The Big Ten’s College Football Playoff rankings don’t make sense in relation to the SEC
In the preseason, if you had told the Big Ten that with three weeks left in the regular season that it would have three teams in the top nine — including one of the top two — it would’ve been ecstatic. If you had told the Big Ten that it would have five in the top 15 and six in the top 20, it would’ve been ecstatic.
So why did Tuesday night’s second reveal of the CFP rankings seem like a little bit of a letdown?
Minnesota made history with the largest jump into the top 10 after it moved up to No. 8 from No. 17, tying the 2017 Stanford squad for the second-largest one-week leap (behind only 2017 Michigan State, which moved up 12 spots). Penn State dropped from No. 4 to No. 9, and Ohio State fell to No. 2 from No. 1. Wisconsin (14th), Michigan (15th) and Iowa (20th) round out the Big Ten’s teams.
It goes without saying, but this will all sort itself out on the field (in all likelihood), and these current rankings won’t matter in a few weeks. Yada, yada, yada. But there’s a reason the CFP committee is releasing these each Tuesday… because it’s fun! The rankings promote discussion. So, let’s discuss.
I don’t understand the Big Ten’s rankings, especially as they relate to the SEC.
First of all, I’m perfectly fine with Ohio State falling to No. 2. That’s a great win by LSU, and it now has wins in the stadiums of two of the top 19. The Tigers have been impressive in every way. But then I have some questions.
I don’t understand Minnesota (9-0) at No. 8 and Penn State (8-1) at No. 9, and I don’t understand Georgia (8-1) at No. 4 and Alabama (8-1) at No. 5. For starters, two of those teams lost at home, and it wasn’t Minnesota or Penn State. Plus, in Georgia’s case, the loss was to a third-string quarterback of a team that just lost to a Group of Five squad and will likely finish 4-8.
The SEC has the highest-ranked undefeated team, it has the two highest-ranked one-loss teams and it has the two highest-ranked two-loss teams. Clearly, the CFP committee views the SEC in a different light than every other conference. Those five teams are all good teams, but why is the conference lifted up that way? The rest of the league has underperformed in non-conference play.
Need I remind you that Tennessee lost to Georgia State and BYU? That South Carolina lost to UNC and Appalachian State? That Missouri lost to Wyoming? That Vanderbilt lost to Purdue and UNLV (and beat a 3-6 MAC team by just six!)? That Mississippi State lost to Kansas State? That Ole Miss lost to Memphis? That Arkansas lost to San Jose State and Western Kentucky? Every conference has embarrassing losses, but you can really start poking holes in this “SEC is superior to everyone else” narrative rather quickly. The SEC has had some great years, no doubt, but it has struggled outside of its top teams this year.
Aside from Illinois losing to Eastern Michigan, what is the Big Ten’s greatest sin? Maryland losing by three at Temple? Purdue losing at Nevada by 3? Northwestern, by the way, beat that same UNLV squad that Vandy lost to by 16.
The SEC has eight losses to non-Power Five programs by a total of 84 points; the Big Ten has three such losses by a total of nine points. The SEC is 6-5 against non-conference Power Five programs (including Notre Dame), with those five losses by a total of 51 points; the Big Ten is 5-5, with those five losses by a total of 49 points.
And yet, here we are again, with the SEC having three of the top five for the third time in CFP history. That’s never happened even once for another conference. And two of those three teams simply don’t have the resume to be ranked that high.
Georgia beating Notre Dame by six at home is being labeled by the CFP committee as one of the Bulldogs’ two quality wins. Well, what if I told you the Big Ten’s fifth-best team beat Notre Dame by 31? If quality wins are the standard, then Michigan also has two (along with two road losses to top-14 teams). If we’re comparing the SEC’s No. 2 team to the Big Ten’s No. 5 team and they are similar, shouldn’t that tell you something? And I don’t think Michigan should be anywhere near the CFP at this point. Georgia, in my eyes, would play itself into the top four if it beats Auburn and LSU in the SEC championship game, but shouldn’t that have to actually happen first?
Let’s also not overrate Alabama’s loss against LSU. Playing at home, the Crimson Tide did not lead for a single second, and they trailed by 20 at halftime. They pulled within five on an 85-yard touchdown with 1:21 left. How in the world is that a quality loss? To me, that isn’t two teams on equal footing; that’s an inferior team hanging on for dear life and scoring on a long touchdown late to keep the score respectable — when there was never really any doubt as to who the better team was. It wasn’t a game that could’ve gone either way, like when Alabama and LSU went to OT in 2011 and then played again in the national championship. Alabama, playing at home, was an undoubtedly lesser team.
Minnesota, meanwhile, keeps humming along, knocking off the No. 4 team in the country. If the Golden Gophers were instead the “Fighting Irish” or the “Crimson Tide,” they would not be ranked eighth, and everyone knows it. I would personally put them at least in the top six, if not at No. 4, because they’ve earned that. But I’m not overly concerned since they’ll have their chance to prove they belong with Iowa and Wisconsin left, plus potentially either Ohio State or Penn State in the Big Ten title game.
My real issue is with Penn State at No. 9. The Nittany Lions have one loss, and it came on the road by five points at the current No. 8 team – and they were in the red zone with a chance to win the game on the final possession. They’ve beaten two of the top 20. Alabama does not have a win against a currently ranked team. Why are the Crimson Tide so far ahead then, when quality wins are supposed to matter? (At least that’s what we’re told for Minnesota.) For that matter, neither do No. 6 Oregon or No. 7 Utah.
These rankings are supposed to be a weekly snapshot, but it feels like one conference is given the benefit of the doubt at the expense of everyone else. If this is how the committee is going to rank these teams, maybe it’s time for an eight-team CFP. And I say that as someone currently opposed to an eight-game playoff.
At some point, these games have to mean something. Or else, what’s the point? Are we just going to go by 247Sports recruiting rankings? Or the preseason AP poll? Because that’s what it feels like.