5 takeaways from the first Playoff poll of 2020
To be honest, I thought it’d be a mess.
The first Playoff ranking of 2020 was always going to be a mess. After all, we had teams who had played 9 games and teams who had played 3. There is no perfect science to the rankings in any year, much less in a pandemic season in which games are being canceled left and right.
The goal for us is to make sense of that. That is, what did we learn about quality wins? How realistic is the SEC’s 2-team Playoff bid? And what about the ACC’s 2-team bid? Oh, and what about BYU and Cincinnati?
We got answers to a good amount of those questions on Tuesday night:
1. The A&M vs. Florida thing …
I have no problem with the selection committee giving the Aggies the nod at No. 5 ahead of Florida at No. 6. I had them switched based on my belief that Florida’s wins all coming by 14-plus, including a neutral-site game vs. Georgia, and a road loss on a last-second field goal vs. a top-10 team was a better résumé than A&M’s.
But yes, the selection committee showed us, head-to-head matters.
This is more of a good thing for A&M than it is a bad thing for Florida. The Gators’ path to the Playoff is simple. Ya win out, ya beat Alabama, ya get a bid. A&M? It’s a bit more complicated. It’ll take looking the part down the stretch with perhaps a Notre Dame regular season loss AND Alabama winning the SEC in order for that to happen.
If I’m an A&M fan, I’m encouraged by the fact that the Florida win matters a lot. Because if it didn’t, that résumé doesn’t currently feature another win vs. a winning Power 5 team. A&M’s non-Florida wins came against teams who are a combined 7-23. That can improve if those LSU and Auburn wins come.
At this point, it’d be surprising if we saw Florida leapfrog A&M without getting that SEC Championship win.
2. BYU’s first ranking is telling, but sort of not
I thought I was low on BYU and I had them predicted at No. 8. The fact that the Cougars are at No. 14 was telling. That’s just 1 spot ahead of Oregon, who has played 1/3 of the games that BYU has. But what has the selection committee always valued? Power 5 wins. BYU has none. Is that BYU’s fault? Yes and no. The revamped schedule was probably always going to yield this.
Not having that sense of urgency to play Washington anytime, anywhere is entirely on BYU. If the Cougars didn’t make that phone call by the time I finished this sentence, well, that’s about as obtuse of an approach as one can have.
We never saw UCF ranked higher than No. 8 in the Playoff rankings. Cincinnati actually earned the No. 7 spot despite the fact that it also doesn’t have a Power 5 opponent this year. What’s the difference? BYU has been playing Mountain West teams and Cincinnati has been playing the AAC, which is easily the best Group of 5 conference in the sport.
I was baffled that some people believed the Cougars would start off at No. 4 or No. 5. Based on games played? Based on the fact that they’ve won a bunch of games against teams whom the selection committee never values? Based on the fact that Zach Wilson is awesome?
No. 14 might’ve been a slap in the face, but it was somewhat inevitable based on everything we’ve ever seen from the selection committee.
3. Georgia at 9???
If BYU at No. 14 caught you by surprise, what about the Dawgs at No. 9? Never mind the fact that Georgia has 2 double-digit losses. What’s the best win? Auburn? The Dawgs just won by a touchdown at home against a 2-win MSU team. The selection committee clearly thinks highly of the SEC to have the Dawgs in that spot.
Then again, the field really takes a significant step back after 1-8. You’ve got a bunch of 1-loss teams who don’t have more than 1 or 2 decent wins. That includes teams like Miami (FL) and Indiana. Only 2 spots behind Georgia was an Oklahoma team who also has 2 losses but has played much better in the last month.
Don’t get it twisted. Georgia doesn’t have a Playoff path. It feels like nobody ranked No. 9 or below does.
4. A lower number of games was by no means a death sentence
Why do I say that? A 5-0 Northwestern team is at No. 8, which is probably where it should be. But more telling was where we saw teams with 3 games played like Wisconsin and Pac-12 contenders Oregon and USC. All of them came in between 15-18. BYU and Coastal Carolina didn’t get a bump just because they played games.
And what about Ohio State? The Buckeyes are only 4-0, yet they’ll be starting in the top 4. That confirms the preseason belief that as long as they run the table, they’ll be in. If we had seen Cincinnati ranked ahead of Ohio State, that would’ve suggested that path might be a little trickier for teams who don’t have those games played.
I thought the selection committee gave favorable draws to the Power 5 leagues who started late, though I still won’t bank on a Pac-12 team having a path to the Playoff.
5. Is Alabama going to have a Playoff berth locked up before the SEC Championship?
It’s a question I’ve been wondering about. It seems like we always talk about this, but this year feels different with that conversation. Alabama coming in at No. 1 was overwhelmingly obvious, but think about what the first ranking revealed. Alabama dominated a pair of top-10 teams in No. 5 Texas A&M and No. 9 Georgia. The Crimson Tide will face top-25 Auburn this Saturday, as well.
By the time the Crimson Tide get to a potential SEC Championship against Florida, there’s a decent chance they’ll have run through an all-SEC schedule having won every game by at least 3 scores. That’ll mean something. That’s why the ACC’s 2-team bid isn’t such a sure thing. Then again, that would mean Alabama losing to a team like Florida.
Alabama has all the motivation to continue its trend of blowout wins down the stretch. Even if it doesn’t get to play that LSU game, going 9-0 against that schedule in such dominant fashion would be worthy of an automatic bid, regardless of what happens in Atlanta.
And no, there wouldn’t be any “Bama bias” in that.