Comparing the sixth CFP Top 25 to a BCS simulation
Out with the old, in with the new.
The College Football Playoff has replaced the BCS as the FBS’s path to a national championship, and the process of selecting the title contenders has transitioned from an unforgiving formula to a selectively chosen playoff field.
The CFP selection committee released its sixth top 25 rankings Tuesday night on ESPN, and there are plenty of differences between that set of rankings and a recent BCS simulation (done courtesy of BCSKnowHow.com).
Take a look at how the top 16 teams from the newest CFP Poll stacks up against the top 16 teams from the BCS simulation:
|Ranking||CFP Rankings||BCS Simulation|
|5||Ohio State||Ohio State|
|8||Michigan State||Michigan State|
|10||Mississippi State||Kansas State|
|11||Georgia Tech||Ole Miss|
Let’s take a look at the top of both sets of rankings, specifically the top 4 teams. Amid all the buzz surrounding the shift from the BCS to the CFP, it should be noted that if the BCS formula was tasked with selecting this year’s four-team playoff field it would have chosen the same four teams. The only difference would be the order of those teams.
The greatest difference in the ranking of the top 4 lies in the placement of Florida State. The selection committee has been unimpressed with the Seminoles’ 12-0 run for much of the season, slowly dropping them all the way down to No. 4 behind three one-loss teams.
However, the BCS does not have as much room to interpret how FSU got to 12-0; it simply sees the last remaining unblemished record. Thus, Florida State remains as high as No. 2 in the BCS simulation just behind Alabama, which sits atop both sets of rankings.
As a result, Oregon and TCU, the other teams rounding out the top 4, each moved down one spot in the BCS rankings to allow Florida State to jump them to No. 2.
Both rankings have Ohio State No. 5 and Baylor No. 6, which helps validate the CFP selection committee’s collective opinion regarding the TCU-Baylor debate. Both have the same record from the same conference and Baylor won the head-to-head meeting between the two, but the committee has given TCU the edge from the start thanks to a superior body of work in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
The BCS formula gave TCU the same edge, also prioritizing strength of schedule and body of work ahead of a head-to-head showdown. The selection committee has said it will only use head-to-head as a tiebreaker if the two teams in question are even in every other way. The BCS slotting TCU multiple spots ahead of Baylor shows the two teams are not even in every way, at least not by the variables that make up the BCS formula.
It will be interesting to see if the committee or the formula show Baylor any love if it wins against No. 9 Kansas State this weekend to close the season. Would that win do enough to consider the two teams even after this weekend? We’ll see on Sunday afternoon.
It will also be interesting to see the differences in how the committee and the BCS handle Ohio State and its third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. The committee will be able to use its human element to interpret Ohio State’s worth following Jones’ first start on Saturday, and if OSU wins it will be able to decide for itself whether the team as a whole is worthy of a spot in the top 4.
The BCS, on the other hand, will not be able to interpret anything more than the score and the opponent. This could help Ohio State if Jones plays terribly in a victory, or it could hurt the Buckeyes if Jones play tremendous but TCU and Baylor win more convincingly. Again, we will have to see how it all shakes out this weekend.
Considering four of the six teams atop the CFP rankings will play in conference title games this weekend, there’s a serious possibility one or more of those teams will lose, giving a two-loss team an outside shot at cracking the top 4 if chaos ensues (and college football is prone to chaotic events). So let’s also take a look at the highest-ranked two loss teams in both sets of rankings and see which rankings gave certain teams an edge.
The CFP has Arizona as its best two-loss team, while the BCS continues to show the SEC love by slotting Mississippi State as its highest-ranked two-loss team. Both of the Bulldogs’ losses came on the road to teams ranked in the top 12, while Arizona’s two losses both came to teams ranked No. 15 or worse. It appears the BCS is more impressed with the quality of Mississippi State’s losses, while the selection committee continues to reward the Wildcats for quality wins over Oregon, Utah and Arizona State.
That difference of opinion does not begin to shine through until analyzing the two-loss teams. The selection committee has been enamored with who teams have beaten and what kind of game control they maintained in those wins. The BCS, however, doesn’t take game control into account at all, and thus weighs bad losses more heavily than quality wins.
It will also be interesting to see how the CFP and the BCS handle a one-loss team losing this weekend. If enough teams from the top 6 lose, a team like Alabama might be able to take on a second loss this weekend and still remain in the top 4 ahead of a team like Arizona, depending on how the selection committee views the entire body of work.
The BCS always penalized teams that lost late in the year while rewarding teams that worked their way back from early losses to resurface atop the polls. Thus, any one-loss team that takes on a second loss this weekend would stand to benefit from the selection committee’s subjective interpretations as opposed to the stone-cold BCS.
There’s only one weekend left before the CFP rankings officially decide the playoff field and the New Year’s Six bowl participants. However, a lot can happen this weekend to overhaul both these sets of rankings.
The order of the teams may change, but the differences in criteria between the two sets of rankings will not. The CFP will continue to subjectively analyze body of work and game control, and the BCS will continue to objectively evaluate win-loss record and recency of those wins and losses.
But because both rankings feature the same top 4 teams, it seems, for now, those four teams control their own destiny to reach the playoff, and they’d be able to say the same even if the BCS were still selecting playoff teams in 2014.