5 takeaways from the first Playoff poll of 2019
Let’s debate, y’all.
The first Playoff rankings are out and everyone is upset. Stunning, I know.
This is the sixth year of this thing, yet we have all overreacted to this first poll because duh, that’s what we do. And yes, while this isn’t the final say, it’s worth noting that 3 of the 4 teams in the first top 4 made it to the Playoff each of the last 2 years.
Here were some takeaways I had from the first Playoff poll:
1. I was definitely surprised Ohio State was No. 1 instead of LSU
And here’s why. I thought LSU would get the benefit of the doubt for a few reasons. For starters, the selection committee values nonconference play. At least it says it does. Ohio State didn’t have a Power 5 opponent in nonconference play, and LSU went to top-10 Texas.
However, things changed since then. Ohio State’s demolition of No. 20 Cincinnati has aged well while LSU’s road win against the struggling Longhorns hasn’t aged well. And while LSU beat 3 top-10 teams, there’s something else that sort of levels the playing field.
In terms of wins against current top-25 teams, LSU and Ohio State are actually tied in that department at 2 apiece. And the Buckeyes dominated both of those teams. OSU won by an average of 36.5 points in those games compared to 8.5 for LSU. Overall against Power 5 teams, OSU has an average margin of victory of 37.2 compared to 15 for LSU.
Let’s call it what it is. The Buckeyes have been absolutely dominant from top to bottom. In all facets, they look the part. Maybe the selection committee decided that mattered. What’s interesting is that sets up a potential scenario in which Ohio State could lose to Penn State and pull off the 2017 Alabama feat and make it in the Playoff as a non-conference champ.
In the meantime, though, this ranking at the top changes if LSU beats Alabama this weekend. The Tigers still have an extremely solid résumé and if Texas could pick it up down the stretch, that would certainly help the “loss to give” argument even more.
2. About Alabama…
I actually thought Alabama would be at No. 2 ahead of Ohio State. I perhaps weighed the nonconference Power 5 thing a little too much when it came to ranking Ohio State, but regardless, Alabama is still sitting in position to potentially move up to No. 1 with a win against LSU.
The issue with this for the Crimson Tide is that the loss to give might not be there like it was a couple years ago. Because Alabama is sitting there with 1 win against a Power 5 team with a winning record — and none who are currently in the Top 25 — the margin for error is that much slimmer without a potential conference championship.
The good news? Alabama still has a chance to beat 3 legitimate Top 25 teams if it can beat LSU and win the West. That’s better than say, Clemson, who doesn’t have any wins vs. teams ranked in the current Top 25 and only has games against No. 19 Wake Forest and some unranked ACC Coastal winner in the conference championship. That’s not ideal.
3. About Clemson…
I cannot WAIT for Dabo Swinney to play the disrespect card again. No. 5 was lower than I was expecting, but goodness, the ACC hasn’t done the Tigers any favors. They have 0 wins against teams currently ranked in the Top 25 and Texas A&M hasn’t held up as well as we initially expected.
If there was any debate from this ranking, Clemson doesn’t have a loss to give. At all. The selection committee didn’t just say “well, you’re Clemson. You deserve a top-3 spot.” Nah. The weak ACC hurt, as did the nail-biter against UNC. You know who hasn’t had any nail-biters like that to a mediocre team this year? Ohio State. Alabama. LSU. Shoot, even Penn State’s nail-biter win against 6-3 Pitt looks just fine right now.
This first ranking was a reminder that the selection committee truly believes in forgetting previous seasons. Any argument from the masses that Alabama and Clemson were going to get the benefit of the doubt based on their dominant Playoff history is gone.
At least for now.
4. Why Georgia is ranked ahead of Oregon is pretty simple
Don’t fall into the trap of valuing which team has a worse loss. It’s part of the résumé, but it is not the entire résumé when comparing 1-loss teams.
That pertains to Georgia and Oregon, who came in ranked at No. 6 and No. 7, respectively. Why, you might ask? Oregon has 0 wins against the current Top 25. Georgia, on the other hand, has 2. And even better for Georgia, both of those teams are in the top 15.
That’s not SEC bias. That’s the selection committee just pointing to some quick data points to show that quality wins matter. Nonconference play matters, too. Georgia faced a top-15 opponent and won. Oregon also did and lost. Yes, it was on a last-minute play. These things matter.
Both Georgia and Oregon, in my opinion, have a clear path, though. Win out and make the field.
5. Let’s try to see some week-to-week consistency
This was a different first Playoff poll than many were expecting. The things the selection committee valued were clear — if you were dominant, how well wins aged and the amount of quality wins there were. That’s why unbeaten Minnesota came in at No. 17 behind 6 teams with 2 losses. The Gophers don’t have any wins against Power 5 teams with winning records, and they didn’t play a Power 5 opponent in nonconference play.
Here’s what I want to see from the selection committee — consistency. Don’t tell me one week that Clemson’s schedule is holding it back from a top-4 spot one weak and then move the Tigers up to No. 3 after a non-quality win the next.
It’ll be interesting to see how this looks on a week-to-basis.
And yes, while much has to be decided, it is definitely interesting.