Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hard to Explain Away SEC Bias

So preseason rankings do matter after all?

While the selection committee's top seven teams stayed exactly the same Tuesday, chairman Jeff Long's explanations for the latest College Football Playoff rankings are beginning to defy both logic and the committee's own procedural guidelines.

Last week he introduced the concept of "game control" to justify Alabama's No. 1 ranking, and this week he came up with "quality loss" and one other whopper during the ESPN broadcast: It matters if a team is ranked when it is beaten.

Therefore, Alabama still gets credit for wins over LSU and Texas A&M though neither is now ranked, as does Mississippi State. This goes directly against the committee's protocol to look at the entire body of work and not rely on preseason perception.

Long later scrambled on a conference call with reporters to say that only the committee's own rankings matter, not the preseason and early-season variety as produced by the AP or Coaches Polls. The problem is that doesn't wash either.

By this criteria Mississippi State has beaten exactly zero teams as ranked by the committee at the time of the game, yet it's still at No. 4, ahead of other one-loss teams—TCU, Baylor and Ohio State—that have beaten committee-ranked opponents.

Maybe the problem is having these weekly announcements and the need to come up with tortured logic to explain rankings that are by no means a consensus. But since we're here to pick them apart, let's look at five more issues:

1. Is SEC bias creeping in?
Long's most controversial moves so far have been made to favor SEC teams—placing Alabama No. 1 ahead of Oregon and putting Mississippi State in the playoff field (as of now). The fact that he's the Arkansas athletic director does not help.

ESPN, the network that will televise all playoff games (not to mention all but one of the 39 bowl games), co-owns and operates the SEC Network. A conflict of interest will be suspected by all outside parties.

2. Winning is not enough, just ask Florida State
The scoreboard is taking a backseat to Game Control Theory™ and Quality Loss, two elements that the defending national champions have not been able to master. Because of their propensity to pull out last-minute wins (without a loss), the Seminoles continue to be banished to No. 3.

And while they've beaten three teams that were ranked at the time of the game (and two still currently ranked), that doesn't seem to matter either.

3. The committee loves Minnesota, and so does TCU
The Golden Gophers are certainly one of the feel-good stories of the season, and they're one win away from claiming the Big Ten West title. But the committee has taken that admiration to another level, putting Minnesota four spots higher than it is in the polls and about 12 higher than its average computer ranking.

This is all very lovely for TCU, however, as its 30-7 win over the Gophers early in the season is what prevents its head-to-head loss to Baylor from mattering, at least for now.

4. Who's afraid of Virginia Tech?
Ohio State's home loss to Virginia Tech looks worse every week, especially after the Hokies were shut out in regulation by 3-8 Wake Forest in last Saturday's desultory 6-3 two-overtime loss. But was it really that bad? Long said the committee doesn't view that 35-21 defeat against the now 5-6 Hokies as a terrible loss.

Virginia Tech was not ranked then (and of course it isn't now), but Long's response seems to suggest that the Buckeyes will be able to overcome that by winning the Big Ten championship.

5. Marshall is unbeaten and looks doomed
The committee finally put a group-of-five (actually two) team back in the rankings after snubbing those teams the past three weeks. But 11-0 Marshall is one spot behind 9-2 Boise State, and the remaining schedule certainly favors the Broncos to stay ahead.

The committee has made a big deal out of nonconference schedules, and Marshall's is admittedly weak (though that apparently doesn't apply to Mississippi State). But is Boise's strong enough to trump two losses?

Playoff Committee Rankings Comparison
RankTeamB/R MockAP Pollvs. T25 Then*vs. T25 Now
3Florida St.313-02-0
4Miss St.443-11-1
6Ohio St.672-02-0
10Michigan St.11101-20-2
12Kansas St.10111-21-2
13Arizona St.13134-11-1
16Ga. Tech17161-01-0
19Ole Miss15182-22-1
23Boise St.26250-10-1
* Ranked by AP/committee at time of game

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So why do you try so hard?