Takeaways from the third Playoff poll of 2019
Third time’s the charm?
I imagine that was the motto of the selection committee as it put together this week’s Playoff rankings. Not surprisingly, the first 2 rankings made everyone upset. Alabama, Baylor, Clemson, Georgia, Minnesota, Penn State and basically everyone have all been the subject of people getting big mad online about either a lack of respect or too much respect.
In other words, consider yourself lucky if you haven’t been mad about your team’s ranking yet.
Instead of just breaking down who should be mad and who shouldn’t be after a rather inactive weekend as it relates to the polls, I decided to look big picture with a few of these things.
Here’s what I took away from the third Playoff poll:
1. So about that Alabama ranking …
Did you expect Tua Tagovailoa-less Alabama to just fall off the face of the earth? I didn’t. Oregon, Utah and Alabama all faced 4-win teams while Minnesota suffered its first loss and Penn State beat a better-than-you-realize Indiana team by 7 at home. No. 5 made sense for Alabama to stay at.
Did we think that Oklahoma was going to jump pass Alabama for winning a game in which it entered as a double-digit favorite? Based on what we’ve seen from the selection committee the first 2 weeks as it relates to their respective résumés, I didn’t, though I can certainly make the case for why the Sooners should be ahead of Alabama (more on that later), but I thought No. 9 was a bit of a tough draw coming off the Baylor comeback.
What I’m more interested in was not about Alabama’s current ranking, but about what it would mean down the road if a Tagovailoa-less Alabama squad blew out Auburn and made its Playoff case heard.
I harkened back to what the selection committee said about Ohio State star Chase Young. He was someone who was mentioned by name when chairman Rob Mullens justified the Buckeyes’ No. 1 ranking in the first Playoff poll. So naturally when he was still suspended at the release of last week’s poll, Mullens was asked about his potential absence or how missing stars would impact setting up a potential Playoff matchup.
“Part of the committee’s role is to make sure we’re aware of who plays in games,” Mullens said last week on the post-rankings teleconference. “We don’t project (future games), we just look at who plays in the games, so we are aware of what players are in the games.”
Mullens also added that watching Ohio State, they made note of Young’s absence but even without him, it was still a dominant win against Maryland.
So naturally, Mullens was asked about the Alabama’s outlook without Tagovailoa.
“It was certainly a part of the discussion. We’re aware of how the games unfold, and we’re aware of key injuries to players in the game,” Mullens said. “But, again, for this week we noticed that Alabama still carried on to a convincing win.”
That suggests if Alabama looks the part and dominates against Auburn, not having Tagovailoa won’t necessarily keep the Crimson Tide out of the Playoff. It’s not their job to project, as Jesse Palmer said.
The weak résumé will likely have a much bigger factor in determining the Crimson Tide’s Playoff fate.
2. Yes, LSU still deserved that No. 1 spot
There’s a difference between seeing a team has a flaw and saying it isn’t deserving of being No. 1. Some wondered if the Tigers’ horrific defensive performance against Ole Miss was going to be enough to drop them from the top spot.
I, however, went in a different direction.
You can say that Ohio State or perhaps even Clemson are more complete teams right now. I have no problem with that argument. But if we’re ranking teams in mid-November, this is about your résumé. I continue to say that LSU’s résumé is one of the best we’ve seen in the Playoff era, and that’s for a team who still has games against potentially 2 more ranked teams.
The Tigers have the most impressive win of anyone (at Alabama), they won a pair of other games against legitimate current top-25 teams (Auburn and Florida) and they went on the road in nonconference play and beat a Texas team that isn’t ranked, but at least has a winning record.
Sorry, but as of right now, that’s better than Ohio State’s résumé, which is highlighted by home wins against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. If the Buckeyes roll through Penn State, Michigan and Minnesota then we’ll talk. But for now, the argument should go to LSU.
3. And a reminder about No. 4 Georgia
Stop. Dwelling. On. The. Loss.
It’s still not about strength of loss. I’m sorry to Oregon, Penn State, Alabama, Utah and Minnesota fans, but it’s about Top 25 wins (current Top 25). Right now, the Dawgs have 3 of those, 2 of which were away from Sanford Stadium.
