The year’s first College Football Playoff rankings arrived Tuesday. That top 25 always has a surprise or two, compared with the relatively predictable polls, and this week’s was 7-1 Texas A&M ranking No. 4, ahead of unbeaten Washington — not to mention Louisville and Ohio State — apparently because of a harder strength of schedule.
Mississippi State (which entered the day at 3-5) made a lot of friends in Seattle, Columbus, and Louisville, winning 35-28 in Starkville.
A&M QB Trevor Knight missed the second half with a shoulder injury, but MSU held a 21-point lead just before halftime. Backup Jake Hubenak played well, throwing for 222 yards in the second half, but tossed the game-sealing interception.
MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald ran for 182 yards and two scores, throwing for 209 more and two TDs to Fred Ross.
Even with injury issues, a loss to a team that lost to the Sun Belt’s South Alabama is in no way a good loss.
Well, at least this solves the committee’s biggest weird spot in its first rankings.
Let’s take a look at some of my favorite computer ratings, beginning with my own rating:
S&P+: 3 Louisville, 5 Washington, 6 Ohio State, 16 Texas A&M
FEI: 4 Ohio State, 5 Washington, 7 Louisville, 9 Texas A&M
The Power Rank: 4 Washington, 5 Louisville, 7 Ohio State, 8 Texas A&M
Sagarin: 3 Ohio State, 5 Washington, 7 Louisville, 9 Texas A&M
Massey-Peabody: 3 Louisville, 6 Ohio State, 8 Washington, 14 Texas A&M
SRS: 3 Ohio State, 4 Washington, 7 Louisville, 9 Texas A&M
FPI: 3 Louisville, 5 Ohio State, 7 Washington, 9 Texas A&M
I tend to prefer ratings that have the capability of dialing into variables more complicated than points scored/allowed and “who’ve you played?” Most of the above look at per-play or per-drive variables and dial into what creates success. They aren’t going to punish you for losing to good teams, and they also aren’t going to over-reward you for beating bad ones.
Of those seven systems, six had Texas A&M last among these four teams.
And yet, not only is A&M ahead of the two other one-loss teams in the Playoff rankings (Ohio State, Louisville), the Aggies are also ahead of unbeaten Washington.
Texas A&M shouldn’t be naturally punished for being the only team with Alabama on the schedule. The Aggies were relatively competitive with the dominant Crimson Tide for a while before folding, and there’s a pretty good chance Louisville, Ohio State, and Washington would all lose to Bama, too.
I had a problem with A&M ranking fourth overall, however, because I don’t think A&M has proven itself as good a team as the others.
We can talk about strength of record all we want; actual team strength should still matter more.
The obvious retort to any concerns about November rankings is that these things don’t tend to hold. Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn, and Ole Miss were in the first-ever Playoff top four in 2014, and only FSU made the actual Playoff.
(The retort to the retort is that even though these rankings don’t necessarily stick, they still present evidence of what the committee cares about. And all the committee seems to care about is who you’ve beaten — even though A&M’s wins over Arkansas, Tennessee, and UCLA don’t look anywhere near as impressive as they did at the time — not how you beat them.)