by Travis Normand
First Published on December 2, 2020
If you follow this site, you have seen my other College Football Playoff related posts before. If not, you can find most of those posts under the “Playoff” category; or you can go to this link (which is my comprehensive and on-going playoff post).
I have decided to start this new post for all of my notes related to the 2020 Playoff. Once the playoff is over on January 11, 2021, I will probably add the more important aspects from this post to the comprehensive post.
For those of you reading this for the first time, this is not an editorial style posting. This is merely my unedited notes from each week of the playoff rankings, which helps me (and others) track what the rankings/committee are doing, and whether they are following any precedent. Enjoy!
Week 0 – Q&A with the Playoff Committee: November 22, 2020:
The committee put out a Q&A with the following explanation (emphasis added):
“2020 has changed so much for so many, including the CFP. Some of our approaches will be the same as always, and others will reflect the unique nature of this year. We are confident that the committee will be able to select the best four teams and rank the rest of the 25 as always. We have prepared this short Q&A document to shed light on what may be a bit different this year.” – Bill Hancock, Executive Director, CFPPosted at: https://collegefootballplayoff.com/news/2020/11/22/selection-committee-rankings-questions.aspx
While all of it is worth reading, I found the second-to-last question and answer to be the most interesting.
Q: How will the committee handle COVID cancellations or losses/wins with key players unavailable due to COVID?
A: We are not involved in protocols that decide which teams need to cancel games or have their players isolate or quarantine. We will handle the player-availability issue the same way we have done in the past. If a key player misses a game, the committee will know and consider whether the absence affects the on-field performance. COVID cancellations will happen, and the committee will continue to make decisions based on the games played each week.See again: https://collegefootballplayoff.com/news/2020/11/22/selection-committee-rankings-questions.aspx
When I read this, my first thought was that they were trying to say: “Don’t be shocked if we rank Clemson ahead of Notre Dame, despite the fact that Clemson lost to Notre Dame, as we think Clemson is better with Trevor Lawrence.” However, as you can see in the initial rankings, I was way off!
1: Week 13 – Initial (1st) Rankings: Released November 24, 2020:
Note 1.1: The team ranked number 3 in the initial rankings has never made the top 4 of the final rankings (in other words, the team ranked 3 in the initial rankings has never made the playoff); Clemson (7-1) is ranked 3rd in the initial rankings.
Note 1.2: Clemson’s one loss was against Notre Dame in South Bend, and Clemson was without starting QB Trevor Lawrence due to COVID-19. One of the big questions this season is how much will the committee consider COVID issues when rankings teams. My guess is that it will be considered and fairly weighted due to the fact that they have usually considered injuries in the past.
Note 1.3: With Texas A&M (5-1) sitting at number 5, I was most interested to see how, and if, they can get into the top 4. However, most of the discussion following these initial rankings revolved around how No. 6 Florida (6-1) would get into the top 4. Florida was behind A&M due to the fact that A&M’s loss was to No. 1 Alabama, while Florida’s loss was to Texas A&M. So one question is whether the head-to-head between A&M and Florida will overcome Florida’s “body-of-work.”
Note 1.4: As it currently sits, in order for A&M to make the top 4, they would need someone to move out of the way. Without regards to winning and losing, their best chance is overcoming Ohio State (4-0) who is currently No. 4. On the other hand, assuming Ohio State does not move from the No. 4 spot, the Aggies will need all of the following to happen in order to make the top 4: (1) win the rest of their games; (2) have Alabama defeat Florida in the SEC Championship game (keeping Florida out of the top 4, and behind A&M), and (3) have Notre Dame defeat Clemson (again) in the ACC Championship game (which would give Clemson their second-loss, and hopefully remove them from the top 4).
Note 1.5: The Big 10 has a rule related to the COVID-19 pandemic which requires a team to play so many conference games (based on a formula) in order to qualify for the Big 10 Championship Game. As it currently stands, that number of games is six (6). Ohio State may have trouble meeting that number, as they are currently at four. However, the Playoff has taken non-conference champions before, so while NOT making the Big 10 Championship is not ideal for Ohio State, I do not think it is as fatal as only playing 4-5 games.
Note 1.6: Iowa State (6-2) is ranked 13th behind No. 11 Oklahoma (6-2), despite the fact that Iowa State defeated Oklahoma earlier in the season. In other words, despite the Committee giving A&M the nod over Florida due to the Head-to-Head match-up, they did not do the same for Iowa State! This is even more bizarre when you consider the fact that ISU and OU have the same record, while Florida has played one more game than A&M!
2: Week 14 – 2nd Rankings Released December 1, 2020:
Note 2.1: COVID Considerations: As stated before, I have been curious how much the Committee will take into consideration the COVID issues that a team faces. Currently, they seem to be giving Clemson the benefit of the doubt (which is fine); however, it is not clear how much they are holding COVID issues against Texas A&M (or how much benefit of the doubt they are giving A&M).
