Note: Before reading below, everything that follows makes an assumption (which I fully understand is not a given) that Baylor's going to beat Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State. Those aren't layups. I know that, and everyone else who reads this knows that. But we're going to be favored in each of those games, and it would be a mild upset if we didn't win out. So feel free to drop by the comments and attack us for making an assumption - but this whole post is predicated on that assumption, which we know is not a given.
The college football committee doesn't respect Baylor. That's not hyperbole or conjecture, Jeff Long has basically said as much. My ramblings are below. They are ramblings, I am aware that they're ramblings, and they're intended to be ramblings. I hope you enjoy.
By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I've been tweeting every week as the committee ranks every group of same-record teams by head to head except Baylor and TCU. This week, I forgot that TCU has played one more game than us, so I was technically wrong. We will return to your regularly scheduled programming next week unless they fix their mistake and move us above TCU.
There are a couple more things that I want to point out about the committee/process.
This is more a circumstances point than anything, but I think it is really hurting us that Oliver Luck is the lone Big 12 voice on the committee. As many have not failed to remind me, Baylor lost to West Virginia. I really doubt Baylor has a strong advocate in the room urging the committee to look deeper at the facts.
Also, I think Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12 trying to play nice with everyone is hot garbage. Bowlsby's public statements have been so heavily qualified that they led to a reporter duel - Jake Trotter first reported the Big 12 would support the HTH Baylor-TCU winner as its "champion" in the event of a tie, David Ubben then contradicted that report by saying the Big 12 would not take sides, and finally Trotter came back asserting that they'd be forced to declare a champion. I don't want to get into semantics about in what way the committee will use the "champion" designation - if Baylor and TCU tie, it's going to say CHAMPIONS on Baylor's piece of paper, and that's going to matter. Without delving into the hypotheticals people like to throw out that go something like "If Texas had Baylor's resume, they'd be in the top 3" (because I think those hypotheticals make far too many assumptions), you're crazy if you think Texas or Oklahoma would be silently playing nice in our situation (potential conference tie, winner of HTH). That's not to say that I don't think McCaw, Heath Nielsen and friends aren't working the proper channels to make sure we get a fair shake - I am sure they are. I just think Texas or Oklahoma would be a little louder about it. I'm not sure if it's good or bad not to politic - the historical evidence is pretty mixed.
In conclusion, the committee really should only meet the last weekend of the season, put together a couple of contingency scenarios, and announce one (and only one) set of rankings on the day after the regular season (including conference title games) ends.
By the way, if you're looking to head into the "ESECPN bias" echo chamber, you'll probably want to move on. I don't agree with the committee's rankings so far, and I think they have a terrible process. I also don't think men like Barry Alvarez, Tom Osborne, Tyrone Willingham and a woman like Condoleeza Rice particularly care what TV ratings their selected matchups might do. I don't think they're completely ignorant of the fact that their television partner will love it if they place traditional powers in the playoff, but until someone gives me a concrete reason to feel otherwise, I think they're beyond reproach. The athletic directors are in a bit of a different situation, but I think it's only natural (and a designed part of the process) that they might slightly favor teams from their own conferences when push comes to shove.
Process points aside, let's move on to tonight's rankings. The rankings released tonight aren't that terrible in lots of respects.
Top 3 Teams
Setting aside the fact that Florida State continues to be gifted games late (although, to be certain, they are taking advantage of every gift they get, and most teams don't do that), it's pretty hard to quibble with the top 3. I think it's fair to say that Alabama, Florida State and Oregon (in whatever order you prefer to place them) have separated themselves from the next tier.
Alabama's looked like the best team in the country, even with pretty suspect special teams (which is odder and odder to watch coming from a Nick Saban team), and advanced stats back that up. Florida State is undefeated and plays in a Power 5 conference. The conventional wisdom always errs on the side of ranking undefeated teams highly, which I think it's right. No matter the power conference, no matter your schedule, it's pretty damn hard to go undefeated in any Power 5 conference. Florida State's advanced stats don't look great, but, again, they're the only Power 5 team that so far has made it through their schedule unscathed. If they get a loss, they're likely going to drop below all of the other one loss teams. Oregon, like Alabama, lost to a top 25 team (although Oregon's loss was at home), and otherwise looks the part, both visually and according to advanced stats.
