Hayes: Who's No. 1? It's Tennessee -- and it's obvious. Or should be, anyway
You can’t convince me anyone other than Tennessee deserves to be No. 1 Tuesday when the first College Football Playoff poll is released.
You can’t convince me it’s defending national champion Georgia, with Stetson Bennett still throwing lollipops.
You can’t convince me it’s Ohio State, which has been gifted a free pass this season until Nov. 26 — and nearly gagged it away against an average Penn State team in the Buckeyes’ first “test” of the season.
You can’t convince me it’s Clemson, which needed a phantom personal foul call last week against — I’m laughing as I type this — Syracuse, to stay unbeaten.
You might convince me about Michigan, but résumé vs. résumé, the Wolverines can’t compare. Yet.
Frankly, I don’t really know what the argument is for the 11 good men and women on the Playoff selection committee.
Best win of the season? Tennessee (vs. Alabama).
Record vs. ranked teams at the time of the game? Tennessee: 5-0 (Pitt, Florida, LSU, Alabama, Kentucky). Average margin of victory vs. ranked teams: 16 points.
Strength of schedule? I’ll give you a hint: It’s the team rolling through the best conference in college football.
The Playoff committee likes to talk about metrics used in determining its Top 25 poll. What are the metrics, you ask?
Great question. Because I’m not sure the committee itself knows the metrics.
They’ll talk about strength of schedule, record vs. winning teams, good wins, bad wins, good losses and bad losses. Basically, the metrics Tennessee crushes.
You know what metric the Vols don’t? The We’ve Been Here Before metric. This is where Ohio State, despite playing 1 legitimate opponent (and nearly throwing up on itself), resides.
Same with Clemson, which other than Alabama, has appeared in the Playoff more than any other program. Are you really going to look at the Clemson résumé, and tell me that’s one of the 4 best teams in college football?
The idea behind the Playoff committee waiting until November to release the first poll is it gives everyone a fresh and unbiased look at the field. Sort of a blind test, if you will — where everyone’s résumé is lined up and it’s fairly easy to determine which team should be on the 1-line Tuesday night.
But there’s a teeny-weeny problem with that seemingly innocent process: the eye test. The eye test, everyone, wins in the end.
Every. Single. Time.
I know this because years ago I sat in the first Playoff mock selection committee produced by the CFP. You know, here’s how we go about the process, now you and your colleagues go through a specific season and see how your ranking compares to the real ranking.
This wasn’t about comparing polls, it was — and still is to this day — about the human condition. At the end of the day, voters can be given actual factual evidence and still go against it.
My mock colleagues and I used the 2008 season, when Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech all finished with 11-1 records, and Oklahoma was selected to the Big 12 Championship Game (and eventually the BCS National Championship Game) because of its higher BCS ranking.
This, of course, happened despite Texas beating Oklahoma by 10 in October. Texas lost, in the final seconds, at Texas Tech, and Oklahoma routed Texas Tech at home.
Yet I sat there and watched colleague after colleague argue that Oklahoma deserved to be in the BCS National Championship Game because — are you ready for this? — the Sooners looked better than the Longhorns in the weeks after losing to Texas by 10.
I tell you these things because you need to know that no matter how efficient and prolific the Tennessee offense has become under coach Josh Heupel and QB Hendon Hooker, it won’t matter to some voters. No matter how many games against ranked teams the Vols have won, or how Tennessee began a stretch run of critical games with a 44-6 rout of No. 19 Kentucky, it doesn’t matter to some voters.
What matters, over everything, is the human condition. The We’ve Been Here Before eye test.
If you don’t believe it, please explain the current Associated Press poll of media members covering college football, and the coaches poll. Three of the top 5 teams in each poll (No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 5 Clemson) have, maybe, 3 significant wins between them.
Other than that? A whole lot of nothing.
Then there’s No. 3 Tennessee and its résumé, which got stronger with the rout of Kentucky. The Wildcats had the No.12 scoring defense in the nation (16.4 ppg.), and hadn’t given up more than 24 points all season.
Tennessee had 27 at halftime.
The Vols went into the game ranked No. 130 in the nation in pass defense, their only real weakness. They had 3 interceptions and 4 sacks and held the Wildcats to 98 yards passing and 205 total yards in their most complete game of the season.
Tennessee is getting better and becoming more dangerous with each passing week. The Vols travel to Georgia next weekend in a game that will remove all doubt about the nation’s No. 1 team — one way or the other.
If you still want to use an eye test, consider this: Tennessee, with its overwhelming offense and a defense that gets better each week, is looking more and more like another team of recent memory that got hot and rolled to a national title.
That would be 2019 LSU.
How’s that for an eye test?