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College Football Playoff rankings reactions: WVU's spot is unfair, but understandable

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Oklahoma State v West Virginia Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

West Virginia is 8-1 and ranks No. 14 in the new Playoff rankings, behind six teams with two losses each and one team with three losses.

We’ve been assuming the Mountaineers are still in the race and will start really moving up soon, but they’re well behind where semifinalists like 2014 Ohio State and 2015 Oklahoma were at this point.

A win on Saturday over No. 9 Oklahoma and a theoretical boost for winning the conference championship would move WVU well inside the top 10, but anywhere near No. 4?

There’s an explanation for why WVU’s so low, whether we like it or not. First, the new rankings.

Rank Conference Prev week Week 11 result
1 Alabama, 10-0 SEC 1 W vs. Miss. State, 51-3
2 Ohio State, 9-1 Big Ten 5 W vs. Maryland, 62-3
3 Michigan, 9-1 Big Ten 3 L at Iowa, 14-13
4 Clemson, 9-1 ACC 2 L vs. Pitt, 43-42
5 Louisville, 9-1 ACC 6 W vs. Wake Forest, 44-12
6 Washington, 9-1 Pac-12 4 L vs. USC, 26-13
7 Wisconsin, 8-2 Big Ten 7 W vs. Illinois, 48-3
8 Penn State, 8-2 Big Ten 10 W at Indiana, 45-31
9 Oklahoma, 8-2 Big 12 11 W vs. Baylor, 45-24
10 Colorado, 8-2 Pac-12 12 W at Arizona, 49-24
11 Oklahoma State, 8-2 Big 12 13 W vs. Texas Tech, 45-44
12 Utah, 8-2 Pac-12 15 W at Arizona State, 49-26
13 USC, 7-3 Pac-12 20 W at Washington, 26-13
14 West Virginia, 8-1 Big 12 16 W at Texas, 24-20
15 Auburn, 7-3 SEC 9 L vs. Georgia, 13-7
16 LSU, 6-3 SEC 24 W at Arkansas, 38-10
17 Florida State, 7-3 ACC 18 W vs. Boston College, 45-7
18 Nebraska, 8-2 Big Ten 19 W vs. Minnesota, 24-17
19 Tennessee, 7-3 SEC NR W vs. Kentucky, 49-36
20 Boise State, 9-1 MWC 22 W at Hawaii, 52-16
21 Western Michigan, 10-0 MAC 21 W at Kent State, 37-21
22 Washington State, 8-2 Pac-12 23 W vs. Cal, 56-21
23 Florida, 7-2 SEC NR W vs. South Carolina, 20-7
24 Stanford, 7-3 Pac-12 NR W at Oregon, 52-27
25 Texas A&M, 7-3 SEC 8 L vs. Ole Miss, 29-28

Here’s the Playoff committee chairman on WVU:

Oklahoma also has no wins over currently ranked teams and lost to a currently unranked Houston, but that's apparently beside the point, for some reason. The Eers’ best wins are over 6-4 BYU, 5-4 Kansas State, 5-4 TCU, and 5-5 Texas, which is about the same story as OU.

Overall, this is where the Big 12’s abominable out-of-conference record is coming back to haunt it. WVU actually performed fine there, blowing out a bad Mizzou and beating a respectable BYU away from home, but the rest of the conference let it down.

TCU lost to Arkansas, Oklahoma State lost to Central Michigan (on a bad call, at least), Oklahoma lost to two good teams, Texas lost to Cal, Texas Tech lost to Arizona State, Baylor played cupcakes, Kansas State lost at Stanford (no shame there, though the Cardinal started the season slowly), Kansas lost to two mid-majors, and Iowa State lost to an FCS team.

Imagine how much better WVU’s resume would look right now if half those results had gone in the Big 12’s favor. This will also hurt OU or OSU, if either wins the conference. (Then again, if the Big 12 were good enough to win those games, would WVU be good enough to nearly lead it?)

Is West Virginia being punished for something beyond its control? Yep. Is that fair? Somewhat, though it's hard to understand why a team like Colorado is that far ahead of WVU.

The committee bases a huge portion of its judgment on schedule strength. Think about it: It’s a for-TV venture staffed largely by athletic directors, who all want teams to have incentive to schedule big, money-making games.

The message sent by ranking 7-3 USC, which chose to play Alabama, over teams with poorer records is this: If you play a big game, you have more to gain from it than to lose from it. A win over a ranked team will help you more than a loss to a ranked team will hurt you. WVU tends to schedule boldly, including Bama in 2014, and tried to schedule well by adding BYU and Mizzou this year, but got unlucky.

For what it’s worth, pure quality metrics agree the Mountaineers aren’t elites. S&P+ ranks them No. 29, and the Massey Composite says No. 17. And even if they finish 11-1, there could be four or more Power 5 champs with 13-0 or 12-1 records, since the Big 12 is the only major league that currently lacks a title game.

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Michigan jumped Clemson, and that’s reasonable.

Both teams took their first losses on Saturday, and they did it in similar fashion against teams that are now 6-4. Clemson lost on a last-second field goal at home to unranked Pitt, and Michigan did the same on the road at unranked Iowa.

A few weeks ago, when Clemson was first slotted above Michigan, it made sense.

Clemson’s beaten five FBS teams with winning records, and Michigan’s only beaten three. Clemson has three ranked wins, against Auburn, Louisville, and Florida State, while Michigan also has three: Colorado, Penn State, and Wisconsin.

Clemson has played a mildly better schedule, so there you have it.

What’s happened since then: Michigan’s best wins have improved, and Clemson’s have jogged in place. The Wolverines’ early season wins against No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 8 Penn State, and No. 10 Colorado look more brilliant with every passing week. Further down the schedule, UCF is a surprising 6-4; the committee counts wins over teams .500 or better as decent wins.

Clemson has a win against Auburn, but Auburn looked bad in a loss at Georgia. Florida State hasn’t done anything of consequence to make that win look better, and Louisville, while great, lagged for three quarters before routing Wake Forest.

Depending on how conference championships wrap up, Michigan and Clemson might be transposed again before this is all settled. But for now, it’s hard to gripe about the Wolverines getting a higher ranking.

We get why Boise State’s ahead of WMU, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

The last ranking saw Western Michigan at 21 and Boise at 22, with WMU leading the race to represent the Group of 5 in the Cotton Bowl.

The teams are flipped this week, with 9-1 Boise at 20 and 10-0 WMU at 21. This is after both beat bad teams easily, although Boise’s 52-16 romp against Hawaii was better than a lukewarm WMU win, 37-21 at Kent State.

Despite WMU being undefeated and having two Big Ten West wins, Boise State now has the path to Arlington, if Wyoming clears out of the way in the Mountain West standings. (A team must win its conference in order to be eligible for the mid-major’s automatic bid.)

Why’d this happen? Look at the full schedule. Boise State beat Washington State, a team that now ranks No. 22. Western Michigan’s best wins are against teams like 6-4 Eastern Michigan and 5-5 Northwestern. Overall, the teams have three wins each against opponents with winning records. But while Boise’s Mountain West Mountain division is better than WMU’s MAC West, the gap is fairly small.

Boise’s advantage in schedule strength can only grow, including a potential MWC Championship against a San Diego State that could be ranked at the time. The MAC Championship is unlikely to move the needle much for WMU.

Both are good. Either will be a good non-power representative in the New Year’s Six. But if WMU goes unbeaten, misses the New Year’s Six, and falls all the way to the Dollar General Bowl (the MAC’s top bowl tie-in), P.J. Fleck’s team will have legitimate beef.

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