The College Football Playoff selection committee’s initial rankings of 2018 made a statement at the very top. Every single voter in the Coaches’ Poll had Alabama at No. 1. All but two voters in the AP Poll ranked the Tide at the top. The committee, though, chose to send a message by putting Georgia at No. 1.
The Bulldogs have better wins so far than Alabama. That’s indisputable. The committee could have sent a bigger message by putting, say, Notre Dame in front of Alabama as well (the Irish also have better wins than Alabama, and a loss to a team ahead of Alabama) — but the message was clear. Good wins matter more than the eye test, at least for now.
Kirby Hocutt did mention that Alabama and Georgia were very close. This also sends a clear, but opposite, statement. The country generally agrees that Alabama is the best team. That’s fine; Alabama is clearly a quality team and seems to have no weaknesses. But saying that the difference between Georgia and Alabama was a passionate and heated debate says that sometimes reputation can trump resume, but sometimes it can’t.
That doesn’t bode well for the committee being able to explain and keep the trust of college football fandom.
Week 10 College Football Playoff Rankings:
3. Notre Dame
6. Ohio State pic.twitter.com/ONoeGNq11X
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 31, 2017
Hocutt also mentioned that the debate around Nos. 5-7 were intense. In the end, though, the committee seemed to go with head-to-head. Oklahoma was ahead of Ohio State (the Sooners beat the Buckeyes in Week 2), while Ohio State was ahead of Penn State (the Buckeyes beat the Nittany Lions this week).
Two other very important factors that Hocutt mentioned — more than once — were “wins over teams with a winning record” and wins over CFP Top 25 teams. The former is something that we have heard from the committee for a few years now. The committee consistently views teams with winning record as quality opponents. Similarly, the committee puts a premium on ranked wins — and the only ranking that matters is the committee’s.
Moving further down the rankings, there are several important things to note. First, both Miami (Florida) and Wisconsin are stuck towards the back of the Top 10 — but for opposite reasons. The Badgers have very few quality wins — they have only beaten two teams with a winning record, and one of those two is FAU. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have looked entirely unimpressive, even if they have several good wins.
At some point, the committee will have to reward Miami for the strength of its resume, but apparently that time has not arrived. If Miami loses to Notre Dame in two weeks and then drops from this already-low ranking, then fans will have a legitimate major gripe.
We have to note a few more things further down the rankings. (I have no idea what about Oklahoma State’s resume deserves to be ahead of Virginia Tech, but let’s move past that.)
Mississippi State stands out, as the Bulldogs are significantly higher in the CFP than in either human poll. The human polls don’t respect Kentucky at all, though. As a 6-2 team, the committee sees the Wildcats as a quality win. In fact, Mississippi State has two convincing victories over six-win teams — Kentucky and No. 19 LSU. It perfectly explains the Bulldogs’ high ranking, and shows that the committee cares about wins over good teams, not just great ones.
Lastly, we have to discuss UCF. The Knights are statistically one of the best teams in the country. Hocutt mentioned that UCF’s offense was mentioned, but that just shows that the committee don’t give Group of 5 teams the respect they deserve. UCF has a ranked win (Memphis is No. 23), which is more than Alabama, Penn State, Wisconsin, Miami, or Oklahoma State can boast. UCF has three wins over teams with winning record — that’s more than Oklahoma, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Miami, Oklahoma State, Washington, Virginia Tech, Auburn, and USC have.
The Knights are behind teams with both more losses and fewer quality wins. This is an issue, and one the committee must address. UCF has a better schedule than Wisconsin so far. If strength of schedule kept the Badgers down at No. 9, then why are they still ahead of UCF?
We still have five more weeks of football before we find out who is going to the Playoff. The committee did its job with these first rankings, giving fans a glimpse into the process. There are some messages to see here–who you beat always matters more than who you lose to, as evidenced by Clemson–as well as some inconsistencies. Unfortunately, there is one solid consistency — Group of 5 teams never get their full due, and that is perfectly exemplified by where UCF is ranked. The Knights are behind teams with worse resumes, and that just isn’t right.