We’ve reached the penultimate rankings of the season, and the committee hasn’t had to do a lot of moving and shaking. Thanks to an unprecedented year of success for the favorites — teams ranked in the top eight are 89-7 with all seven losses coming to top-13 opponents — it has been mostly rinse and repeat.
But because the majority of the top 25 won’t play again until bowl season, the committee’s choices this week resonate more than most, and that means a few big names and playoff regulars have good reason to gripe.
The committee has made it clear since its first set of rankings this year that there’s a lot of love in the room for Ohio State, but boy — this still seems like a bit of a stretch, doesn’t it?
A quick look at how the four one-loss teams stack up:
Top-35 wins by the FPI (essentially a “Quad 1” win)
Ohio State, 3
Wins vs. bowl-eligible opponents
Ohio State, 6
Wins vs. winning Power 5 opponents
Ohio State, 4
Strength of record
Ohio State, 5
That last category certainly helps Ohio State’s case, though the eye test suggests it’s a bit dubious. Ohio State has two marquee wins: Notre Dame and Penn State. Both are good teams, ranked in the top 20 by the committee, and suggest the Buckeyes are worthy of discussion. But Notre Dame also got smoked by Louisville and lost to a reeling Clemson team fresh off a Dabo Swinney radio rant, meanwhile Penn State was unaware it was legal to throw a pass beyond the line of scrimmage. Notre Dame’s best win, in retrospect, came against NC State. Penn State’s résumé begins and ends with Iowa. Are we absolutely sure it’s the résumé builder the committee thinks it is?
Of course, ranking Oregon ahead of all of them is even more preposterous, given the Ducks’ lack of résumé, but that problem will take care of itself in the Pac-12 title game.
Ohio State, meanwhile, is just sitting in the clubhouse, waiting for chaos, enjoying its place in the pecking order ahead of Texas and Alabama and certainly well aware that, at this point in the season, no team ranked worse than sixth has made the playoff.
It’s certainly possible that, should Bama or Texas add the all-important “conference champion” label to its résumé, the committee will see to adjusting these standings. But it’s also possible the committee sees a delicate issue of an Alabama-Texas debate (the Tide are red hot, the Horns hold the head-to-head win) and has decided to take a note from Iowa and punt on it altogether, as it did in 2014 when it ignored the thorny Baylor-or-TCU debate in favor of … Ohio State!
Wait, Washington is in a clear win-and-in situation and is set, if things stand pat, to avoid a first-round game against Georgia. That’s great news, right? Well, sure. The committee hasn’t snubbed the Huskies here, but that doesn’t mean they have no reason to be angry, and the reason is that it really shouldn’t come down to a win-and-in scenario.
Washington has two more Quad 1 wins than Oregon and already beat the Ducks. But Oregon gets a do-over and, if it happens to win this one, everything that occurred during the regular season is out the window. Boom, Ducks are in, Washington is out. Why?
Because everybody makes a lot of money from conference championship games, so they have to be played. But Washington already won the Pac-12 while playing a tougher schedule and by beating each of the next top five finishers in the conference standings. And yet, the Huskies still face a win-or-go-home situation in a title game, while Oregon faces zero consequences for losing in the regular season.
In the lead-up to the first playoff, we talked endlessly about preserving the integrity of the regular season — the best in all of sports! Well, it’s not the playoff that has undermined the importance of the regular season. It’s the conference title games.
And when the playoff expands to 12, those games become even more problematic.
Three two-loss teams rank ahead of Oklahoma, and none will play on championship weekend. That makes the Sooners’ position all but settled, and at No. 12, it likely puts them on the outside looking in for a New Year’s Six game.
So, is that fair?
Well, we’ve already discussed Penn State’s paper-thin résumé. After Iowa, its second-best win is … Northwestern? And in two games against elite competition (Michigan and Ohio State), the Nittany Lions scored a grand total of 27 points. Yikes.
How about Missouri or Ole Miss?
SP+ ranks Missouri at 12, Oklahoma at 13 and Ole Miss at 14.
FPI has Oklahoma well ahead (No. 8) with Ole Miss at 15 and Missouri at 16.
FEI concurs, putting the Sooners at No. 8, Missouri at No. 14 and Mississippi all the way down at No. 20.
And if we look at résumés, Oklahoma has more wins vs. Quad 1 opponents (four) than Mississippi (three) or Missouri (two).
There might be a reasonable argument that Oklahoma isn’t the best of the two-loss teams, but it seems pretty clear the Sooners aren’t fourth either, and the implications of that oversight are massive, given the shift out of the New Year’s Six bids.
4. Every Group of 5 team being snubbed
We’re not going to argue with Liberty again — and in truth, the Flames get a genuine test against New Mexico State in the Conference USA title game, so a win would certainly make them worthy of consideration for a New Year’s Six bowl.
But simply being ranked has value for teams outside the Power 5, and yet only Tulane and Liberty made the cut.
How is Tulane only No. 22? The Green Wave lost one game, without starting QB Michael Pratt, against the No. 11 team in the country.
Toledo? SMU? James Madison? Not a whiff.
And yet here is Tennessee, checking in at No. 21, despite losing by a combined 71 points to the three best teams it played … despite losing by 13 to 5-7 Florida … despite its best win coming against Kentucky (by six!) … Tennessee is in ahead of all those other teams.
Honestly, Volunteers fans should probably be mad about this, too. The committee is making it harder to criticize the performance of a team that actually deserves a bit of blowback.
5. Anger Index writers (unranked, undefeated)
All the chalk this year has made it awfully hard to keep finding reasons to be outraged. Couldn’t we have gotten a few more upsets? One or two? Something that forced the committee to really split some hairs or insist upon some complete logical paradox? That’s the fun of these rankings, right? Yelling into the ether about meaningless rankings almost feels silly if there’s not a compelling argument to go along with the anger.
Well, here’s to a wild championship weekend and more complaints to come!