entirely. It's lunacy to think you don't want a 0-loss team ahead of a 12-1 conference champion (UM) to lose. 


November 13th, 2018 at 10:38 PM ^

yes, a ND loss would in all likelihood eliminate them and open the door for GA or OU, obviously the committee like GA more, so a ND loss all but insures we are in winning out. I would bet ND falls to 7 and LSU and higher move up a spot, if AL losses to GA, I see it being Clemson, GA, UM, AL, I don't think the committee would put OU over AL, with so many close wins and a mediocre D.