I definitely don't think the order those teams are ranked matters until the last poll comes out. I also am not that fussed about it, because as I'll detail below, Florida State and Alabama both have multiple land mines in front of them. I think something that people fail to grasp, or choose not to grasp, is that in any given season, there normally is not much difference between the top 8 or so teams. If you look at the F/+ or Sagarin rankings (or anything else that, correctly, takes into account margin of victory instead of blindly looking at win-loss records), there are normally a couple of teams hanging around in the top 10 or so with 3 or 4 losses. Those computer rankings aren't "wrong" for ranking those teams so highly. Take Ole Miss, for example - the LSU and Auburn losses were both "one play" losses. (This is why, as you'll see below, that I don't particularly care where Mississippi State is ranked today, because I don't like their odds in the Egg Bowl). Where I am going with this, as you'll see below, is it's pretty foolish just to assume arguendo that none of those teams will lose. It's more likely that all 3 of them lose a game (or in Alabama and Oregon's cases, lose again) than that none of them lose from here on out.
On the other hand, I think the ranking of teams 4-7 is pretty silly (For that matter, I think Jeff Long's explanation made them look even worse). For purposes of the below discussion, I'm going to assume that Florida State and Oregon win out. If they don't, which I'll also talk about a little later, it's obviously a positive.
Let's handle Mississippi State first. Mississippi State is currently 9-1. Their loss, at Alabama, is obviously far better than Baylor's loss is or will be. Losing at Alabama is, of course, the best loss any of the one loss teams can claim. The only ranked team they beat is Auburn. They've got an opportunity to pick up another ranked win if they win the Egg Bowl. It's possible that LSU or A&M might sneak back up into the rankings, but they still have each other to play, and I doubt a win over another 7-4 team is going to move the needle enough for the committee to sneak the winner back in. It could happen though, obviously. Looking a little deeper at their resume, they're scoring 38 ppg and giving up 20 ppg (18 ppg MOV), but much of that was built in their non-conference (which, like Baylor, involved no Power 5 opponents). That's a distant fourth when compared with Baylor, TCU and Ohio State. Looking only at Power 5 games, State is averaging 34 ppg and giving up 25 ppg (only 9 ppg MOV). That is also a distant fourth when compared with Baylor, TCU and Ohio State, and doesn't exactly scream playoff team to me.
There's also still a chance that Mississippi State wins the SEC West. That requires them to win the Egg Bowl and for Alabama to lose the Iron Bowl. If that happens, the SEC Title game is an elimination game for Mississippi State. Depending on which Jekyll and Hyde version of Georgia shows up, that is either going to be good or bad for Baylor. In a perfect world, Georgia would lose to Georgia Tech and still qualify for the SEC title game, then beat the west winner. That would guarantee 1 or zero SEC representatives.
So the ceiling for Mississippi State is SEC Champions - if that happens, they're 12-1 and they're in the playoff. Bama/Georgia/Ole Miss have all knocked themselves out of consideration in that scenario though, so it's not all bad for Baylor, because we'd pick up a spot in the rankings by virtue of those teams losing.
The softer ceiling for State (assuming Alabama wins the Iron Bowl) is 11-1 with wins over top 25 Auburn (who won't fall out of the top 25 if they lose the Iron Bowl), Ole MIss and maybe the LSU/A&M winner, and a loss to Alabama. If Alabama wins the Iron Bowl, we're left hoping that Georgia (or Missouri, if they win out, which I see as unlikely, and not preferable) can knock off Alabama in the SEC Championship and knock the SEC back down to 1 team in the playoff definitively. You can make a case that a 2 loss Georgia as the SEC champion would make the playoff, but I think it's more likely that the committee sends MSU and leaves Georgia out due to its losses to very average (or worse) South Carolina and Florida teams. If Mississippi State ends up 11-1 and there's a 12-1 Alabama that wins the SEC Championship, I think we're in a pretty tough spot. While we will have as many or more top 25 wins (assuming neither Oklahoma or Kansas State has any other hiccups, which might be a bad assumption), we'll have the best win (TCU), and Mississippi State can't really make a schedule argument over us. I think it's a pretty close call, but I think when push came to shove, the committee would probably err on our side given the conference champion designation we would have and they wouldn't.
The floor for MSU (which, again, I think more likely) is that they lose the Egg Bowl and knock themselves out. That's a result we're definitely rooting for. The committee is definitely not taking a two loss SEC team over a Power 5 conference champion with 1 loss.