On the one hand, you might say that A&M’s win over LSU was not as “convincing” as some might have liked or expected, however, the fact that A&M stayed at No. 5 shows that the committee is giving at least some consideration to the fact that A&M sat out for two weeks due to COVID which may have had an impact and caused the “unconvincing” win (it also shows that they might put more stock in the head-to-head with Florida, at least for right now). In case you forgot, before this past weekend when A&M defeated LSU, A&M had missed two consecutive games due to COVID-19 cancelations/postponements. A&M then returned to play, only to defeat LSU by a score of 20-7 (at home), and it was thought that A&M might do much better than that (offensively). While A&M’s defense played very well, it is clear that the offense was rather “rusty” due to having sat out the past two weeks.
Further, comments made by the Chair of the Committee (Gary Barta) in his weekly Conference on December 1, 2020 (see below; emphasis added) made it sound as if Texas A&M “MIGHT” have taken over the number 4 spot if not for the poor offensive performance against LSU. Seeing that Ohio State has only played 4 games, it appears as if the committee is not giving A&M the same COVID considerations as they might be giving to a team like Clemson (but we will have to wait and see).
Q. Gary, on the ESPN show, you mentioned the debate between Ohio State and Texas A&M. My question is, how close was that call for the committee? What does the committee specifically see when it evaluates Texas A&M?
GARY BARTA: We don’t ever go through and take an official vote. What I can tell you is there was discussion in the room about putting both Ohio State and Texas A&M in that fourth slot.
As I mentioned on the show earlier, the firepower and the explosiveness of Justin Fields and Master Teague and Garrett Wilson, all those offensive weapons, the fact that they did beat the No. 12 team the last time they played. It was discussed that they played four and Texas A&M has
played seven. That certainly was discussed.
When it comes to Texas A&M, defense is what the committee sees and is most impressed with when it watches Texas A&M. They have a heck of a defense. They beat No. 6 Florida. They only lost to Alabama.
The committee does continue to keep an eye on Texas A&M’s offense. That game against LSU, 20-7. When those two teams are put side-by-side this morning and last night, there just wasn’t enough there to put Texas A&M ahead of Ohio State.
Great discussion, but Ohio State came in at No. 4 and Texas A&M at No. 5.College Football Playoff Media Conference; Tuesday, December 1, 2020; Gary Barta; at https://files.constantcontact.com/9b54523f501/757bf9ec-5c83-47a0-8c6d-5780dd8dc28a.pdf
In other words, it appears as if the committee might have moved A&M up to No. 4 if they had performed better on offense against LSU this past weekend, and the fact that they did not, potentially held them back at No. 5.
Note 2.2: Ohio State is still 4-0 and is looking to play six games to make the Big 10 Championship. Their final two games are against Michigan State on Dec. 5th and Michigan on Dec. 12. However, there is some talk right now that Michigan is having some COVID issues, so we will have to wait and see if that game still gets played, and whether Ohio State is able to play six games. In what might be a bizarre twist of fate, there is also some discussion that Ohio State’s strength of schedule might increase by NOT making the Big 10 Championship game (where they would likely play Northwestern), and instead play a rescheduled game against Wisconsin.
Note 2.2.1: Here are a few articles that I have found regarding the Ohio State situation:
- (1) “Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez says Big Ten should adjust schedule to help Ohio State football, if necessary,” posted December 2, 2020 at Cleveland.com, by Nathan Baird.
- (2) “What happens to Ohio State if its game with Michigan is canceled?,” posted December 3, 2020 at USAToday.com, by Eddie Timanus.
Note 2.3: It was interesting to see that North Carolina moved up in the rankings (from 19 to 17) despite losing to No. 2 Notre Dame by a score of 17-31 (14 points) this past weekend. Obviously, the committee is considering this a “quality loss” by UNC, but some of the movement has to do with the fact that they were originally behind USC and the Longhorns (USC is 3-0 and did not play this past weekend, while the Longhorns lost to Iowa State and fell to 5-3). On the other hand, it is interesting to see a team (UNC) that is now 6-3, with loses to UVA and Florida State, moving UP in the rankings due to playing and losing to the No. 2 team.
Note: 2.3.1: Contrasted against UNC, Auburn entered this past weekend at No. 22 and (5-2). However, they got defeated by No. 1 Alabama (13-42; 29 points). UNC played their game at home while Auburn traveled to Alabama (while Nick Saban was out due to testing positive for COVID-19). However, as previously stated, UNC moved up in the rankings (as did Iowa State, after beating an No. 17 Longhorn squad in Austin); while Auburn fell completely out of the rankings due to their loss to No. 1 Alabama. It appears as if losing to the No. 1 team on the road is good for Texas A&M but bad for Auburn … while losing at home (UNC) to the No. 2 team and winning on the road (Iowa State) against the No. 17 team, are also good for a teams rankings. So what is the difference that caused this bizarre movement? Maybe it was the fact that Auburn’s loss put their record at 5-3, while UNC’s loss moved them to 6-3 (one more win than Auburn); and Iowa State’s win moved them to 7-2! This would at least comport with the Longhorn’s also being removed from the rankings after losing at home to Iowa State, and having the same record as Auburn, 5-3. In other words, a record of 5-3 is almost a magic number that equals “NR” (unless you are UNC, who is the only ranked team with 3-losses).
Also, if you are one for conspiracy theories, you might see that Florida does not play Auburn this year, but that Texas A&M does … therefore, the Committee’s job is much easier if A&M beats an unranked Auburn (and it makes it that much easier to explain why Florida has jumped over A&M at some point … maybe even in the third rankings, next week).
