First Playoff 4 *should* be Michigan State, Notre Dame, Memphis and Clemson (Week 9 Achievement Index)

I’ve run the numbers, and they tell me the playoff committee is batting .250, at least in terms of rewarding the teams that are currently the most deserving.

That’s an important distinction, as some look at this system as trying to pick the best teams, which just COMPLETELY misses the point and COMPLETELY devalues the regular season.  Why play the games if you aren’t going to use them in evaluating teams?

When the committee put Alabama into its initial set of rankings, it created a firestorm of controversy, due primarily to the fact that Alabama had a loss and plenty of other teams didn’t.  The Tide was getting a pass.

Well, yes and no.  It’s true the Tide is getting a pass right now, and it’s indeed okay to call the committee out for this, but it’s not just about the record … it’s about who the Tide has beaten and lost to.

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We’ve nearly reached a tipping point in the Week 8 Achievement Index

I’ve tried to be patient with you, Achievement Index, I have.  But your refusal to stop spitting out weird results is testing me.

Severely.

I’m 99 percent of the way there to adjusting the weighting structure, and while there were many reasons for me to consider this, 6-1 Oklahoma being ranked several spots below 4-3 Miami (they of the fired coach for underperformance Miami) … that’s a pretty darn big one.

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Week 7 Achievement Index: Who you lose to matters

This week’s Top 4 in the Achievement Index is Big 10 heavy. A week after the Big 12 surged into prominence, Michigan State’s dramatic last-second win at rival Michigan coupled with Iowa’s dismantling of Northwestern pushed those two teams into the playoff field (if it started today).  The Top 4 for Week 7, in order, is Michigan State, Utah, Iowa and TCU.

Of course, all of those teams are undefeated, and if they remain so, they’ll continue to look good for making the season’s Final 4 (though it is naturally impossible for both Iowa and Michigan State to both finish undefeated).  What’s more interesting is looking at the hierarchy of one-loss teams, and how those teams shake out.  And in general, a theme emerges: Unlike the pollsters, the raw data doesn’t care about the logos on your helmets or the tradition your program boasts.  It also doesn’t care about your statistical profile. Instead, the data looks at one factor above all others: Who did you lose to?

I am fundamentally okay with this (for now), because this rationale was what created the playoff system in the first place.

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Big 12 riding high in Week 6 Achievement Index

tcuTwo teams from the Big 12 have earned their way into the Top 4 of the Achievement Index this week, as TCU and Oklahoma State each gutted out tough road wins in conference play against highly rated opponents.

Another Big 12 team, Baylor, has been given the benefit of the doubt by the pollsters and talking heads for winning big, but the level of achievement doesn’t mesh with the national impression.  The Bears have avoided losing, and if they continue to do that, they’ll be there at the end (and they will likewise face tougher competition to get there), but for now, the national media is putting the cart before the horse.  The Bears haven’t earned it.

Contrast that with the case of the Cowboys, still largely unnoticed in the national conversation.  Oklahoma State has three true road wins under its belt (vs. two for Baylor), a road win against the No. 25 team in efficiency (Baylor’s best road win = vs. No. 107), and a home win against the No. 19 team in efficiency (Baylor’s best win = vs. No. 37).  It’s no contest.

TCU is the rare case of the pollsters getting it right despite themselves.  The Horned Frogs have seen their efficiency numbers bounce around as they fight through injuries. As a result, they haven’t always passed the “eye test,” but that hasn’t prevented them from continuing to hold fairly strong in the traditional polls.  TCU has three road wins, against No. 19, No. 37, and No. 49.

The national collective will freak if two Big 12 teams make the playoff a year after the league was shut out.  We’re very far away from that happening, but a dispassionate appraisal of the current landscape suggests it’s not as outlandish a thought as it might generally be considered.

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Pac 12 team — no, that other one — no, THAT other one — showing strong in Achievement Index

Utah has earned platitudes this week for its dominance on the road of Oregon.  Likewise, UCLA got a big win in the desert, knocking off Arizona and has been fawned over ever since.  Each team came into the week with strong resumes, so it’s no surprise this pair of Pac 12 squads sit atop the Achievement Index this week.

And they deserve the credit.  It’s refreshing to see teams given their due after they’ve earned it on the field (that’s the whole point of this exercise in the first place).  But another team from their conference is flying under the radar still, despite a 4-0 start that includes a pair of road wins against Power 5 teams.

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Achievement Index has Northwestern (among others) surging after Week 3

When Northwestern dumped Stanford in Week 1, the general consensus seemed to be, “What’s wrong with Stanford?” That was perhaps fair, though that take only addressed one of the participants in that game … and it was a “hot take” in the truest sense.  We didn’t have any perspective yet.

A couple of weeks later, that win has begun to look more and more impressive for Northwestern, while the loss looks less and less troubling for the Cardinal.  It’s funny how that works.  In any case, Stanford has rebounded well and strengthened its position in the advanced metrics (and in the wins column, taken down USC in Week 3).  Meanwhile, Northwestern travelled to Duke and defeated the Blue Devils, further legitimizing themselves in the process.

Thanks to their road win and Stanford’s rebound, the Wildcats surged from No.47 up to No. 6 in this week’s Achievement Index.

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A reasonable ranking of college football teams after Week 2

I can appreciate how formulas and computers and data analysis can tell you that Arkansas is still a Top 25 team, despite its home loss to Toledo.

I can also appreciate if we choose to eliminate a team’s actual accomplishments on the field, in terms of wins and losses, then we do a disservice to genuine evaluation.  Coaches are judged on wins and losses.  When your team goes 9-4, as a fan, you end up enjoying that (as a general rule) a great deal more than 6-7.  Statistically, those teams might be equal on paper, but I know which team’s performance I value more as a fan.

That said, you can take this thought too far, as the traditional polls and the playoff committee tend to do.  Wins against ranked teams?  That’s an attempt to rank based on accomplishment … but without truly taking into account which teams are the most talented or efficient.  It’s just a simple-minded way to do things.  “Team X is ranked so it must be good.”  Well, um, maybe?

So I’m going to take emotion out of the equation.  Let’s do something fairly novel here, and use the advanced stats to provide a baseline, then evaluate our teams based on how they performed against their schedules.  Do BOTH.  (This shouldn’t be all that novel, but it is.)

I am tentatively calling this the Achievement Index.

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