Next - the Buckeyes. Ohio State is currently 9-1. Their loss, Virginia Tech, at home, by two touchdowns, is pretty impossible to explain away, and is definitely worse than a Baylor loss on the road to West Virginia, Virginia Tech is most likely looking at 6-6 with losses to 4 unranked teams. Ohio State's best win is the road win at Michigan State, which is obviously a pretty nice feather but to me isn't quite as good as our TCU win. The only other team of substance Ohio State has beaten is Minnesota (on the road), the committee's favorite team. Minnesota is probably a 25% shot to defeat each of Wisconsin and Nebraska (they play both of those games on the road). In other words, there's a 12.5% chance they win both, a 56.25% chance they win neither, and a 37.5% chance they win one. Only winning one of those games probably isn't enough to keep Minnesota ranked. It might be, who knows, given the Committee's Minnesota fetish. I doubt it though. Ohio State also has the inside track to play in the Big 10 title game, unless they lose out and Michigan State wins out (in which case, obviously, Ohio State no longer would be a problem for us). That's not likely to happen.
Looking a little deeper at their resume, they're scoring 45 ppg and giving up 22 ppg (23 ppg MOV), but much of that was built in their non-conference. That's third when compared with Baylor, TCU and Mississippi State. Looking only at Power 5 games, Ohio State is averaging 42 ppg and giving up 25 ppg (17 ppg MOV). That is also third when compared with Baylor, TCU and MSU.
Obviously, it is a little troubling that Ohio State passed us this week based off their win against an incredibly strong force of nature, those Minnesota Golden Gophers. If OSU loses, they obviously fall of the pace, and the Big 10 team isn't going to have a playoff representative unless a lot of crazy stuff happens. The ceiling for Ohio State would be 12-1, with a win in the Big 10 title game. That would give them 2 (maybe 3, if Minnesota somehow sticks around) wins against top 25 teams, with 1 win against a top 10 team (Michigan State, and obviously the loss to Virginia Tech at home. I worry that since they've passed us now, we won't have a chance to catch back up to them. But as I'll detail below, I still think we ultimately end up ahead of TCU, and I think it's more likely than not that Mississippi State finds another loss. Ultimately, it very well could come down to Ohio State v Baylor for the 5th spot. If so, this week's vote worries me, but we would have 3 strong wins (TCU, @OU, K State), including a top 25 road win, and our loss was on the road. Ohio State, with no top 25 road wins (unless, again Minnesota somehow has cracked the code), only 2 top 25 wins (see every Minnesota caveat), and the horrible home loss, to me would not have as good of a resume as Baylor does. But I'm biased, and I know that, so I can only hope the committee is in fact penalizing us for not playing our full schedule until we play it.
When it comes to Baylor and TCU, I think it's fairly simple. We've gained ground on them each week. If we get to the final poll, and we've both won out and finished with 11-1 records, the CFP committee is going to be forced to rank Baylor higher than TCU for a couple of reasons.
First, as a reminder, Baylor beat TCU. The committee has said that head-to-head only comes into play when teams are basically equal. Well, right now, TCU is hanging its hat on 3 things. First, TCU played and beat Minnesota in out of conference play. Second, TCU played and beat Kansas State. Third, TCU's loss is much better than Baylor's. By the way, that loss? It was to Baylor, because Baylor beat TCU.
Hat rack peg 1 is going to fall away by the end of the season. In any event, if all other things are equal (which they would be, in a 11-1 tie scenario), a home win against a decent Minnesota team is not going to be so much better than a road win against an admittedly bad Buffalo team as to override the head to head.
Hat rack pegs 2 and 3 takes care of itself. If Baylor and TCU both win out, they finish with identical 8-1 Big 12 records, the only differences being that Baylor beat TCU, and Baylor lost by 14 at West Virginia, while TCU won by 1 there on a last second field goal. In this scenario, the Big 12 is forced to submit Baylor as its "champion" and Baylor will be ranked higher than TCU.
To close the loop on the comparison I made above, TCU is scoring 46 ppg and allowing 23 ppg (23 ppg MOV). That's second in the 4 team group, because Baylor is scoring 50 ppg and allowing only 21 ppg (29 ppg MOV). So Baylor's been almost a touchdown better than TCU overall. Against P5 teams only, TCU's scoring 44 ppg and allowing 27 ppg (17 ppg MOV). That's again second, because Baylor is scoring 46 ppg against Power 5 teams and allowing 27 ppg (19 ppg mOV).
