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The Polls are Bad, Vol. 3

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Make way for your Buckeye overlords.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff-Selection Sunday Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

"We know when a ‘convincing victory’ takes place."
-Kirby Hocutt, College Football Commissioner

Kirby, what the hell are you talking about?

Ok, first things first, the Rankings:

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Miami
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Auburn
  7. Georgia
  8. Notre Dame
  9. Ohio State
  10. Penn State
  11. USC
  12. TCU
  13. Oklahoma St.
  14. Washington State
  15. UCF
  16. Mississippi State
  17. Michigan State
  18. Washington
  19. NC State
  20. LSU
  21. Memphis
  22. Stanford
  23. Northwestern
  24. Michigan
  25. Boise State

Yes, honest to God, those are the rankings. I’ve got some issues. Yes, dear reader, it appears we have our first case of the Polls Actually Being Bad.

UCF and Memphis are too low, there’s too many Pac-12 teams, Ohio* isn’t ranked, Boise is in here? Sure, okay, I’m upset with those.

The real rub is in the almost nonsensical ordering. 16-25 is just a prop to ensure strength of schedule arguments for the Big Ten and the SEC; that is a known commodity and is to be expected, but it is still bewildering that both Iowa State and West Virginia remain unranked while Northwestern, Michigan, NC State, Boise, and LSU are hanging around. Mississippi State almost loses to Lowell, loses to Alabama, and drops... zero spots. The committee has cultivated an environment where they can fulfill all their prophesies, simply by re-arranging subpar teams to their whimsy. Penn State and USC in front of TCU is such a glaring recency bias, I can hardly stomach it. Hocutt said this was because TCU has lost two of three games. Funny, I don’t recall “unattractive sequencing realities out of a team’s control” as one of the committee’s guiding principles. Blind resume, USC and Penn State have beaten no one, yet stay alive because they lost earlier in the season to worse teams? Notre Dame is eighth, after getting smoked? They are out of the playoff race, but keeping them so high is just pandering. And can anyone explain Clemson over Miami? Same conference, common opponents, one team undefeated, one team one loss? I guess Miami should’ve had the prescience to lose to Syracuse, damn. Yes, the Canes and Tigers play each other and it’ll get resolved, but the precedent of the matter disturbs me. And let us not forget that Washington State moved up 5 spots for beating... Utah? (I am duly aware of my over use of the ellipsis in this column, but I see no other more appropriate device.) We have reached the apex of the College Football Playoff, the point every year where we see what these rankings are about - maximizing the chances of getting the most eyeballs on the screens for the final four.

It took more than a few weeks of casual and all-but-effortless scrutiny, but I have discovered the College Football Playoff Committee’s chief resolve: secure Ohio State’s place in the playoff at all costs. Granted, it is an admirable quest - Ohio State has a large fanbase, and the purpose of the CFP is making ESPN money under the guise of collegiate athletic fairness. Last week, I was mistaken; the committee seeks not to include Auburn, although that is still on the table. No, no - the publicity campaign for the Tigers was a simple attempt to foster public sentiment for the idea of a two-loss team in the playoff, laced with the intent of pulling the rug out from under all of us. Ohio State sits at 9, and when they win out, will see themselves squarely in the playoff picture. The committee is “aww-schucks”-ing their way to the bank, just like they’ve done since their inception. “Michigan plays Wisconsin this week? Oh, convenient they are ranked now.” “Golly gee, you mean Ohio State is going to play Wisconsin? It sure is helpful that both of those teams’ resumes are padded post hoc.” “This is a neutral process; we’re not like the big bad BCS. We’re here for the advertising base fans.”

Did anyone else notice that Kirk, court-side at the Duke-Michigan State basketball game proceeding the rankings reveal, mentioned that there are nine teams in the playoff hunt? Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin, Miami, Oklahoma, Clemson, Auburn, USC, and Ohio State? Weird how the two loss teams who are “out of the playoff picture” have smaller fan bases and national brands. I’m sure that is irrelevant here. (Oh, you thought TCU was on that list? “Oh, Ann. You beautiful, naïve, sophisticated newborn baby.”) The posturing begins.

All tin-foil analysis aside, this current placement all but eliminates a path to the playoff (which we knew), and obscures the Frogs’ road to a NY6 game. Oklahoma State is troublesome - TCU has two “should-wins” left, but will be rewarded with a chance at a third loss against a sure playoff team. Should they lose the Big 12 championship, the Frogs could find themselves in the Alamo Bowl. Speaking of Oklahoma State, how unjust is their ranking? Relegated to non-contender status, Oklahoma State fell behind USC for beating Iowa State. Again, follow with me: TCU beat Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma State beat a bunch of teams and lost close to Oklahoma, and USC beat a bad Pac 12 team. The result? Large fan bases get rewarded, and the label “contender” is again reduced to a level beneath even the cattiest middle school cliques.

If ESPN is just going to use FPI, they should say so. What they’ve done now, though, in contrast to the BCS, is freed themselves to blatantly tinker with the rankings to their advertiser’s whims.

Instead of worrying about what some old dudes in a hotel lobby think about the relative ranking of our favorite school, let’s worry about burning down Lubbock and icing Baylor one more time. TCU fans can root for chaos, because whatever happens, ESPN’s darlings will get the benefit of the doubt.

Don’t forget, Frog fans, ESPN doesn’t care about anything other than eyeballs on screens. Let’s hope this slight sets TCU on a warpath.

*Seriously, Ohio is your MAC darling of the year. They are 30th in S&P+. They smacked a good Toledo team in the dang mouth last Wednesday, and yeah, they lost to Akron last night, but every good MAC team knows you have to lose three games a year to hit that sweet spot of “not underrated but not over-hyped” Group of 5 status.