Takeaways from the third Playoff rankings of 2021
Three down, 3 to go.
Sorry. That came off a bit too negative.
It’s not that I dislike Tuesday night rankings shows. After all, they generate conversation and as someone who directly benefits from said conversation, I don’t hate it. You’re not reading this column unless you’re captivated by that conversation.
But yeah, it’s not my favorite part of this great sport. Listening to Gary Barta defend the selection committee while also not saying anything is, in many ways, like watching a senseless targeting ejection. It’s the type of thing that no matter what side of it you’re on, you never come out really feeling particularly good.
Again, though, that’s too negative.
Here are my takeaways from the unofficial halfway point of the Playoff rankings season:
1. We wanted boring, they gave us boring
I always wonder what the selection committee does for all that time they spend in a room looking at each other when the top 7 is unchanged.
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 17, 2021
Part of me wishes that the selection committee moved Michigan back behind Michigan State, just to show that they actually hear the public criticism. Then again, week-to-week consistency isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Hand up here. I actually got this wrong. I thought we’d see the selection committee double down on the Michigan love and move the Wolverines to No. 5 and drop Cincinnati back to No. 6 after a somewhat lackluster showing against lowly USF. That didn’t happen, though.
After this week? We’re likely going to see some change in the top 7. No. 2 Alabama faces No. 21 Arkansas, No. 3 Oregon plays at No. 23 Utah and No. 4 Ohio State faces No. 7 Michigan State. Of course, 2 of those matchups involve 3-score spreads. Still, though. This feels like the calm before the storm.
2. I think the cutoff is at No. 9
As in, those are the only teams who can make the Playoff. History supports that, too. No. 9 is the lowest that an eventual Playoff team has been ranked this late in the season. That was 2015 Michigan State, who beat No. 3 Ohio State and ultimately won the Big Ten Championship … only to get shut out by Alabama in the Playoff semifinal.
But you knew this.
If the cutoff is at No. 9 with Oklahoma State, consider it all the more maddening that those of us watching the rankings show had to endure 12 minutes (!) of discussion before we even reached that point. I realize the rest of the Top 25 matters for these other teams, but I don’t need a breakdown of why the No. 18 team in the country is getting the passing game going. Just give me the rankings.
Ok, soap box over.
The cutoff is at No. 9 because Oklahoma State has a chance to add victories against Oklahoma and either Oklahoma or Baylor in the Big 12 Championship. If the Cowboys somehow pull off that sweep, there will be a legitimate conversation about whether that’s enough to vault past a team like unbeaten Cincinnati or a 1-loss, non-Big Ten champion.
After that, though? Wake Forest winning the ACC with 1 loss won’t be enough. Only one of those remaining teams is ranked and it’s No. 18 Pitt. Compare that to 2015 Michigan State, who beat an undefeated Ohio State team in Columbus to vault into the top 4. Don’t waste your money putting futures on teams outside of that top 9.
3. For all those people crying about SEC bias …
This Playoff ranking actually hurt your narrative, SEC bias people. Why?
- Highest-ranked 0-loss team: SEC (Georgia)
- Highest-ranked 1-loss team: SEC (Alabama)
- Highest-ranked 2-loss team: Big 12 (Baylor)
- Highest-ranked 3-loss team: Big Ten (Wisconsin)
And sure, if the SEC bias crowd wants to cry about 4-loss Mississippi State being the lone 6-4 team in the field, tell me this. Doesn’t it make sense to reward a team with multiple wins against the current CFP Top 25? MSU has victories against 4 Power 5 teams with a winning record. That’s more than all of those contenders outside of Georgia, who also has 4 such wins.
But yeah, tell me why Minnesota or Clemson deserves that treatment when they each have 1 win against a Power 5 team with a winning record.
4. The conference supremacy argument again favors the SEC
Here’s the conference-by-conference breakdown of Top 25 teams:
- SEC: 6
- Big Ten: 5
- Big 12: 3
- ACC: 3
- Pac-12: 2
- AAC: 2
- Independent: 2
- Conference-USA: 1
- Mountain West: 1
What does this tell us? The SEC and Big Ten are going to send at least 1 team, and there’s still a possibility for 2. I mean, the 2 leagues make up 44% of the Top 25. At this point, those are the only 2 conferences who have bids locked in. The Big 12 is an Oklahoma State loss from missing out, the Pac-12 is an Oregon loss from missing out and the ACC, well, the ACC should just assume it already missed out.
Houston making the Top 25 was nice to finally see for Cincinnati, who would love the chance to add another quality victory in the AAC Championship. At the same time, it doesn’t look like a 2-loss Houston team would be in the Top 25 on Selection Sunday even though the Cougars are at No. 17 in both the AP and Coaches polls.
Cincinnati has a tricky spot this weekend against an 8-2 SMU team. But win that and there’s certainly a path there for the Bearcats.
5. A bold early prediction? The selection committee will give us a new 3-7 next week
Ok, so that’s not that bold. But again, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 all play ranked teams. If Alabama wins against No. 21 Arkansas, the Tide won’t go anywhere. After that is where it should get interesting.
What if No. 3 Oregon beats No. 23 Utah and No. 4 Ohio State beats No. 7 Michigan State? Would the selection committee dare rank the Buckeyes ahead of the Ducks and pull another “that game didn’t actually happen” justification? I wouldn’t rule it out. I also won’t rule out the possibility that Michigan jumps Cincinnati after beating another Power 5 opponent. Remember, the selection committee praised Ohio State for its Maryland win. The same could be true of Michigan.
Silly, I know.
Tuesday night was the most boring ranking yet. The good news? Next week’s probably won’t be.
The other good news? Only 2 more Tuesday rankings shows.