Resume or eye test: How will the B1G be judged in the College Football Playoff rankings?
Do you remember the one nice thing about the Bowl Championship Series?
It was easy to point out the many flaws of the system, the rankings and how bowl bids were determined. Constantly, people were complaining about the complicated system and how difficult it was to understand. Basically, a complex computer committee was rating each team through a series of algorithms that would leave a computer science major scratching his head.
Yeah, that was awful. People griped and complained about nearly aspect of it. But it did have one positive, and it may have been the one thing fans hated the most.
See, computers don’t have eyes. They don’t care how a team looks from one Saturday to another and they aren’t interested in how games are won or lost. A Hail Mary play that bounced off six defenders and landed in the hands of a receiver for a last-second win is valued the same as a team that was ahead five scores most of the game and got burnt for a few touchdowns late because second-string guys were getting some garbage time.
It was college football’s Scantron machine. There wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle room or grey area. Maybe it wasn’t ideal, but we knew that everyone was being graded the same. There weren’t different rules for different teams or conferences. The evaluations went through the same process.
All the complaining, all the quirks and nuisances eventually landed the College Football Playoff and a 12-person committee. One that could watch games, deliberate on the outcomes and weigh-in factors like injuries, officiating and overall performance. Basically, the eye-test became a factor in the decision-making process.
How does this tie-in to the B1G? Be patient, I’m getting there.
On Tuesday, as November sets in and we enter the final month of the season, the CFP committee will release its first rankings of 2016 on ESPN. While that poll is certainly not etched in stone with four weeks still remaining, you can’t help but wonder how the B1G – currently the best conference in college football – will be represented.
Let’s be frank: the B1G has dominated the top half of the Associated Press rankings since Week 5. Four teams – Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska – were ranked in the top 15 at the end of September. Since that time, the conference has tightened its grip as the best league in the country. In the seventh and eighth weeks of the season, all four squads were ranked in the top 10 spots, something that hadn’t happened in 56 years.
Since the final weekend in September, those four teams have been ranked 12th are higher, doubling the number of teams other conferences have ranked in spots N0. 1 through No. 12. After Michigan beat Michigan State, Ohio State survived Northwestern and Wisconsin defeated Nebraska in OT, the B1G now has four teams in the top nine.
Will the committee feel the same way, though? Do they believe that one conference – and one that isn’t the SEC – is really worthy of having four teams in the top 10? And if so, how long will it last?
There’s still this swirling belief that the B1G is overrated. That this is a league that is top-heavy with Michigan and Ohio State leading the way and everyone else is nothing more than a pretender. It’s entirely possible that could be the case. I don’t think it will be. Through nine weeks of the season, it hasn’t been.
Michigan has dominated everyone in its path. Even with a late scare from Michigan State on Saturday, the Wolverines held a three-touchdown lead most of the game and really didn’t play that well. Ohio State didn’t look too impressive against Northwestern, but road wins over Oklahoma and Wisconsin are nice resume boosters. Wisconsin is 2-2 against teams ranked in the AP top 10, and Nebraska’s only loss came to the Badgers in OT at Camp Randall Stadium.
On paper, those are some pretty impressive credentials.
The Buckeyes haven’t looked as sharp over the past three weeks as they did through the first month of the season. They’ve notched some nice wins, but a loss to Penn State and a close victory over Northwestern don’t scream national title contender.
On the same level, Nebraska has looked somewhat of a ho-hum type of team. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Huskers are 7-1 and are doing some nice things on both sides of the football. But they have also looked sluggish in games against Illinois, Indiana and Purdue. The early season win over Oregon in the final minutes also doesn’t carry quite the same weight as it did in mid-September.
Wisconsin has looked good – really good – especially on the defensive side of the ball. The two losses – Michigan and Ohio State – were decided by a touchdown in each game. Despite a pair of losses, you could argue that the Badgers have looked better than all but a handful of teams in the country.
What does the committee find important?
You can’t really do an evaluation on resume and by the eye test. When you do that, you’re inadvertently establishing a system doomed for a double-standard. You’re basing decisions on one aspect for some teams and judging other squads by an entirely different metric. That’s not going to work.
That’s where my concern for the B1G comes into play.
For Michigan, there really isn’t any issue at this point. The Wolverines are safe on both sides of the table. Wins over Colorado, Wisconsin and Penn State look good on the resume and they’ve looked comparable to an NFL team on a weekly basis. Right now, the only competition Michigan has is with Alabama for the top spot.
As for everyone else? That’s a little more unclear.
If you’re evaluating by the eye test, Nebraska and the October version of Ohio State probably don’t impress you too much. If you’re judging resume, Wisconsin has those two losses that I’ve mention eight times already. It presents an interesting scenario for the CFP committee and how it will handle the overwhelming amount of talent from the B1G at the top of the chain.
With the BCS gone, there are multiple ways teams get evaluated. With the human element involved, it’s highly unlikely that each team is evaluated by the same standards, rules and guidelines. That’s just what happens. In that regard, at least the computers were fair.
Again, the release of the first rankings typically isn’t a big deal.
Sure, it provides a spark of excitement as we enter the home stretch of the season. The rankings provide us with an incite of how the committee views each team through two months of the season and gives us a better idea of what every team needs to do in order to land one of the four bids in the College Football Playoff at the end of the regular season. There are still four weeks left, so what we see on Tuesday won’t be identical to what comes out in December.
To make things even calmer, there shouldn’t be any surprises. With Alabama on the bye and Michigan, Clemson and Washington all winning by single-digits on the road there shouldn’t be much shuffling in the top four spots, anyway. The real discussion comes from the sixth spot and beyond. That’s where we’ll find out how highly this committee thinks of the B1G.
Depending on where those four teams fall, B1G fans might find themselves wishing the BCS computers were still making the decision on this.
I guess we’ll find out on Tuesday.