Note 2.4: Iowa State (7-2) made the biggest jump this week from 13th to 9th, jumping over No. 11 Oklahoma (6-2). Some have said the Committee suddenly decided to give more credit to the head-to-head match-up between these two, but I think I disagree. My guess is that the head-to-head was considered, but it helped that Iowa State improved to 7-2 while OU did not play this past weekend. However, I am sure the committee is expecting this to work itself out in the Big 12 Championship game (although I am not sure it will help either team make the top 4).
Note 2.5: If the Big 10 Championship Game is between Indiana and Northwestern (due to Ohio State failing to qualify), Ohio State will have only played and defeated one of those teams (Indiana). Further, as of right now, Indiana is the only team that Ohio State has played with a winning record (and they were No. 12 when Ohio State beat them). On the other hand, if Florida and Alabama both make the SEC Championship Game, Texas A&M will have played both of these teams going 1-1 against the two of them.
Note 2.5.1: If the top 4 ends up being (in some order) Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, and Clemson (with Florida winning the SEC Championship and Clemson winning the ACC Championship) … teams that have played against a top 4 team more than once would be A&M, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Georgia. Further, of these teams, A&M, Clemson, and Notre Dame all went 1-1 against the top 4; while Georgia went 0-2). Even further, in this scenario, Clemson’s two games will have both been against Notre Dame; and Notre Dame’s two games will have both been against Clemson (and the two could meet for a third time in the playoff). On the other hand, A&M and Georgia’s two games will have been against Florida and Alabama (i.e. different opponents).
Note 2.5.2: The fact that Clemson could beat Notre Dame in the ACC Championship, and potentially keep both teams in the playoff where they might meet for a third time is unprecedented; and it will be interesting to see if the committee simply side-steps the possibility of a third game. After all, in the short history of the playoff, no two teams have played three times in one season; and in fact, while I would have to double-check, I don’t think we have had any repeat games either.
Note 2.6: Ohio State (4-0) has played and defeated NR Nebraska (1-4); NR Penn State (1-5); NR Rutgers (2-4); and No. 12 Indiana (5-1). The combined record of these teams is (9-14), but without Indiana it is only (4-13)! Currently, Ohio State is still set to play NR Michigan State (2-3) and NR Michigan (2-4).
Note 2.7: If Ohio State drops out of the top 4 and either A&M or Florida takes their place, we will have (for the first time) a two-conference playoff (with 2 teams from the ACC: Clemson and Notre Dame, and 2 from the SEC: Alabama and Florida or Texas A&M). However, Cincinnati is currently (8-0) and ranked 7th behind Florida. It will be interesting if the Committee decides to find a way to get Cincinnati in, or hold them out, due to the circumstances. Regardless, if Cincinnati defeats No. 24 Tulsa this weekend, wins the AAC Championship next weekend, and is 10-0 at the end of the season, it might be difficult for the committee to keep them out. After all, if the committee opts for an SEC vs. ACC playoff instead of a 10-0 Cincinnati, it will be fairly clear that the “Group of 5” is not really included in this playoff discussion. (Cincinnati’s current ranking of 7th is the highest ever for a Group of 5 team in the history of the playoff rankings.)
Note 2.8: As mentioned above in 2.6, Indiana is the only team with a winning record that Ohio State has beaten. Indiana was ranked 12th and was 5-0 when they lost by 7 points in Columbus (35-42). The following week, Indiana played and beat Maryland, but IU’s QB (Michael Penix, Jr.) suffered an injury and is now out for the rest of the season. It will be interesting to see what happens to Indiana from here on out, but even more interesting to see if the committee continues to consider a win over IU (by Ohio State) as a “quality win.”
Note 2.9: BYU & Cincinnati: Watching the committee try to justify why Cincinnati (8-0) should be ranked 7th, while BYU (9-0) should only be 13th, is extremely fascinating. I understand the Strengh of Schedule argument, but there actual schedules are not that different. BYU destroyed Navy 55-3, while Cincinnati beat Army 24-10. They also have a common opponent in the University of Houston (UH) which lost to BYU 43-26 and Cincinnati by a score of 38-10. BYU also played Texas State, UTSA, Boise State, and Louisiana Tech; while Cincinnati has played schools like USF, SMU, UCF, and Memphis. I know the committee is putting a lot of stock in the fact that Cincinnati is scheduled to play No. 24 Tulsa (5-1); while BYU has been without a ranked opponent. However, on December 3, 2020, BYU managed to pick up a game against No. 18 Coastal Carolina (9-0) (as Coastal Carolina was scheduled to play Liberty (9-1) but Liberty had to cancel due to some positive COVID-19 cases). BYU’s game against Coastal Carolina will be better than any game on Cincinnati’s schedule, so it will be interesting to see how the committee handles BYU if the Cougars manage to win this game.
(Side Note: There is a great article at SI.com about the BYU equipment truck and what it will take to make it to Conway, South Carolina on time! You can find it HERE! Playing an undefeated and ranked opponent, with ESPN’s College Gameday on-hand, should do good things for BYU, assuming they win.)
Note: 2.9.1: If No. 18 Coastal Carolina (9-0) is able to defeat BYU this weekend, it will be interesting to see if they jump-up to the spot where BYU now currently sits (13th), or will they fall short of that mark. They could also move past 13th as well (not likely), and it will be interesting to see where they land (assuming they pull off the win).
