Making Sense of 1st Committee Rankings

First, a quick message to Washington Huskies fans, from a fellow Pac-12 alum, no less.

R-E-L-A-X.

Just because Washington is ranked behind Texas A&M in the initial College Football Playoff committee rankings, it means nothing. As in, diddly squat.

In some ways it’s entirely predictable that the committee would do something like this, ranking an unbeaten Power 5 conference leader behind a one-loss team. If its rankings totally mimic the two polls, which logically have the four unbeaten Power 5 teams ranked 1 through 4, what will we be talking about this week?

The playoff selection committee is now in its third season. But in case you’re still new at this, we’ll demystify it for you:

1) All rankings before the final rankings are meaningless

Try not to read anything, at all, from the weekly release. It’s a made-for-TV show. It’s designed to drum up interest. And the committee has done more and more outlandish things to stay relevant.

2) Disregard the committee chairman’s convoluted lingos

Jeff Long, the first CFP chair, invented “game control” and used all sorts of fancy jargons to justify the rankings each week. His successor Kirby Hocutt is doing more of the same. But at the end, it’s all garbage. Like in non-criminal jury trials, a unanimous decision isn’t required, and the foreman cannot always explain how each juror reached his or her decision. It’s 12 people voting on paper ballots, plain and simple.

3) The end result will look very different from the first release

If history is our guide, don’t expect more than one or two of these initial top four to be in the playoff field. In 2014, the first top four were Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss. At the end only FSU made the playoff, and the only SEC team that made the field wasn’t any of those three, but Alabama. Ohio State, ranked No. 16 in the first rankings, ended up winning it all.

In 2015, Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama were in the top four. Clemson and Alabama did end up meeting for the championship, but they were joined in the playoff by No. 7 Michigan State and No. 15 Oklahoma.

4) The committee does not respect Group of 5 teams

In the two-plus seasons of the CFP standings, no G5 team has ever been ranked higher than No. 15 in the standings. The two G5 teams that claimed the automatic berths in the New Years’ Six bowls were No. 20 (Boise State 2014) and No. 18 (Houston, 2015), respectively.

5) Don’t read too much into the recusal policy

There are five sitting ADs on the committee. And just like any NCAA selection committee, their teams will get preferential treatment despite a recusal policy. Just because that AD isn’t in the room when his team is being discussed doesn’t mean that the other 11 members won’t take care of him. After all, they have to spend considerable amount of time locked up with him in a conference room all season.

If there’s a close vote on the Clemson Tigers, think they were going to tell Dan Radakovich the bad news?

Game of the Week

Alabama (-7.5) at LSU

A rejuvenated LSU team with a healthy Leonard Fournette might pose the biggest challenge for Alabama in its quest to return to the playoff and repeat as national champions. Under interim coach Ed Orgeron the Tigers have won three straight and like ‘Bama had a bye week before the showdown under the lights in Death Valley. If LSU can somehow get some production out of its passing attack this may turn out to be a game.

Also keep an eye on

Nebraska at Ohio State (-17.5)

The Cornhuskers are coming off their first defeat of the season, an overtime loss at Wisconsin, yet still few believe in them (witness the point spread). The Buckeyes are reeling, with a loss to Penn State followed by barely surviving Northwestern at home. Ohio State must right its ship if it wants to return to the playoff after being left out last year. Nebraska, on the other hand, needs this win to keep its hopes of winning the Big Ten West alive.

Upset special

Florida (-4.5) at Arkansas

After dispatching Georgia, the Gators appear to have smooth sailing into the SEC championship game for a second straight year, but they still have some work to do. Arkansas has been disappointing this season, but it still has enough talent to knock off the SEC East leader. A Hogs victory will throw the eastern race into chaos as, gulp, Kentucky may emerge as the unlikely winner of that division.

Player to watch

Utah State at Wyoming (-6)

In his third year at Wyoming, coach Craig Bohl has completely rebuilt the program after being the architect of the current five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State. After upsetting Boise State last week, the Cowboys have the inside track to claim the Mountain West Mountain division, if they can win three of their final four regular-season games. A big reason for Wyoming’s renaissance this season is junior running back Brian Hill, who ran for 146 yards in the upset of the Broncos and is second in FBS in rushing yards, behind only San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey.

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