Rankings Review — Rivalry Week

Stability at the Top: As expected there was little change at the top of this week’s rankings. There was, in fact, no change among the top seven. Last week’s No. 8, Ole Miss, fell to No. 19 after an embarrassing loss to Arkansas on Saturday. That made room for Michigan State to climb back into the top ten.

Top Four

Marshall Gets Good News and Bad News: Marshall finally broke through this week and found itself ranked No. 24. But the Thundering Herd also found themselves one spot behind fellow “Group of Five” team Boise State. That’s significant because the highest ranked conference champ from a “Group of Five” conference will be invited to one of the premier bowl games.

Big Movers: Minnesota moved up from No. 25 to No. 18, and Arizona moved up from No. 15 to No. 11. As it now stands both the SEC and Pac-12 have four teams in the top 15; the Big Ten and the Big 12 each have three; and the ACC has just one.

Jeff Long Should Stop Talking: Jeff Long is the AD at Arkansas and chairman of the playoff selection committee. He is also not very good at explaining things. This week’s rankings lacked any meaningful controversy concerning the highest ranked teams, so Long apparently took it upon himself to generate some. He did so when he defended Mississippi State’s No. 4 ranking by referencing wins over “previously ranked opponents.” This generated two controversies. Who are these previously ranked opponents? What’s the significance of the fact that these teams had been previously ranked?

Mississippi State Has Not Beaten a Ranked Team Since Initial CFP Rankings Were Published: The playoff committee released its first rankings on October 28th. Since then Miss St has played Arkansas, UT-Martin, Alabama, and Vanderbilt. Alabama is the only team on that list that has ever appeared in the playoff committee’s rankings. Alabama, of course, beat Miss State. So Long’s reference to Mississippi St having wins over a “previously ranked opponents” could not possibly refer to an opponent who had been ranked by the committee before it played Miss St. This fact led many to assume that Long was referring to either the AP Poll or to the USA Today Coaches Poll. The problem with this is that the committee isn’t allowed to rely on such polls.

This Is Not ‘Nam. This is Football. There Are Rules: Though not often discussed, the committee is bound by protocol. The protocol is published on the CFP’s official website. One rule requires the committee to, “discredit polls wherein initial rankings are established before competition has occurred.” Both the AP and the Coaches Poll have preseason polls and, thus, must be discredited by the committee. The protocol also requires that the polls used by the committee “must be completely open and transparent to the public.” So to which polls or ranking systems was Long referring? He answered.

Don’t Be Fatuous, Jeffrey: “To clarify, when I refer to ‘ranked,’ I mean CFP-ranked.” There is just one way to interpret Long’s comments without making him out to be a liar. Miss St beat LSU on Sept 20th and Texas A&M on Oct 4th. The first CFP rankings were later published on Oct 10th. LSU appeared in the initial CFP rankings, and A&M appeared a couple of weeks later. Both have since fallen from the rankings. So, to be sure, LSU and A&M have both been “previously ranked,” and Miss St has beaten them both (though neither had been ranked before being beaten by Miss St). So, in this case at least, the “previously ranked opponents” are Texas A&M and LSU. Why not just say that? What’s the value of knowing the Miss St has beaten a couple of teams that climbed into the rankings after the game but later fell out of the rankings?

Wins Over Currently Ranked Opponents: Perhaps Long directed attention to Miss State’s “previously ranked opponents” because the Bulldogs haven’t fared so well against currently ranked opponents. The Bulldogs have just one win over currently ranked teams. TCU has three wins against currently ranked opponents; Ohio State and Baylor each have two. All three of these teams remained behind Miss State. It seems like the committee simply chooses the metric that best justifies its gut feelings.

One Thing is Clear: Long’s explanations require a lot of explaining.

Rank Them Yourself: (Stats and Rankings include all games played through 11/22/14).

Blind ResumeCheck Back Next Week: I’ll be taking a closer look at the selection protocol including the importance it places on strength of schedule and conference championships.

The Teams Revealed: Team A is Ohio State. Team B is Miss State. Team C is Baylor. Team D is TCU.

Go Bearcats!

By Rankings Guru: Rhett Lemmel