Note 2.10: Apparently, this week’s ranking is the first time in the seven (7) year history of the playoff rankings, that weekly rankings feature six (6) “non-Power 5” teams: No. 7 Cincinnati; No. 13 BYU; No. 18 Coastal Carolina; No. 21 Marshall; No. 24 Tulsa; & No. 25 Louisiana.
3: Week 15 – 3rd Rankings Released December 8, 2020:
There is a lot to digest this week, so I will dive right in!
Note 3.1: The top six remain unchanged, which was to be expected. The playoff committee has a history of letting teams towards the top of the rankings sit until the very end (i.e. championship games, etc.). At that time, we will see some movement if it is warranted.
Note 3.1.1: Despite the top six teams not changing, there are still things to watch for. The biggest thing to watch is whether No. 4 Ohio State (5-0) will play any more games, and if being an undefeated non-conference champion is good enough to get them into the playoff (or will another team with more games pass them).
Note 3.1.2: The No. 5 Texas A&M (7-1) vs. No. 6 Florida (8-1) debate will sort itself out via the SEC Championship game. As of right now, the presumption is that IF Florida beats Alabama in the title game, Florida will move ahead of A&M (despite the fact that A&M beat Florida in the regular season). However, at that time, whether there is room in the top 4 for Florida still remains to be seen.
Note 3.1.3: There are some that think Florida should have already jumped ahead of Texas A&M despite A&M’s win over Florida. It appears to me that the committee got it right by leaving them where they currently sit due to the head-to-head match-up; and based on their performances this past weekend (as Florida beat a then unranked 2-5 Tennessee team by 12 points, 31-19; and A&M beat a then unranked 5-3 Auburn team by 11 points, 31-20).
Note 3.2: Iowa State (8-2) jumped from 9 to 7 (two places) after beating a then 5-3 West Virginia, by a score of 42-6. However, I find this extremely interesting for a variety of reason. While Iowa State has locked-up its place in the Big 12 Championship game, they are currently 8-2. Seeing that the playoff has never had a 2-loss team, it seems odd to move them up when they will play No. 11 Oklahoma in the championship game (which will help sort out where Iowa State and Oklahoma should be ranked). To Iowa State’s credit, they have two wins against the current (3rd – Week 15) top 25, as they beat both the Longhorns and Sooners earlier this year; however, they also have two losses against the current top 25 (Louisiana and Oklahoma State). On the other hand, the Longhorns were unranked last week, while Louisiana, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma have been in the top 25 all three weeks (so claiming two wins over top 25 teams is only true due to the fact that the Longhorns have found their way back into the rankings). If you are of the mindset that Iowa State should be ranked lower than 7th, I would also point out that Sun Belt Conference teams are currently 3-0 against the Big 12 this season, including Louisiana’s win over Iowa State. If it were up to me, I would have not ranked Iowa State this high, considering other teams that were available (i.e. Miami, Indiana, Coastal Carolina, etc.).
Note 3.3: Cincinnati (8-0) dropped one spot from 7th to 8th despite coming off of a bye-week. This is partly due to the fact that the upcoming game against No. 24 Tulsa has been canceled due to COVID concerns, and other teams like UCF and SMU are not ranked. According to Playoff Committee Chairman, Gary Barta, moving Cincinnati down one spot had more to do with what Iowa State was doing and less about punishing Cincinnati.
Note 3.4: Georgia (6-2) dropped one spot despite coming off of a bye-week; however, seeing that Georgia will not win their division and they have 2-losses, this appears to be in-line with what the committee has done in the past. Plus, Georgia has played both Florida and Alabama, and lost to both. As for my own personal theory on crowning a national champion, it would make no sense to give Georgia a second bite at the Apple, as they have had their opportunity.
Note 3.5: No. 10 Miami (8-1) did not move up or down, and remains at number 10 despite beating a then 2-7 Duke team, 48-0. While I see a problem with Iowa State’s ranking, I also see an issue with Miami’s. Miami’s only loss is to No. 3 Clemson (42-17), yet Miami is all the way down at number 10. On the other hand, Texas A&M’s only loss was to No. 1 Alabama, yet A&M sits at number 5. Miami also plays in the ACC, just like Clemson, and they have at least three common opponents (UVA, Va. Tech, and Pitt; and after this next weekend, they will add a fourth in Georgia Tech). However, Miami did not play Notre Dame (and Clemson did); but, Miami did play No. 23 NC State (and Clemson did not). Further, Clemson also played an FCS school in order to get to 10-0, while Miami played UAB (from Conference UAB). In the end, Miami has played a comparable schedule to that of Clemson (minus Notre Dame), yet cannot get ranked ahead of 10th place. (I would have probably moved Miami up, and Iowa State down).
