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Pre-Bowl Top 25 and Playoffs

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on December 8, 2019 at 7:20 PM

Top Teams and Conferences

If you look at my ratings site, the ratings look a bit different.  I noticed that the unweighted ratings were included multiple times in the weighted ratings, so previously it wasn’t really an average of the two systems.  Without counting the unweighted system four extra times, it wasn’t as necessary to produce such large numbers to create an average.

Before I get to the resumes and arguments, I did update the LSU-Georgia series blog.  It’s funny how the series is almost a perfectly even split in both Athens and Baton Rouge, but LSU has a 4-1 lead in Atlanta now. 

I thought it was appropriate that LSU came out first given where the Tigers’ best wins are ranked.  LSU beat #7 Georgia, #14 Florida, #15 Auburn, and #17 Alabama. Ohio St. beat #12 Penn St., #18 Cincinnati, #21 Wisconsin twice, #23 Michigan, and #25 Florida Atlantic.  So only one win was better than Alabama, LSU’s fourth-best win in hindsight. 

LSU struggled with a conventional rushing game at times against the Georgia defense in Atlanta on Saturday, but Joe Burrow was able to maintain the ground threat himself. He ran for 53 yards and also caught a deflected pass for 16 yards.

Utah St., Texas A&M, and Texas make seven top-50 wins for LSU; and Indiana makes seven top-50 wins for Ohio St., so it makes sense that the two teams ended up so close.  Georgia Southern, another LSU win, is just outside of the top 50 at #52.  

This doesn’t factor into my ratings directly; but for the sake of argument, I think it’s also noteworthy that Florida, Auburn, and Alabama only look worse because of subsequent losses to other teams LSU beat or would beat (Florida to Georgia, Auburn to Georgia, and Alabama to Auburn). 

For Playoff purposes, I think it’s also important that LSU was the first team to beat Texas (which they did on the road), the first team to beat Florida, and the first team to beat Alabama (which they also did on the road).  I know Texas isn’t a great team now, but entering the season with a quarterback who knows what he’s doing and with most of the team that had just won the Sugar Bowl made Texas a very good team relative to others in September.  They didn’t do much with that from that point forward, whereas someone like Florida Atlantic is probably a much better team now than they were.

I know Ohio St. has a couple more top-25 wins, but as the teams get lower in the top 25 they don’t count as much.  The cumulative victories are still enough for the Buckeyes to be a clear #1 in the unweighted system.  The weighted system is triggered by certain targets that aren’t necessarily the same as the final top 10 or top 25, and LSU won that.

It so happened that LSU got to play the other five best teams in the SEC (the teams I mentioned and Texas A&M, who only lost to the higher-ranked SEC teams, all of whom LSU beat, and Clemson). Ohio St. did not get to play Iowa or Minnesota, who were two of the three best teams in the other division.  If they had, there would have been no way for LSU to be ahead in my ratings, especially given that Cincinnati and Florida Atlantic turned out to be better on paper than LSU’s non-conference opponents.  I don’t think either would have beaten Texas, but they have better resumes. 

These wins explain LSU and Ohio St. being so far ahead of anyone else.  Clemson didn’t beat anyone in the top 30, and Oklahoma only beat a single top 30 team (which they did narrowly twice). 

Justin Fields runs for a long gain in the Buckeyes’ best win, 28-17, against Penn St. in Columbus on November 24. Fields had over 250 all-purpose yards in the game.

Speaking of Oklahoma, they were not able to pass up Memphis.  I thought Cincinnati had to win for the Sooners to be #4.  That doesn’t bother me though.  Let’s look at the best wins.  For Oklahoma: #11 Baylor twice, #33 Oklahoma St., #42 Iowa St. (by one point), and #43 Texas.  For Memphis: #18 Cincinnati twice, #19 Navy, and #22 SMU. 

Similar to Ohio St./LSU, Oklahoma has more quantity; but the quality isn’t as good.  Two wins against the top 30 versus four.  You have to go into the 60s for Memphis’s next win (Tulane), but I think there needs to be more focus on success versus the top teams.  I didn’t even mention how Memphis got screwed out of a chance to beat #34 Temple.  Even if it were a fair result, the Owls weren’t much worse than Oklahoma’s loss (#30 Kansas St.).

Clemson’s average win was worse than Oklahoma’s or Memphis’s average win, but Clemson got more credit for their wins because they had one more than Oklahoma or Memphis had.  So they would have been #3 even if Memphis and Oklahoma had taken extra bye weeks instead of losing.  If a team like Auburn or Florida had finished with one loss, they probably would have been #3 instead; but the schedules of the one-loss teams just weren’t strong enough to challenge for that third spot.

I’ll talk more about non-Power 5 teams at the end. 

There were a few odd side effects of recalculating the averages such as the improvements in Minnesota’s and Appalachian St.’s rankings.  I had Minnesota right ahead of Alabama going into rivalry week, which went poorly for both, so there wasn’t a great reason to put Alabama ahead in the first place.  I’ll also discuss Appalachian St. in the section at the end.

Michigan and Wisconsin went down a good bit, even more than Wisconsin’s loss would have normally dictated.  On the other hand, the Badgers went up the rankings dramatically fast after beating Minnesota.  I think the most important aspect of the shuffling of the Big Ten teams is Penn St., who counts as a really quality win for the Gophers.  Michigan couldn’t beat the Nittany Lions, and Wisconsin didn’t play them.  There is sort of a preliminary rating I give each team, and Penn St. basically shows up as a top-ten team there.  That’s important to the weighted ratings, which now have a bigger impact on the overall average.  Also, in Wisconsin’s case, it’s easier to fall below teams when you lose and they either won or didn’t have to play anyone.  The middle of the top 25 is always more crowded as well.

