This isn’t officially official per se, since the updated F/+ should impact things slightly, but I wanted to go ahead and release the updated Achievement Index in advance of the CFB Playoff pairings being revealed Sunday.
To cut to the chase, the Top 4 here looks like this: Alabama (1) vs. Stanford (4) and Clemson (2) vs. Michigan State (3).
After 12 weeks, I had become acutely aware that the Achievement Index was doing some things well and some things … less well. So adjustments have once again been made, and the results are kind of weird.
(This is not all that bad since the original results were kind of weird as well.)
Ohio State’s dramatic home loss to Michigan State Saturday night opened the door for any top team not named the Buckeyes so far as a possible playoff berth is concerned (and really, OSU isn’t out of it either). The Buckeyes had established a stranglehold on a Top 4 spot in the actual CFB Playoff rankings and a similarly firm grip on a first tier ranking in the Achievement Index. A putrid offensive performance, fully taken advantage of by Sparty, resulted in a loss that makes these last couple of weeks so much more interesting.
In this space, Sparty’s upset combined with Oklahoma State’s home loss to Baylor actually opened up two slots in the Top 4. The primary beneficiaries, at least for this week, were Iowa and Alabama.
The Hawkeyes are now the de facto Big 10 representative by virtue of their undefeated record, but they will of course have to win two more games to make that stick. Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan are all lurking about, ready to pounce if Iowa slips, and certainly that is a plausible scenario with the playoff committee, should they decide that the Big 10 winner is a worthy participant in the playoff. Here it’s not so clear as that, as each team needs help from the teams they’ve already faced. Can Nebraska boost its own F/+ rating enough to give Sparty a boost as well? Will Michigan’s Utah loss continue to look acceptable? These are the sorts of questions that won’t be answered until the regular season is complete.
The situation in the SEC, by comparison, is crystal clear. Alabama is the best team there, but Florida, with one loss, can force its way into the playoff by defeating the Crimson Tide. That’s a problem, however, as the Gators currently look barely capable of defeating FAU, let alone ‘Bama. Still, it’s cut and dried: Alabama has by now done enough to overcome its home loss, and Florida’s resume is nearly as impressive and its own path is obvious.
The Big 12 is as insane as one might expect. Oklahoma State has emerged as the best of the bunch, because the Cowboys have the “best” loss of the group, to Baylor (who is well liked by the efficiency rankings). Common wisdom tells us the Sooners have the best team and the best resume, and well, common wisdom is often pretty useless. So naturally the playoff committee will take it and run with it.
(This is where I roll my eyes.)
Still, the Sooners are under-ranked here … what they need is Texas to transform itself into a middling team, rather than an atrocious one. Otherwise, I am perfectly fine with them being penalized for that loss.
But anyway, right now I’ve got it Notre Dame (1) vs. Alabama (4), and Clemson (2) vs. Iowa (3). The Big 12 is left out, the Pac 12 is left out, and Notre Dame is left laughing all the way to the bank,
The College Football Playoff Committee has a Top 4, in order, of Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
The Achievement Index’s Top 4 is Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State.
That isn’t far off, and we both have rewarded the Tigers for their performance to date. Where we differ is Alabama vs. Oklahoma State, and well, look at the names on the jerseys to explain that one.
Oh sure, you could argue that Alabama has played a tougher schedule (true) and you could also argue against the Cowboys based on margin of victory/general prettiness (also true). But I’ve made my own feelings on this clear: The Tide is getting a pass for a home loss to a three-loss team (Ole Miss). No need to belabor it. And truth be told, the Tide is surging up my rankings in a major way. In a couple of weeks, Alabama might actually deserve that Top 4 spot … it’s still hard to project.
Anyway, I can tell you right now who would have the biggest gripe in my system, and it isn’t Alabama…
The number of undefeated teams in the country has been whittled down to six. And yet the top-ranked team in the Achievement Index is one-loss Notre Dame.
A significant portion of the country is less than pleased whenever the Irish get any kind of advantage over their opponents, and this team getting ranked ahead of several undefeated squads would, on the surface, qualify.
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.
I’ve tried to be patient with you, Achievement Index, I have. But your refusal to stop spitting out weird results is testing me.
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.
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.
Two 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.