To dive a little deeper, Baylor and TCU have played 4 common opponents, plus each other. Baylor's 4-1 in those games, scoring 48 ppg and allowing 25 ppg, for a 23 point average MOV. TCU's 4-1 in those games, scoring 43 ppg and allowing 31 ppg, for a 12 point average MOV. Baylor's got Oklahoma State and Kansas State left at home, along with Texas Tech at a neutral site (JerryWorld). TCU has to go play in Austin at night on Thanksgiving, and then hosts Iowa State. After it's all said and done, Baylor and TCU will actually have the exact same home road split in their opponents, except TCU obviously had to go play at Baylor, and hosted Tech (as opposed to a neutral site game). It's worth mentioning that TCU scored 55 ppg and allowed 19 ppg (26 point average MOV) against the teams Baylor has left, and Baylor scored 39 ppg and allowed 18 ppg (11 point margin) against the teams TCU has left, so TCU has room to make up the 11 point gap in MOV.
In any event, if Baylor and TCU are both 11-1, it's going to be nearly impossible to find anything different (again, other than the TCU home win against Minnesota compared to the Baylor home win against SMU), Baylor will be the "conference champion," and the committee is going to have to honor the HTH result.
I want to talk a little bit about game control, the nebulous concept Jeff Long brought up a bunch this week. I think in a vacuum game control is taking and then keeping an early lead. I fear in reality, the committee is probably applying it as some sort of eye test they can use to bump teams when they don't like what the facts of their resume say.
But since they brought it up, let's look at game control. I'm going to define game control pretty simply: taking all given moments in a game, on average, how far ahead or behind were you. Basically, this will reward a win like Baylor's over Kansas, and will punish a team if they let someone hang around before winning late (e.g. TCU v Kansas). I only ran this for games against Power 5 teams, because it would have taken way too long to do it for 4 teams' full schedules. In any event, Baylor would look better (not worse) if we included full schedules, because it has, as per usual, jumped way ahead early against lesser competition.
Using my measure, in its 6 games against Power 5 competition:
- Mississippi State (5-1) has an average game control of 6.70 (individual games: 13.96 @LSU, 14.78 v A&M, 13.34 v Auburn, 7.75 @Kentucky, -0.67 v Arkansas, -8.93 v Alabama).
- TCU (7-1) has an average game control of 11.27 (20.16 v Minnesota, 2.83 v Oklahoma, 7.14 v Baylor, 20.36 v Ok State, 23.33 v Tech, -6.19 @WVU, 12.38 v K State, -0.47 @KU)
- Ohio State (6-1) has an average game control of 13.05 (-7.15 v Va Tech, 18.33 @Maryland, 26.35 v Rutgers, 8.05 @Penn St, 29.01 v Illinois, 3.7 @Mich St, 7.8 @Minnesota)
- Baylor (5-1)has an average game control of 10.20 (19.12 @Iowa State, 10.61 @Texas, -7.14 v TCU, -2.26 @WVU, 28.23 v Kansas, 12.60 v Oklahoma)
A couple of things jump out at me. First, TCU had a far easier time with Minnesota than Ohio State, just like the final score would have you think. Second, I don't know how useful this metric really is, but the Baylor/TCU figure seems exactly right. I felt like we were down by a touchdown the entire game. It's also pretty interesting to me that TCU had a worse game control against West Virginia than we did. Yes, TCU fans, you guys managed to win that game despite being behind the 8 ball all day (unlike Baylor against West Virginia), but, then again, Baylor beat TCU.
To compare like against like, and let's throw SMU in the mix (Baylor: 26.87, TCU: 26.63), Baylor has an average game control against common opponents (and TCU) of 11.66, TCU has an average game control against common opponents (and Baylor) of 5.98. That jives with what my mind has been telling me when Jeff Long has been moving his lips but saying the opposite - against teams they've both played, Baylor has been more impressive (pretty conclusively, too). That measure dings Baylor from playing from behind against TCU even though we won the game. It obviously also dings TCU for playing from behind against WVU (even though they won) - but I think that's fair.