Note 3.6: No. 12 Indiana (6-1) did not move up despite beating No. 16 Wisconsin. This is likely due to Wisconsin having a record of 2-1 at the time of the game with Indiana, and Wisconsin is now 2-2. However, it is surprising to see that Wisconsin’s 2-1 record was good enough to get them ranked as high as 16th, but it was not good enough for Indiana to move up after having beaten them. This appears to be a situation where something was good for Wisconsin but was not good enough for Indiana. In fact, Wisconsin fell 10 spots and is now unranked due to the loss (which is the biggest move of the week). Upon reviewing their record of 2-2, Wisconsin has played Indiana 6-1, Northwestern 5-1, Michigan 2-4, and Illinois 2-4; losing to both Northwestern and Indiana (the two teams currently poised to play for the Big 10 championship). In any event, it is hard to understand how Wisconsin was good enough to be 16th, but beating Wisconsin does little to nothing to bolster one’s resume (while on the other hand, Gary Barta admitted that 2-loss Iowa State was ranked as high as 7th due to its win over the 20th ranked Longhorns; despite having two losses to Louisiana and Oklahoma State). Further, even if a win over No. 16 Wisconsin isn’t impressive, lets not forget that Indiana is 6-1; and their one loss was by 7-points to No. 4 Ohio State. Indiana and Miami are examples of teams who have one loss to teams in the top 4, yet can’t get ranked in the single digits. (Meanwhile, Ohio State’s destruction of then 2-3 Michigan State by a score of 52-12, was apparently something the committee found instructive.)
Note 3.7: No. 13 Coastal Carolina (10-0) moved from 18th to 13th, as they defeated BYU (9-1) and the two teams switched places in the rankings. I was afraid the committee was not going to put Coastal as high as they had previously put BYU, but I was thrilled to see that this was not the case. It will be interesting to see if Coastal can continue to climb any higher. If Coastal Carolina can win their conference championship, and somehow get ranked ahead of Cincinnati, they will be the highest ranked “Group of 5” Champion and will earn an automatic New Year’s 6 bowl bid. With the first set of rankings, it was thought this might not be possible, but now, with Cincinnati having games canceled, and AAC teams falling out of the rankings, it is much more of a possibility (but Coastal will still need to win their conference and hope Cincinnati loses theirs).
Note 3.8: No. 15 USC (4-0) vs. No. 21 Colorado (4-0): I cannot understand why USC is as high as 15th and Colorado is as low as 21st. If anything, in my opinion, these two should both be ranked lower (or closer together) and I would have put Colorado ahead of USC. I really don’t know what “data points” the committee is using to rank USC as high as 15th, other than the fact that it is “USC.” As of right now, both teams are 4-0, and their only common opponent is Arizona (0-4). The combined record of Colorado’s opponents is 9-11, while USC’s opponents are 2-10. However, all four of USC’s opponents are PAC-12 teams, while Colorado has only played three (their fourth opponent was 4-3 San Diego State). However, if they both play their next game, they will also add UCLA (3-2) and Utah (1-2) as common opponents.
Note 3.9: No. 20 Texas Longhorns (6-3) were not ranked last week but have jumped back into the rankings this week after a 69-31 win over then 4-5 Kansas State. While I fail to see how the Longhorns deserve to jump from unranked to 20th, the fact that they did definitely helps teams like Iowa State obtain a 7th place ranking.
Note 3.10: Re-Match: When considering teams that could make the top 4, it cannot go without saying that a playoff game between Notre Dame and Clemson would be the third time that these two schools have played this season. Further, including Texas A&M or Florida, with Alabama, would also yield a potential re-match game. Therefore, the question remains, how likely is it that a possible re-match might keep a team out of the playoff? This is important due to the fact that the playoff has never had two teams that played previously during the season.
While we don’t know the answer yet, it seems clear that the committee has no problem seeing Notre Dame and Clemson play for a third time this season. The real question is whether the committee will use the fact that Alabama and Texas A&M have already played as their reason for taking Ohio State over Texas A&M (assuming Alabama beats Florida in the SEC title game).
However, if Notre Dame happens to blow Clemson out of the ACC title game, and Alabama beats Florida, we can presume that Alabama, Notre Dame, and Ohio State will make the top 4. At that point, if the committee takes anyone other than Texas A&M to fill the fourth spot, it will be a clear message that the committee did not look favorable on re-match games. (Gary Barta addressed the re-match issue in his December 8, 2020 media conference).
Note 3.11: SOS & SOR: For those who like SOS & SOR when deciding who the top 4 should be, I present the following from ESPN.com (and yes, I understand there are other metrics at other sites). The following is the SOS & SOR found at the link provided for the top 6 teams, as of right now.
|(2) Notre Dame||42||2|
|(4) Ohio State||72||5|
|(5) Texas A&M||6||3|
4: Week 16 – 4th Rankings Released December 15, 2020
The 4th and/or Week 16 Rankings are the second-to-last rankings before the final is released this coming Sunday, December 20. I have another post regarding teams that are ranked 5th in the second-to-last rankings, and whether they move up into the top 4 or not, which you can see HERE (scroll down in the post to point number 13).
Having said that, I have a lot of points to make regarding this weeks rankings, so here we go:
Note 4.1: Earlier last week, the ACC announced that both Clemson’s and Notre Dame’s last games of the season were canceled. I believe the games were re-scheduled games from earlier in the season, but everyone outside of the ACC believed it was to protect Notre Dame and Clemson’s playoff chances.
