Head to Head Consequences
The CFP Committee continues to display ineptitude and lose credibility with their rankings
The College Football Playoff rankings were unveiled last night and while the Committee was in a tough spot with seven ranked teams losing to unranked opponents—and several others struggling—over the weekend, nobody could have foreseen the firestorm one particular decision sparked.
The Committee put Michigan at No. 6 while dropping Michigan State—who beat the Wolverines two weeks ago—to No. 7 after their loss to Purdue.
The fact that everything can change in the future is irrelevant. This ranking decision calls into question everything about the Committee and their members: their knowledge, motive and morals.
These actions—and corresponding circular logic— do not inspire confidence and tanks any remaining credibility they had. A look at some of the more questionable decisions.
The argument for Michigan to be ranked ahead of Michigan State is 1) Sparty just lost to Purdue, 2) Michigan has a ‘good loss’ at East Lansing and 3) Michigan looks like the better team as they held a 16-point lead with 20 minutes left to play before collapsing.
Deja vu anyone?
We have experienced this before. In 2014, the head to head debate was between TCU and Baylor. Each team had one loss, Baylor on the road at West Virginia and TCU’s ‘good loss’ coming via a blown 21-point lead with 11 minutes to play in Waco.
This is how the Committee handled ranking that mess:
Week 10: No. 7 TCU vs No. 13 Baylor
Week 11: No. 6 TCU vs No. 12 Baylor
Week 12: No. 4 TCU vs No. 7 Baylor
Week 13: No. 5 TCU vs No. 7 Baylor
Week 14: No. 5 TCU vs No. 7 Baylor
Week 15: No. 3 TCU vs No. 6 Baylor
Week 16: No. 5 Baylor vs No. 6 TCU
Once again, the Committee is ranking teams ahead of other teams who they already lost to. It screws up the national perception on a weekly basis and paints the Committee to be in a smoke filled room with a holier than thou attitude—especially in how the Chair answers questions in public.
The Committee is not some elitist Club where members can do anything they want due to having money, power and prestige. There needs to be transparency, some semblance of order and a leader who can conduct themselves respectfully in media appearances.
It is a hard job—has anyone else just tried to rank the top 25?—, but there needs to be accountability. Like the courts, there should be concurring and dissenting opinions written on why a decision was made—say Michigan over Michigan State—and we need to know how members voted.
It boils down to trust. Without transparency and accountability, there is no credibility as the Committee is viewed as one big secret and exclusive weekend party where nothing matters until the final week, and therefore they simply act anyway they please.
As an athletic oligarchy—with no incentive to defend their secret decisions— the CFP Committee has consistently ignored the consequences of their actions. It has made the sport worse as a result.
Baylor & Oklahoma
The Bears fell just one spot after a disastrous performance to TCU in Fort Worth, while Oklahoma stayed undefeated on a bye week and stayed at No. 8 in the rankings.
I had Baylor at No. 16 in my own rankings, but it looks like the Committee wanted to keep the Bears ahead of NC State and Ole Miss due to how they ranked those teams in the first rankings. They also kept Baylor ahead of BYU for head to head purposes—something that we saw the Committee honor at every turn expect with Michigan.
They also did not want to get into the weeds of rankings three-loss teams Wisconsin, Purdue or Auburn (or Penn State) over the Bears. And Iowa has played so poorly and lost to the teams above that they could not jump the Bears (in turn since Iowa beat Penn State, my theory is the Nittany Lions cannot be ranked above the Hawkeyes and therefore the Badgers and Tigers).
The conspiracy theory is that Baylor is being ranked high for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to have good wins on their resume. This is a fair argument; I would like to think that simply so much chaos happened that Baylor could not move down very far.
Should the Bears lose to Oklahoma, I would expect a more drastic drop below the teams of the Big Ten.
The Big Ten
There are seven teams still alive to qualify for the Big Ten Championship game. So with all the fuse about the Spartans and Wolverines, it can be all null and void if either makes the title game—upsetting Ohio State along the way.
This is how you have to look at this picture. Essentially the teams of the East are in the upper half of the CFP rankings and the teams of the West are in the mid to lower tier. The West—and Penn State—can really only play spoiler at this point as Michigan, Sparty and the Buckeyes vie for the Playoff.
When we speak about consequences, here is what we mean. What the Committee has unknowingly done is opened the door for Michigan to be a one-loss, non-division and non-conference champion that gets a Playoff bid. Here’s how:
Michigan State and Michigan both beat Maryland, Penn State and Ohio State to finish with one loss, which sends the Spartans to the title game. John Harbaugh and the Wolverines stay home with one loss, and if they can get the proper cannibalization of Alabama, the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Cincinnati then they could get selected a la Ohio State of 2016.
What makes their argument even stronger is that the Committee just straight up told us that they do not even care about Michigan’s loss to Michigan State. In addition, say Wisconsin beats Michigan State in the title game—well, Michigan has the Head to Head over the Badgers anyway. Ohio State got in with less in 2016.
There are consequences for not taking your job seriously and choosing to do whatever you want to no matter who it hurts. The country club members have all of the power and none of the responsibility as they operate in secret.
Michigan may prove to benefit the most.
Alabama, Texas A&M & Cincinnati
The Tide struggled so much at home against LSU, that we were starring down the barrel of one of the most astonishing upsets of all time. Even the Aggies were ranked with Johnny Manziel in 2012 when they beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa—and that was stunning.
Here’s the rub. Should Alabama lose another SEC game and Texas A&M—who survived Auburn last week and has Ole Miss in Oxford this Saturday—wins out, then the Aggies will play Georgia for the SEC title game. And ‘Bama plays Arkansas and at rival Auburn for the Iron Bowl.
The Tigers have shattered ‘Bama’s championship aspirations three times in the past eight years: 2013 Kick Six, 2017 and 2019. They could do so again this season to send A&M to their first ever SEC title game.
Here is the situation that faces Cincinnati. The Bearcats are likely ‘okay’ if they win out (even more so if Notre Dame wins out as well), but they are at risk to either the Big Ten or SEC getting two teams in.
If Alabama or Texas A&M defeats Georgia in the SEC title game, then there will be talk about putting the Bulldogs in alongside the team they just lost to in Atlanta. And both Michigan State and Michigan could end with one loss each from the Big Ten that may make the Committee believe that both deserve a spot—again, the Committee already said they do no care about the head to head result and that Cincinnati’s perfection to this point is not better than teams with a single loss.
All of this matters as Cincinnati tries to make history; at the same time, all of it is outside of the Bearcats’ control.
Who Has A Chance
The top 12 teams still have an opportunity to make the CFP, but some will need more dominos to fall their way than others. The Big Ten and SEC races continue to be extremely interesting and could really make things weird if some of the scenarios described above play out.
The parallel fates of both the Bearcats and Fighting Irish are important to consider. Cincinnati needs Notre Dame to do well for obvious reasons, but now with the resurgence of Wisconsin and Purdue, some of the Irish September wins look a lot more sexy—as sexy as the Midwest can get that is.
The Bedlam matchup will be vital to decide a Big 12 champion and it could happen in consecutive weeks. However, Baylor is lurking at No. 13 and could sneak into the Big 12 title game. Iowa State could as well for that matter.
Many forget that Wake Forest’s loss to UNC was technically a non conference matchup, and—while they are now focused on winning the ACC—could get into the CFP with some help.
We have a fun weekend ahead, and we will have plenty to discuss next Tuesday when more rankings are released.