Auburn ended up passing Florida, but I’m OK with that.  A team from their division won the SEC, and a team they beat out of conference won the Pac-12.  Combine that with the fact that they had to play Alabama and Texas A&M (both of whom they beat) when Florida played easier opponents (such as Tennessee and Kentucky), I think it overcomes the fact that the Gators finished the game better at home against Auburn. 

That said, Auburn and Florida were close enough that I can understand making a judgment call based on head to head. But if you’re going to do that to resolve Auburn vs. Florida, you need to follow the same logic when it comes to Auburn vs. Alabama. The Citrus Bowl is supposed to go to the best available SEC team, which was Auburn. Auburn should not be penalized for having to play Florida and Georgia. Auburn and Alabama both lost to LSU, they both beat the other mutual opponents, Auburn beat Alabama, and Auburn also beat Oregon. Also, if it were Alabama, they would be rewarding the team who finished stronger.

Antonio Gibson of Memphis fights for extra yards yesterday against Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl. The Tigers beat the Bearcats twice in one week to win the AAC.

Degrading Teams from Outside the Major Conferences

It really bothers me how 12 years ago fans blindly accepted a #10 rank for a team like Hawaii, who played absolutely no one of consequence.  Their main claim to fame was a last-minute win over a Pac-10 team with a losing record.  Previous teams like Tulane (21 years ago) had been even higher when they were undefeated.    1984 was before my time (I was alive but not watching football), but BYU’s big bowl win was over a 5-loss Big Ten team, and they finished #1 in both polls. 

I wasn’t in favor of any of those being so highly regarded, but you can go to the opposite extreme as well.  Now we have this fancy committee, who I think exists for the purpose of excluding non-Power-5 teams, and fans (and even voters) just accept that no other team is even in the top 15 no matter what they do because the committee tells them so.  The first year of the committee was 2014.  Marshall was unranked that year by the committee despite reaching #18 in the polls after starting 10-0 (and playing a much worse schedule than Group-of-5 teams who are ranked in the middle of the top-25 at best now).  It seems that since then the polls have learned to be more cautious about “outsider” teams.  The TV usually uses the committee rankings, so I think the pollsters generally just know what the number next to the team on the digital scoreboard was.

I know the BCS never put a non-Power-5 team like that in the top 2, but they put them in the top 4 multiple times.  (Given their schedule and history, Notre Dame is basically Power 5 although they don’t technically play in a conference.) Ten years ago, for instance, the BCS had three teams from outside of the Power 5 in the top six of the standings (Cincinnati, TCU, and Boise St.).  TCU even returned to the top 4 the next season.  Hold your breath for the Playoff committee to ever do that.

Boise St. even came close to Oklahoma this year.  The Broncos had five wins over the top 41 to Oklahoma’s three.  If they had played one additional good team from the other division (they avoided San Diego St.), they would have been ahead as well.  Maybe the Mountain West should just kick out New Mexico and UNLV (which would have given them almost the same average as the Big XII) and play a schedule like the Big XII does.  If they had, Boise St. would have gotten to play Air Force again. 

That’s not to say Oklahoma isn’t capable of winning the championship, but there should be consequences for not scheduling decent opponents and even most of the good teams you beat not scheduling decent opponents out of conference.  The Sooners’ best non-conference opponent was Houston, which finished with a losing record playing in Memphis’s division.  Baylor’s best non-conference opponent was Texas-San Antonio, #114 of 130 teams.  Oklahoma St. also didn’t play anyone out of conference who finished with a winning record.  Tulsa also played in Memphis’s division unsuccessfully Oregon St. had a better season than expected, but I only have the Beavers #85.  Houston and Tulsa were in the 90s, between UTSA and Oregon St.  Some other Big XII teams scheduled all right, but I’m not sure it helps to say “At least the team we lost to beat 6-6 Mississippi St.!”  It’s not worth bragging about at all to beat a team who lost to Iowa or who lost to LSU.

Appalachian St. only had one loss, and six wins against the top 70 isn’t bad given their conference.  They’re a much more credible member of the top 10 than that Hawaii team I mentioned , for instance.  I did think it was right for them to be behind Notre Dame, who only played a few teams who weren’t in the top 70.  Boston College was actually the Irish’s eighth-best win at #71, but you get the idea.   The Mountaineers scheduled well out of conference, but they still didn’t get as high-quality of a win as Navy.  Their loss (to Georgia Southern) was not as forgivable as Michigan or Georgia.  Given Baylor’s struggles against non-bowl teams, losses to the only top-30 team they played, and lack of any serious attempt to schedule anyone out of conference, I don’t mind Appalachian St. being ahead of the Bears.

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Ohio St.1
2LSU2
3Clemson3
4Memphis5
5Oklahoma8
6Boise St.7
7Georgia4
8Oregon16
9Notre Dame10
10Appalachian17
11Baylor11
12Utah9
13Penn St.12
14Auburn18
15Florida13
16Minnesota21
17Alabama19
18Cincinnati14
19Navy23
20Air Force22
21Wisconsin6
22SMU20
23Michigan15
24Iowa24
25Florida Atlantic

Out of top 25: (25) UL-Lafayette