Note 4.2: Also, last week, the Big 10 announced it was changing the rule it had set previously and Ohio State was going to be allowed to play in the Big 10 conference championship game despite not having played enough games (the original rule required a team to play 6 conference games to be eligible for the conference championship, and Ohio State has only played 5; where as Indiana is 6-1 despite a loss to Ohio State and would have been able to play in the conference championship game). I could write an entire post about this alone (as well as what the ACC did) … however, I will try not to get on a soap box right now.
What I will say is that it is interesting to watch the Big 10 reverse two decisions in the same season simply because they did not like the desired result. First, the Big 10 said it was not safe to play football during a pandemic, only to later say they thought it was safe enough (if certain rules were put in place). Second, one of the rules put in place related to canceled games due to COVID-19 outbreaks, and they therefore instituted a rule that required a team to play so many games before they would qualify for the conference championship. As the season was coming to a close, the Big 10 found itself in a position that it didn’t like (or, their rules yielded an outcome that was undesirable) and thus they changed the rules to get the desired result. I am not a fan of making a change to the rules for a reason such as this, and the idea that a group of schools would do this (and still try to claim it was done to be “fair”) is disgusting.
Having said that, I have always been anti-playoff due to the fact that it forces everyone’s attention to the playoff itself; and suddenly, everything else is unimportant. In the past six years we have seen things like conference championships and bowl games become less and less important; and if you are not in the playoff (or New Year’s Six), then it is just not important. Of course, this doesn’t even touch on the ACC’s and Big 10’s decision to make a sudden rule change, and I can only imagine the integrity of the game / sport will continue to degrade over the years to come, all in the name of getting your team into the playoff.
Note 4.2.1: I find it fascinating that the Big 10 and Ohio State believe the conference championship is so vitally important to Ohio State’s chances of making the playoff this season. After all, Ohio State has made three (3) of the previous six (6) playoffs. Of the three years that Ohio State made it into the playoff, they did it twice as a conference champion (2014 & 2019) and once as a non-conference champion (2016). On the other hand, upon review of the three seasons they did not make the playoff, you again see that they were left out twice despite being conference champions (2017 & 2018) and once as a non-conference champion (2015).
In other words, over the past six seasons, Ohio State has been a conference champion four times, and of those four times, they have made the playoff twice.
One could argue that in 2015, Ohio State was left out as a non-conference champion while Michigan State made the playoff due to having won the Big 10 conference; and this would lend to the argument that the conference championship is important. However, one must simply point to 2016, when Ohio State made the playoff as a non-conference champion over Penn State. Penn State was the Big 10 champion and had defeated Ohio State in the regular season; however, Ohio State was 11-1 and Penn State was 10-2, and thus we learned that it was not the conference championship that was important, but the number of games lost. Further, they were left out as conference champions in back-to-back seasons (2017 & 2018) causing me to further question the amount of value they are placing on the conference championship.
Note 4.3: Florida is now 8-2 after losing this last week to NR LSU (3-5) by a score of 34-37. The biggest take-away is the fact that Florida only dropped from No. 6 to No. 7 for the loss. My guess is that the committee is aware that Florida had a lot of players opting-out, and that they had already secured their place in the SEC championship game. Further, I am guessing the committee didn’t want to punish Florida for playing an extra game that they easily could have canceled (like the ACC and Big 10 have done). Instead, Florida played the game and lost (and it is my guess that the committee could not punish Florida for playing and losing its 10th game, while rewarding Ohio State for only playing 5 games total; especially since Ohio State didn’t play this weekend due to Michigan canceling the game).
Note 4.3.1: Considering Florida’s drop from 6th to 7th, we will have an even more interesting discussion if next week, Clemson loses to Notre Dame. After all, the situations will be very analogous in that it would be Clemson’s second loss and also their 11th game. Further, unlike Florida who lost to an unranked LSU, Clemson’s loss will be to No. 2 Notre Dame. So, if Clemson does happen to lose to Notre Dame, the question will be come “how do they drop more than one or two spots, in light of Florida’s movement this week?”
Note 4.4: No. 6 Iowa State (8-2) moves up from 7th to 6th! The committee is clearly impressed with Iowa State who will play No. 10 Oklahoma (8-2) in the Big 12 championship game next week. However, Iowa State has two-losses (to Louisiana and Oklahoma State). While I don’t see a problem with Iowa State moving to No. 6; I do have a problem with them being that high when Louisiana (9-1) is only 19th (as Louisiana has only one loss, and they beat Iowa State). I am not arguing that Louisiana should be ranked higher that Iowa State, but putting them at 19th appears to be too wide of a gap.
Note 4.5: No. 8 Cincinnati (8-0) has not played in two weeks, and every week they have moved down one spot (two weeks ago they were 6th, then 7th, and now 8th). In other words, it appears as if they are being punished for not playing (although the committee spins this differently by saying they are not punishing Cincinnati, but they are rewarding other teams … for playing). In any event, teams like No. 4 Ohio State (5-0) and/or No. 5 Texas A&M (7-1) remain in the same spots despite not playing a game this past week (and in Ohio State’s case, despite only playing 5 games total while Cincinnati has played 8).
Note 4.6: No. 15 UNC (8-3) destroyed Miami last week by a score of 62-26. Miami now has a record of (8-2) and falls from 10th to 18th. I find it odd, again, that the committee did not drop Miami behind No. 19 Louisiana (9-1); but then again, the committee is telegraphing its strong dislike for teams from the “Group of 5” conferences.
