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The Polls are Bad, Vol. 5

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All roads lead (back) to Bama.

CFP National Championship
This is Kirby Hocutt, probably.
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Welcome to the College Football Playoffs, where the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.

First, the rankings:

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

Auburn sits at second, because the criteria for ranking is simply which teams Kirby Hocutt wants to take to prom this week. An unexplored dimension of these rankings is the fact that an athletic director with a potential coaching search is in charge of the committee, which could provide a huge conflict of interest. Tech still has a coach, for now, and Gus isn’t necessarily a target, but in arbitrary ranking situations, this precedent could rear some ugly corruption opportunities. Again, there are avenues of failure in the system that no one has considered, even four years into the playoff system.

UCF won against a team with an argument for being ranked, and got jumped by two teams. Memphis obliterated a living, breathing opponent and did not move. Fresno and Boise switched places so that Alabama has justification for the fourth seed when Wisconsin, the only undefeated team in the college football top four at the moment, gets their first loss. Mississippi State being ranked is apparently some foundational truth of the universe, and the mediocre Pac 12 has transformed overnight from frog into Prince Charming. The inbred feedback loop of irrational static comparison continues, and again, we have a system that moves the goalposts (football puns!) to suit an agenda, specifically an agenda of rewarding arbitrarily the teams that are “in” right now. Yes, a win over Alabama carries weight. But shouldn’t also a miserable loss to LSU? Shouldn’t also a stumbling, bumbling five turnover performance against Mercer? (Shouldn’t also a win at Ohio State?)

The ACC teams will sort themselves out, and the paths to the playoff look as follows, in order of relative certainty:

  • Winner of Clemson/Miami
  • Winner of Auburn/Georgia
  • Wisconsin if it wins
  • Oklahoma if it wins
  • Alabama (If Wisconsin or Oklahoma Loses)
  • Ohio State (If Wisconsin and Oklahoma Lose)
  • USC (If the Trojans win by 100, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Clemson win, and Alabama shuts down their football program this weekend in an effort to incur a UAB-style zombie renaissance).

That’s it. Those are the possibilities, and putting USC on that list is merely an exercise in cynical generosity. The key for Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Auburn is to win by any score other than 55-3, which we all know is the score that drops the winning team out of the playoffs, as agreed upon in the halls of Mount Olympus, long before the world was formed.

The playoff committee, much like Congress, sits in the enviable position of catering to special interest (namely, ESPN’s profit margins via advertising sales) while pretending to carry the banner for the common man, giving the people “what they want.” How many more times can we hear Rece Davis say, “people didn’t like the polls” as a justification for an arbitrary and inconsistent value judgement by the committee? I’ll say it until I am blue in the face: ESPN sowed dissent among the college football elites and turned a flawed, transparent system on its head, eliminating along the way all the strengths of an improving measure. ESPN “fixed” the BCS by removing the (relative) objectivity and transparency. Instead of increasing access for all teams, creating a path to the championship for teams, decided on the field, they took the process behind closed doors and limited that access. Instead of a frustrating transparent system based on journalists and graduate assistants, we now have an infuriating obscured system based on the whims of advertisers. Instead of arguing about the methodology of an objective ranking system, we are arguing about the arbitrary decision making of a committee with the collective objective capacity of a love-stricken middle schooler.

The Playoff Committee has logistically eliminated TCU from the race. We knew this in our hearts, more or less, but the sun has set on that sliver of hope that may or may not even have existed. Now, with how Washington, Penn State, and all three SEC teams are positioned, TCU is fighting for it’s New Years Six life in the Big 12 Championship Game. In closing, let us not forget the motto of the College Football Playoff:

All playoff contenders are created equal, but some are more equal than others.