It’s wasted time to pound the table over Georgia losing to South Carolina because the selection committee isn’t concerned about a 1-game scenario involving a bad team. It wants to see how you stack up with the elite foes. That’s why Georgia continues to get the benefit of the doubt over other 1-loss teams.
This is still extremely straightforward for Georgia — win 3 games and make the Playoff. As they continue to say, every game is a Playoff game at this point. There’s something to be said for having that mindset this time of year.
In my opinion, the Dawgs hold the keys to the SEC getting multiple teams in the Playoff. LSU, if it enters the SEC Championship unbeaten, will have earned a Playoff spot before it takes the field at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Based on what the selection committee continues to say about Georgia’s résumé, it’s clear that if it wins out, it’ll be in and if it doesn’t, well, better luck next year.
4. Your numbers to remember
If you read this takeaways column regularly, you know I put together a weekly chart of 3 metrics for the 1-loss/unbeaten Power 5 teams remaining — wins vs. Power 5 teams with winning records, wins vs. current AP Top 25 teams and margin of victory vs. Power 5 teams.
As I always say, it allows me to be unbiased without defaulting to some FPI metric that I’m not sure is based on anything that makes any sense. It covers 3 things that I believe the selection committee values highly, including the infamous “eye test,” which they should really chalk up to margin of victory against Power 5 teams.
So, here’s where we are:
WINS VS. POWER 5 TEAMS WITH WINNING RECORDS
- Clemson: 4
- LSU: 4
- Penn State: 4
- Baylor: 3
- Georgia: 3
- Oklahoma: 3
- Ohio State: 2
- Oregon: 2
- Alabama: 1
- Minnesota: 1
- Utah: 1
WINS VS. CURRENT AP TOP 25 TEAMS
- Georgia: 3
- LSU: 3
- Ohio State: 2
- Penn State: 2
- Alabama: 1
- Baylor: 1
- Clemson: 1
- Minnesota: 1
- Oklahoma: 1
- Oregon: 0
- Utah: 0
AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY VS. POWER 5 TEAMS
- Ohio State: +40
- Clemson: +33.3
- Alabama: +24.9
- Utah: +23.9
- Minnesota: +19.3
- Oklahoma: +17.5
- Penn State: +16.1
- Oregon: +15.9
- Georgia: +14.8
- LSU: +14.4
- Baylor: +6.9
A couple things stand out with those.
LSU and Georgia’s margin of victory might be low, but the fact that they both now each have 3 wins against current top-25 teams matters more. And for as much heat as Clemson has been getting for the schedule, I don’t think we should overlook the fact that it has as many wins vs. Power 5 teams as anyone, and with an average margin of victory of 33.3 points to go along with it.
I get that the selection committee still has Oklahoma behind Alabama because it essentially will put it all on the Big 12 Championship, but at this point, should it? I mean, the Sooners are 7 points behind the Crimson Tide in average margin of victory vs. P5 opponents, but they’re tied in wins vs. current AP Top 25 teams and Oklahoma has 3 wins vs. Power 5 teams with winning records to Alabama’s 1. To me, that should matter more.
But hey, that’s just my unbiased, numbers-based opinion.
5. Who would I bet on to make the field at this point?
It’s a fascinating question. It’s probably the only question.
Based on what we’ve seen so far from the selection committee and how they’ve handled résumés that are essentially 80% locked in, my current guess is:
- Ohio State
If you’re wondering about Oregon hurdling people, remember that this is a team that still has the chance to become the first Power 5 team in the Playoff era to go 9-0 in conference play with a conference championship victory. That, to me, would give Oregon the trump card over the likes of Oklahoma and Alabama. This isn’t as much about the ever-overrated strength of loss, but the fact that the Ducks’ lone blemish came on a last-minute play on a neutral-site against a top-25 team helps.
And no, I don’t think Alabama having a common opponent win against Auburn should be a decider. Oregon, if it is sitting there with a conference title and 1 loss, will have more wins against Power 5 teams with winning records and at least just as many wins vs. current top-25 teams (A&M will likely won’t be ranked unless it wins either at Georgia or at LSU).
But what do I think would happen to Oregon if 1-loss Georgia beat undefeated LSU in the SEC Championship? Georgia and LSU are both in and Oregon is out for the simple fact that both teams will have more quality wins by a significant amount with just as many losses as the Ducks.
Ok, enough hypotheticals. Let’s just get to December.