No. 2 Miami lost to 4-7 Pitt, the fourth time in a row that an unranked Pitt has beaten a top-three opponent. The Canes had played with fire against lesser teams all year long, putting up four one-score wins and needing a comeback against Virginia, so this one was a long time coming.
Miami’s chances of making the playoff as an 11-1 ACC non-champ are now done.
Still, a lot of people are being a little quick to argue Miami can’t make it in as 11-1 ACC champs, which would be their record if they beat Clemson to win the ACC next week (Miami canceled a game against Arkansas State during hurricane season), as if one road loss at Pitt is going to knock the No. 2 team down to No. 14 or something. I mean, there are only two other undefeated Power 5 teams anyway.
So let’s take a whack at a few assumptions.
1. That “it’s better to lose early than to lose late” trope? It’s always been fake.
It’s a common assumption by college football fans and media that a team can overcome an August loss, but that a November loss will wreck title chances. So here’s one study from the AP Poll era:
Logan used 25 years of AP poll data to test if a variety of conventional wisdoms were correct. He found out that often, they are not. From the abstract:
In particular, I test (1) whether it is better to lose early or late in the season, (2) whether teams benefit from playing stronger opponents, and (3) whether teams are rewarded for winning by large margins. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I find that (1) it is better to lose later in the season than earlier, (2) AP voters do not pay attention to the strength of a defeated opponent, and (3) the benefit of winning by a large margin is negligible.
And that was the AP Poll, a ranking that involves a whole lot less time, study, and context than the playoff committee’s (still imperfect) top 25. The committee throws all your wins and losses into a pile each week and starts fresh, rather than just sliding teams up or down based on whether they won the week prior.
2. Teams have made the playoff despite November losses before.
Clemson and Washington made the 2016 field despite both losing at home on Nov. 12. Michigan State in 2015 lost on Nov. 7.
But Miami’s loss is two weeks later than any of those.
Sure is. So? When you lose matters far less than whom you’ve beaten.
3. Teams have made the playoff despite losing to bad teams before.
Pitt’s now 5-7.
That Michigan State loss was to a 5-7 Nebraska. The CFP’s Oklahoma lost to a 5-7 Texas that year, too. Ohio State won the title after losing to a 6-6 Virginia Tech in 2014.
Miami’s ACC Championship opponent lost to a Syracuse that might finish 4-8, and nobody’s doubting Clemson’s chances of making it in with a conference title.
4. Miami’s overall resume is still solid!
The Canes have blown out top-10 Notre Dame (pending a game against Stanford), top-25 Virginia Tech, and potential MAC champion Toledo. Until the loss, Miami ranked No. 1 in CPI and Strength of Record, two resume rankings that have tended to track pretty well with committee rankings. It doesn’t factor margin of victory (doing that knocks the Canes down a peg), but it does show the committee’s numbers still likely find a lot to like about Miami.
5. If a one-loss ACC champ isn’t a sure thing, who is?
We’re out here talking about two-loss Auburn and Ohio State teams and a non-champ Alabama making it in, and a one-loss Miami is supposedly already out? That’s silly.
There’s a scenario, sure. Say this happens:
- Clemson loses at South Carolina and is thus a less impressive W for Miami.
- Wisconsin wins the Big Ten.
- Oklahoma wins the Big 12.
- Auburn beats Alabama in the SEC.
At that point, the debate would come down to a 12-1 Alabama vs. an 11-1 Miami for spot No. 4, a perilous position for the Canes.
But that’s just one of many scenarios. Let’s let things play out before we declare a one-loss Power 5 eliminated.