Note 4.7: USC (5-0) moved from 15th to 13th, by jumping over No. 14 Northwestern (6-1) who remains at No. 14 despite beating NR Illinois (2-4) by a score of 28-10. To precipitate this jump, USC beat NR UCLA (3-2) by a score of 43-38. In my opinion, USC should be firmly behind Northwestern due to the fact that USC has played five Pac-12 teams, all of which are currently ranked in the bottom-half of their respective division. Further, the combined record of these five teams is 7-14; and while none of them have winning records, Utah is 2-2 and UCLA is 3-3.
The decision to move USC ahead of Northwestern is further confused by the fact that No. 4 Ohio State is also 5-0, and the committee wants us to believe that Ohio State’s 5-0 is worth a No. 4 ranking … however, moving USC above Northwestern (6-1), who Ohio State plays in the Big 10 championship this coming weekend, only confuses the matter. After all, if Ohio State’s 5-0 record against the Big 10 is good enough to be No. 4, why is Northwestern’s 6-1 record not good enough to get ahead of USC?
Note 4.7.1: A quick review of No. 4 Ohio State’s current 5-0 record. Ohio State has played four teams from its division (Big 10 East), and one team from the Big 10 West. From the East, Ohio State has played Penn State (3-5); Rutgers (3-5); Indiana (6-1); and Michigan State (2-5). From the West, Ohio State has played Nebraska (2-5). The highest ranked opponent is Indiana (6-1) who is currently in 2nd place in the East division (and No. 11 in the college football playoff rankings). However, according to their division standings, Nebraska is 6 (of 7); while Penn State is 4th (of 7), Rutgers 5th (of 7), and Michigan State is 7th (of 7). Also notice that every one of these five opponents found a way to play at least seven (7) regular season conference games, while Ohio State could only manage to play five (5). Finally, the combined record of Ohio State’s opponents are 16-21. Adding No. 14 Northwestern (6-1) will really boost Ohio State’s resume, so for the sake of the Big 10 and Ohio State, I guess its good (for them) that they suddenly changed the rules so that Ohio State could make the Big 10 championship game (as Ohio State really needed the resume boost).
Note 4.8: No. 20 Longhorns (6-3) were unranked two weeks ago when they were (5-3). However, after destroying a NR Kansas State (4-6) team by a score of 69-31, the Longhorns leaped back into the rankings at No. 20 (landing two spots ahead of No. 22 Oklahoma State (6-3) who had fallen from No. 15 to 22 after a loss to NR TCU (4-4)). This past week saw the Longhorns sit idle as their game against Kansas was cancelled; however, Oklahoma State destroyed NR Baylor (2-6) by a score of 42-3, allowing them to move up one spot from No 22. to No. 21, where they now sit one spot behind the Longhorns.
This is a peculiar ranking as the Longhorns are 6-3 while the Cowboys are 7-3 (having played one more game). Further, the Cowboys are in 3rd place in the Big 12, while the Longhorns are in 4th (yet the Longhorns are ranked one spot higher in the polls). This is likely due to the fact that the Longhorns beat the Cowboys earlier this season, and thus the committee is giving more weight to the head-to-head matchup as opposed to total games played or anything else.
Note 4.9: No. 24 San Jose State (6-0) finally moved into the rankings and lands at No. 24. This next week they play NR Boise State (5-1); and I would expect a win over the Broncos to move the Spartans up at least a couple spots.
Note 4.10: Predictions: Next week is Conference Championship Game Weekend! Therefore, I figured I would make some predictions.
Prediction 1: The SEC champion has never been left out of the playoff and that trend will continue, as I predict Alabama will beat Florida in the SEC CCG. In the alternative, if Florida happens to pull the upset and is crowned conference champion, Alabama will still make the playoff but Florida will not due to having 2-losses, as a 2-loss team has never made the playoff. Therefore, while the SEC champion would find itself being left out for the first time ever, the SEC will still be represented due to Alabama being included.
Prediction 2: Clemson will beat Notre Dame, and each team will finish the season 10-1 (with each team’s loss being to the other). Under this scenario, both Clemson and Notre Dame will make the playoff but will move seeding such that they do not play a third-time in the semi-finals. Assuming Alabama beats Florida and stays No. 1; Clemson will move to No. 2 with a win over Notre Dame; while Notre Dame will fall to No. 4 allowing Ohio State to move to No. 3 (of course, that assumes Ohio State win’s their game over Northwestern, which I will address in a moment). In the alternative, if Notre Dame beats Clemson for the second time this season, Clemson will sustain its second loss and they will be left out of the playoff, allowing for another team to move up into the top 4. The reason I believe Clemson will be left out (following a loss) is because: (i) they would be the first 2-loss team to ever make the playoff; and (ii) we would potentially have to see a third match-up between Clemson and Notre Dame. We have speculated that a 2-loss team could make the playoff if they were a conference champion (although that has never happened); but in this case, Clemson would not be a conference champion and therefore less likely to be able to overcome the two losses. This problem for Clemson is compounded by the fact that they would also likely face Notre Dame a third time (and if not for a third match-up, 2020 might be the year a 2-loss team could make it in). However, in this scenario, I think it is too much for Clemson to overcome. (See below, Clemson might stay in the top 4 following a loss to Notre Dame IF the committee is determined to replace them with a conference champion.)
