The Playoff Committee has the rankings right, it just can't explain them
After the last 2 weeks of the College Football Playoff rankings, the biggest point of contention among college football media and fans has involved 3 Big Ten teams: Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.
How, they wonder, can the head-to-head matchup matter for Ohio State and Oregon but not for Michigan and Michigan State?
And when Rece Davis asks committee chair Gary Barta about it, he dances around the question instead of clearly laying out the logic. He stumbles through some answer about Michigan being the more complete team, only infuriating fans and media even more.
Barta needs to do a better job of explaining these rankings, which after Tuesday night still have OSU, Michigan and MSU in spots 4, 6 and 7. The Committee has them right (or at least they are defensible), but he doesn’t communicate why, so I’ll do it for him.
Just because these are both head-to-head arguments, it doesn’t mean the results are equal. And that’s not to invalidate Michigan State beating Michigan, because that was an awesome game with a ton of drama. And maybe that’s the biggest feather in No. 3 Oregon’s cap: there wasn’t a ton of drama. It was a dominant win in which Ohio State never could make a run.
Consider a few things:
- Michigan State won at home, while Oregon won on the road.
- Michigan State trailed for 44:15 against Michigan; Oregon never trailed against Ohio State.
- Michigan State benefited from a terrible call that took a Michigan touchdown off the board, one that the Big Ten eventually admitted it messed up; Oregon instead had terrible luck, with its top 2 defenders missing the game due to injury.
So, you can see why the Committee might view Oregon’s win in a little different light than Michigan State’s win. The Spartans very easily could’ve lost at home. The Ducks dominated on the road. Why is that so hard for so many in the media to understand? Well, partly because Barta doesn’t frame the discussion that way.
But I think it’s also a bigger part of society that views everything in short bursts on social media and doesn’t like nuance. There has to be some nuance in these rankings. It can’t simply be about who beats who, especially when these are divisional rivals with 8 common opponents. That is so much data to examine and use in ranking these teams. And at this stage of this season, it can’t just be about who beat who, because then the Committee would tie itself in a pretzel trying to figure this out.
That’s another big difference with Ohio State’s loss to Oregon — they have no other common opponents. That makes it very, very difficult to compare them. That’s why I liked that the Committee didn’t move Ohio State ahead of Oregon, even after a ridiculously good performance against then-No. 19 Purdue. That’s why I don’t think Ohio State should leap Oregon after wins against Michigan State and Michigan. As long as both of these are 1-loss teams, I believe those rankings should hold. It’s besides the point that Ohio State seems like the team with the best chance to take down Georgia.
With Michigan and Michigan State, however, those rankings are obviously fluid. If Michigan State beats or nearly beats Ohio State, then that changes things. But right now, for as good of a season that the Spartans are having, they have no leg up on Michigan other than winning a game in which they trailed for 3 quarters and probably would’ve lost on a neutral field or without a blown call. Michigan State has been out-gained in 5 out of 10 games this season; Michigan has been out-gained once. Both teams have top-3o offenses, while Michigan has a top-10 defense and Michigan State is 110th. Barta isn’t wrong when he says Michigan is the more well-rounded team.
So it’s not exactly preposterous to rank Michigan ahead of Michigan State, or Oregon ahead of Ohio State. The signs are there. It’s too bad Barta can’t explain the reasoning.