October 22, 2015

CFP Playoff Committee Rankings

In two weeks, the College Football Playoff committee will meet for the first time and will issue their first official rankings on November 3rd. While only four teams will enter the actual playoff, the committee will issue a top-25 ranking similar to the writers and coaches polls. All of the teams with championship aspirations will know where they stand in the eyes of the committee.

The committee members have a wide range of materials at their disposal in making these judgments.  Obvious data include the two major polls, strength of schedule ratings, a host of various power ranking formulas and what they have gathered from watching countless hours of games in person, on television and on tape.

This year, the 13-person committee will be again led by Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long.  The other 12 members include four former coaches including Hall of Famers Barry Alvarez and Tom Osborne, four athletic directors, one reporter, and  members who at one time in their careers were a conference commissioner, an NCAA executive, an Air Force Academy superintendent and a Secretary of State.

It is interesting to note how last season the committee viewed the field on the release of their first ranking and how things shook out six weeks later in their final rankings that determined the four playoff teams.  The October 28, 2014 rankings had Mississippi State on top followed by Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi.  Of those four, only Florida State would make it to the playoffs.  The other three teams that did participate in the playoffs were at that time, Oregon at #5, Alabama at #6 and the eventual champions from Ohio State who were seemingly out of contention at #16.  The final rankings of December 7 saw Mississippi State fall to #7, Mississippi to #9 and Auburn all the way to #19.

In comparing the committee rankings to the AP writers’ polls, Mississippi State, Florida State, Alabama and Auburn were listed in the top four.  The only major difference in the top 25s was that the writers had the 8-0 Marshall University at #23, while the committee did not have the Thundering Herd in their top 25.

The playoff committee is the second instance when college football developed a means to determine national championship matchups.  Seventeen years ago the very first Bowl Championship Series rankings were issued.  Those early BCS polls were wildly different from what we have today and what they became in their final years.  The first BCS rankings were an overly complicated group of calculations that was math and computer heavy.  The end result produced some odd matchups for the national championship.  Over the next five years the formula changed several times until 2004 when a simpler formula was created that was 1/3 writers’ poll, 1/3 coaches’ and 1/3 computer.

The 1998 formula was a ranking based on the composite of the two major polls, a combined ranking of several computer rankings formulas, a complicated strength of schedule calculation and adding the number of losses to the previous three calculations.  The October 26, 1998 ratings were #1 UCLA, #2 Ohio State, #3 Tennessee, #4 Kansas State and #5 Florida State.  The final rankings produced a match of Tennessee and Florida State. 

While the initial 2014 committee rankings had little resemblance to the final rankings, the first 1998 rankings we very similar to the final rankings as the top-five contained the same five teams on October 28 as it did on December 7.  What will be in store for 2015?  Will the top teams of early November avoid upsets and hold their spots at the top, or will a team mired in the latter half of the rankings stage a late season rise to become a contender and possible national champion?

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