Prediction 3: Ohio State will beat Northwestern; moving their record to 6-0 and becoming the Big 10 Champion. This will solidify Ohio State’s position in the top 4 (subject to some movement due to what I discussed above). However, I think this game will be closer than expected due to Northwestern getting better as a team, and Ohio State suffering from some COVID-19 issues this week. In the event that Northwestern pulls the upset, Ohio State will fall out of the top 4, making room for a different team to enter the final 4 (and as I state below, I really think Northwestern should get a fair shot at replacing Ohio State).
Chaos Situation 1: If three (3) of the top four (4) lose (Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State), who will move into the top 4?
First, if this happens, you are going to have absolute chaos! In fact, if two of the top three lose (Clemson and Ohio State) you are going to have Chaos (as I think Alabama stays in even with a loss). In any event, the committee will have to replace one or two teams and can pull from the following two options: (i) a 1-loss non-conference champion currently ranked No. 5 (Texas A&M); or (ii) a conference champion.
If selecting a conference champion: The only real choice would be either the Big 12 Champion (Iowa State or Oklahoma) or the AAC Champion (assuming that is Cincinnati, 9-0). In my opinion, these are their choices because these three teams are ranked in the top 10 (and thus they are potentially “close enough” to jump into the top 4).
However, both Iowa State and Oklahoma would be a 2-loss conference champion, and again, a 2-loss team has never made the playoff (even when they 2-loss team was a conference champion). In other words, winning your conference has never been good enough to overcome 2-losses (especially when a 1-loss team is available) (See 2016 Ohio State vs. Penn State).
Therefore, if the committee wants to pick a conference champion to replace Clemson (and/or Ohio State), the question will become, which is the better choice: (i) a 2-loss Big 12 Champion; (ii) a 2-loss Clemson non-conference champion; or (iii) a 1-loss Ohio State non-conference champion?
I can see the committee picking Clemson and/or Ohio State over a 2-loss Big 12 Champion as they will justify the pick by saying Clemson’s two losses both came to Notre Dame, and Ohio State has only 1-loss, which came to a very good Northwestern team.
What about Northwestern? Unfortunately, Northwestern could be a 7-1 conference champion if they beat No. 4 Ohio State, and if they pull the upset, they should have a real chance at being in the top 4. However, they are currently ranked 14th and that is likely too big of a jump for the committee to make (which is odd, considering the committee thinks so highly of Ohio State). It is unfortunate, but the “weight” of Northwestern’s current ranking will likely be want prevents them from being able to jump to the top 4 (despite the fact that their current ranking was given to them by the same people who would now be using it against them).
Are you serious? Are you telling me that if both Ohio State and Clemson lose, they will both stay in the top 4? I thought you said (above) that they would fall out of the top 4?
Yes, I am serious … somewhat. I am serious that they will stay in the top 4 IF the committee wants to replace them with a conference champion. However, like I said, go back and review what happened in 2016. The committee opted for a 1-loss Ohio State (non conference champion) over a 2-loss Penn State (conference champion); even though Penn State had defeated Ohio State in regular season. While the situation here is different, Texas A&M is sitting at No. 5, has one loss (to Alabama), and is a non-conference champion. So, if only one team has to be replaced in the top 4, I think Texas A&M is the obvious choice (even though it breaks the no-rematch rule).
If the committee really needs a second team to make the top 4 (after Texas A&M), I would like to think they would also consider Cincinnati (as they will be a 9-0 conference champion); however, I think the committee would be more likely to justify keeping either Ohio State or Clemson with a loss (and just dropping the other, therefore only needing one team), or breaking the 2-loss rule (with Iowa State or Oklahoma), before they take Cincinnati. Further, if Florida wins the SEC, I think they would take Florida with 2-losses before they take Cincinnati.
My Honest Prediction: I think Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State all win their CCGs this weekend and thus all four stay in the top 4. Further, Notre Dame stays in the top 4 as well, but falls to fourth place in order to provide a Clemson vs. Ohio State semi-final (and if Ohio State wins that game, or Alabama beats Notre Dame, there will not be a third match between Clemson and Notre Dame). Having said that, we could argue all day as to whether Ohio State should be in the top four, or if should be someone else.
Note 4.11: Before the final rankings are released, I want to say this … I know it has been a season shaped by a pandemic. However, for the past several years, all we have heard from conferences like the Big 12, Big 10, and Pac 12, is that everyone (especially the SEC) should play nine (9) conference games (instead of 8). After all, these conferences had moved to a nine game conference schedule; and the Big 12 even had a nine game round-robin schedule thus declaring that they had “One True Champion.” While the SEC has remained with its eight game schedule, this year (2020), they SEC has moved to a ten (10) game conference schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As it currently sits, not only is the SEC not getting any credit for having played more games than anyone else, but teams like Ohio State are being rewarded for only playing a five game conference schedule. Further, the Big 10 altered its rules at the last minute to allow for Ohio State to play in the Big 10 championship game (instead of Indiana); and every time someone asks questions related to Ohio State’s 5-0 record, or the last minute rule change, they are given an excused related to COVID-19 (something the SEC responded to by playing more games, not less).
5: Week 17 (Final) – 5th & Final Rankings Released
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