I have no idea if the committee has any metric they're looking at for "game control." I suspect they don't, and I suspect they're making it up as they go along. In any event, it does show you one reason they might be using for having us a spot behind Ohio State.
As I alluded to earlier, I still think we are in fairly good shape provided that we win out. Now, I'll explain why.
The top 7 teams (including us) all have at least one (in and most cases) multilple fairly tough games ahead. Take Florida State for example - they host BC this weekend, which should be a layup, but then they have to host Florida (with Muschamp coaching his last game) and then play either Duke or Georgia Tech in a stale atmosphere in Charlotte for the ACC title game. Alabama has to host Auburn Thanksgiving weekend, and if they get past that one, play either Georgia or Missouri (likely Georgia) in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. Oregon has a pretty easy ride until the Pac 12 title game, but they'll have to travel further than whoever they play, and whichever Pac 12 South team makes the title game will likely make it because they win out from here. Mississippi State has a layup at home vs Vandy this weekend, but then they have to play the Egg Bowl vs Ole Miss in Oxford. If they win both those games, and Alabama loses to Auburn, they've then got to go play Georgia/Mizzou in the SEC Championship. TCU has to go to Austin and play Texas on Thanksgiving night. Ohio State has a bye vs Indiana this weekend, then they host Michigan (all the nonsense about throwing records out the window aside, I don't think Michigan gives them much trouble this year), and then on to the B1G title game vs whichever team makes it out of the other division (hint: it won't be Minnesota. hint: it's Minnesota. But seriously, not Minnesota?). I am hopeful Wisconsin takes care of business and gets to play Ohio State because they can play keep away - Melvin Gordon's always wanted to tote it 45 times in one game. And obviously, we've got a couple non-gimme games against Oklahoma State and Tech before hosting the Purple Wizards at McLane.
After parsing through schedules, etc, I was starting to get curious about what the likelihood is that the committee would have to bump us up 3 spots. In other words, how likely is it that nobody in front of us loses again? Because I'm a degenerate, I ended up building a Monte Carlo simulation that included all games necessary to determine conference title game matchups, etc, and ran 10,000 trials.
As I've said about 10 times, none of this matters if Baylor wins out. But let's assume for my purposes that Baylor does win out. Below is a table showing the percentage of simulations in which X number of teams ahead of us lost.
The way to interpret the table is pretty simple. Since we're ranked 7th, if 3 or more teams that are ranked ahead of us lose again, I think it is a pretty safe bet that we'll go to the playoff (since none of them would be losing to a team with 1 loss, I think a 1 loss conference champion would end up ahead of pretty much any 2 loss team). You can argue with me about Oregon losing in the Pac 12 title game and whether UCLA (or whoever else) might make a big jump into the top 4), or whether a 2 loss SEC champion Georgia might jump into the Top 4, but I think if there end up being 4 or less 1 or less loss Power 5 conference champions, those teams are automatically in the playoff. In Georgia's case, it has two pretty bad losses that are probably too much to overcome. I could be wrong. In a whopping 74.90% of the scenarios I ran, 3 or more of the teams ahead of us lost, bumping us up to 4th without having to get into the TCU argument. That feels really high to me, but I used game by game win probabilities that have been fairly accurate this year in a predictive sense (and in a retrodictive sense, although we're less concerned about that here). In any event, that makes me feel a ton better about our chances, provided that we win out. In 75% of those scenarios, the committee was basically prevented from bitching about our resume and had to take us.
Let's say that for whatever reason, you just don't have any confidence that Alabama, Oregon or Florida State will lose - which only happened in 6.9% of my simulations. If you think 4-7 are playing for 1 playoff spot, then as of now, there's an 11.77% chance that Mississippi State, Ohio State and TCU will all lose, which means we'd get the spot.
If you assume that TCU's results don't matter, since we'll pass them on HTH once our schedules are basically the same, there's a 39.32% chance that both Ohio State and Mississippi State lose, in which case it would be between us and TCU for 4, and we'd get the spot by virtue of HTH/conference title.
The takeaway is this: I still really like our chances to get in the playoff (again, if and only if we win out, which is not a guarantee), simply because every team ranked ahead of us (maybe other than TCU, depending on how you view Texas) has at least one real land mine game in front of them, and some of those teams are bound to lose. If those dominos don't start to fall, I will definitely be less optimistic.
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