Though we don’t have College Football Playoff rankings to go on just yet, the committee isn’t that big of a mystery. We can make solid guesses on how they’d have teams stacked up at this point, if it were to release a top-25 before Oct. 30.
(I mean, it’s kind of a mystery by design, just because it barely explains any of its decisions, but if you’ve followed it for a few years, you can start to see its thinking, whether you agree or not.)
It’s time to bring back an annual exercise, which has previously done a solid job at predicting teams the committee’s high on (Penn State’s big jump in 2016 and Georgia taking No. 1 from Bama in 2017, for example). After studying numbers that’ve tended to line up well with CFP rankings, here’s how I’d guess these teams would rank. Several are in groups for now.
Simple. And since Bama’s on a bye before the first rankings reveal, you can go ahead and lock in the initial No. 1 team.
Quibble over strength of schedule if it makes you feel better, but Bama’s is happily comparable to any other unbeaten team’s, per the metric that goes into Resume S&P+:
SOS rankings for college football’s unbeaten teams:
47. Notre Dame
Beyond that, the Tide have thoroughly humbled everything placed in front of them, something you can’t say about any other team in FBS.
The committee will partially excuse the Tigers’ struggle with Syracuse, chalking it up to a third-string QB having to win the game. That’s not really even speculation, because the committee said it factored Clemson’s QB injuries against Cuse last year, too.
Otherwise, the Tigers have smoked everything, other than a tough trip to Texas A&M, which will count as a top-25 road win.
CPI, a sort of football version of basketball’s RPI, ranks Clemson’s accomplishments No. 1 in the country so far. And the Tigers are No. 2 in almost every other ranking, including the Massey Composite, which collects all the rankings.
3: Notre Dame
The only other Power 5-ish unbeaten should be dinged for close calls against Ball State, Vanderbilt, and Pitt.
It should also get a ton of credit for arguably having beaten a better team than anybody else in the country has (Michigan).
The numbers don’t have a better answer for that dichotomy than I do. ESPN’s Strength of Record, which seeks to guess how the average top-25 team would’ve handled a schedule, ranks them No. 1. CPI has them No. 3. Aaaand Resume S&P+, which tries to guess how a Playoff team would’ve handled a schedule, has them all the way down at No. 17.
The uptake: the Irish have beaten an impressive list of teams, but have rarely played all that impressively in doing so.
4 and 5, in some order: Michigan and LSU
Do you prefer to go by who you’ve played or how you’ve played?
LSU’s gone 4-1 against teams that were ranked at kickoff. The committee does not care about where a team used to be ranked, but still, the Tigers rank No. 2 in CPI and Strength of Record.
Going by how they’ve played, though? LSU is No. 15 in S&P+, meaning that system — which tends to beat Vegas — would pick 14 other teams to beat the Tigers on a neutral field right now.
Michigan, meanwhile, is No. 4 in S&P+ and no lower than No. 7 in any other metric cited here.
In the past, the committee’s made surprising calls in each direction, so I could see this either way. If I had to bet, I’d guess Michigan at No. 4.
6 through 12: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas, and possibly somebody else
Excuse the vagueness, but we have a log jam. There’s a case to put this bunch in almost any order.
- Florida’s beaten LSU, but should it rank ahead of Kentucky, due to head-to-head?
- The computers still like Georgia, Ohio State, and Oklahoma, but the first two have lost blowouts, and the third lost to ...
- ... Texas, a team that’s very rarely looked top-10-worthy and will likely be exposed again, but has that dubious win over OU (the Sooners outgained UT by 3 yards per play).
I think the committee should rank Oklahoma No. 6 and Texas No. 11, then not look at social media for a week. S&P+ has OU at No. 3 and Texas at No. 38. These teams have played too many games this year to base the entire decision on just one close result.
But I have no clue what the committee would actually do with this group.
You can mostly just use some combo of the rankings cited in here for a loose estimate. The Massey Composite is probably the best single number for that purpose.
Team whose fans would be happiest: Iowa
The same as last week. The AP Poll is still underrating the Hawkeyes (No. 18), despite them adding a 23-0 demolition of Maryland (the mediocre team that beat Texas, icymi). They’re No. 9 in the Massey Composite and No. 11 in Resume S&P+.
A win over Penn State next weekend would finally catch the pollsters’ attention, but if the committee were ranking teams this week, I promise Iowa would be higher than No. 18.
Team whose fans would be maddest, besides UCF’s: A few contenders
Last week, I had Oregon in this spot. The Ducks then lost to a lower-ranked team by two touchdowns.
- There’s a case for ranking the Longhorns basically anywhere, though I don’t see any way the committee would have them up at No. 6, like the AP does. The Massey consensus has them down at No. 13.
- West Virginia would also likely drop a few spots from their AP perch of No. 13. The Eers average a No. 20 ranking in every other metric in this post.
- I could see Kentucky getting snubbed. They aren’t exactly the kind of “balanced” team the committee says it likes to go for, with a subpar offense and terrible passing game, and the computers are suspicious.
As for UCF, they’re not quite as impressive as they were a year ago, when this site might’ve been the first national voice to authoritatively call them drastically underrated. They’d deserve a Backup QB Mulligan for their comfortable win over ECU in Week 8, but a starting ranking in the mid-teens would be more defensible than it was last time. The Knights are No. 16 in the Massey Composite.
I largely agree with Kirk Herbstreit, who made a case on GameDay (partially using S&P+) that the 2018 New Year’s Six race shouldn’t yet be considered The UCF Story: A Story Entirely About UCF.
We’ll see in one week how the actual committee ranks ‘em.
I’ll update this once more before then.