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Bill and Ian overreact over the new playoff rankings

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Should there be more teams in the playoffs? How is the committee doing? Which teams are in and which teams should be?

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Ian:

Well Bill, the playoff selection committee has delivered their 2nd playoff rankings, now reflecting a week's worth of outcomes and match-ups between some top teams.

What's the first thing that stands out to you from the new poll and do you like how things are progressing?

Bill:

I thought it was fine. I wouldn't have bumped ASU up quite THAT much for barely beating Utah at home, and I was a little thrown by how far Ole Miss dropped after losing the way they did, but it was perfectly acceptable.

Things are progressing just fine, I'd say. We understand the pecking order pretty well, and we kind of know what has to happen for Team A to finish in the top four at the end of the regular season. I still think the weekly rankings updates are pointless, but hey ... they're good for website hits!

Back at you: what are your biggest takeaways from the first two weeks of rankings?

Ian:

My first takeaway is to note that having a selection committee seems to produce substantially the same result as if we'd just taken the top 4 teams as ranked by the AP or Coaches' poll. I suppose something that totally and completely undermined the existing formula for determining champions wouldn't go well with the college football fan base though.

Like you, I think there are a few teams coasting on reputation and scheduling. Notre Dame is tenth by virtue of playing a competitive game against Florida State, which is ranked 2nd by virtue of being undefeated against an okay schedule and having won last year's title. With one specious assumption, multiple teams are helped or hurt.

You'd be hard pressed to convince me that Notre Dame would be 7-1 with West Virginia's schedule or that they are substantially any better than the Mountaineers. Similarly, I think Arizona St is a touch overrated as well, meaning that the winner of that game will likely also be unjustly crowned as a heavyweight.

My thought is this, if you're going to rank teams that don't play each other based on subjectivism, why be a slave to straight win-loss records? Why not just embrace the subjectivity? Do you agree?

Bill:

No matter how you draw it up, you're going to be using subjective reasoning of about 13 different strains. It's just impossible otherwise. I do think Ole Miss' tumble suggests there's a bit of an "slave to win-loss records" aspect here, but it's at least semi-sensible to do so. Obviously my own computer ratings aren't impacted specifically by whether you won or lost a game, but even with only a 12-game sample, the actual results do probably need to play a role.

Okay, time for a thought experiment. Let's create three separate lists: who are the four best teams you've seen so far, the four teams most deserving of a playoff spot, and the four teams you think are most likely to win a playoff if it began this weekend?

Ian:

Given the nature of non-conference play, I think the easiest formula is just to expand the playoffs and reward conference champions with automatic berths. Why they expanded to four rather than eight is totally beyond me. Ultimately it seems they created a selection committee to just mimic what popular opinion already provided in the form of the polls.

The first list you ask for is probably the hardest because I haven't seen many teams that truly stand out above the rest. In no particular order I guess I'll take healthy Oregon, Mississippi State, Alabama, and TCU as the best teams I've watched though most of those have real flaws. If every game was in Waco I'd remove TCU and add Baylor but the Frogs seems more consistent on the road.

Ole Miss with Treadwell are a very good team but I can't ignore either their lack of a good running game to protect Dr. Bo or the fact that Treadwell is now done.

I think the four most deserving teams are the SEC champion, the Big 12 champion, Pac-12 champion, and then Florida State if they win out, and otherwise the Big 10 champion. I'm not blown away by the Seminoles as compared to last year but stopping Winston is just an insanely difficult task and if their defense got healthy they'd be really salty.

I think Florida St's chances in a playoff in January are much higher than their chances in one held this weekend. For your playoff this weekend I'd take Alabama, Mississippi St, Michigan St, and TCU.

Auburn, Oregon, and Florida St could end up being three of the best four teams by January but they'll have to fight and claw their way to get there while waiting on injuries to heal and young players to improve.

What about your lists?

Bill:

I assume the reason they went to 4 is simply because a lot of people wanted to stay at 2, and it made everybody the most comfortable. And honestly, I don't hate it. It will indeed ensure that we have a really high-caliber champion instead of a World Series-esque "whoever gets hot late in the year" situation.

Best so far: MIssissippi State, Alabama, Auburn, Oregon.

Most deserving: Auburn, Florida State, Mississippi State, this week's TCU/KSU winner.

Best at this point in time: Auburn, Alabama, Oregon, this week's Michigan State/Ohio State winner.

If I attempt this exercise again in an hour, I bet 25% of each list is different.

FSU is such a hard team to read. Because of Winston alone, the 'Noles could win any game. But because of that thin, banged-up front seven, they could lose any game against a good team. I just don't trust them at this point (and neither do the numbers, obviously), as strange as that is to say about a team that's won 24 straight games.

Really curious about TCU this weekend. The Frogs could almost lock up a Playoff bid by beating KSU, but they're getting awfully banged up at the skill positions ... and KSU's defense is awfully good, especially against the spread...

Ian:

I'm not so sure, I think the "got hot late" factor is now more likely since expanding the field potentially allows a team access that previously would have lacked the resume. I'm a fan of the playoff and I think it will result in more great games, which is exciting, but I'm not blown away by the structure and process.

My lists might be different if I tried to draw them up now if you were to erase my memory of the previous list. To me this season particularly demonstrates the futility of trying to pluck four teams out of the pile to play for a title.

I feel the same way about Florida St, at the end of the day it takes a total team effort just to stop Jameis. Louisville's offense let them down in the 2nd half forcing the Cardinal D out there for too long and allowing Winston to get a grip on how to attack them. Eventually FSU will have to beat a more complete team than they've played and they'll have to do it away from home.

I suspect KSU will upset the Frogs, which could very well spoil the Big 12's chances at sending a team to the playoffs since I doubt they follow it up by winning on the road in Waco to close the season. With a strong finish it's even possible that Oklahoma could get in with their two losses.

Who's your pick to win a title game if it were played now AND who's your current favorite to reach and  then conquer the real playoffs in January?

BIll:

Because of their remaining path, I think FSU is the most likely to get to the playoff, and that in and of itself means I think they're most likely to win it. If I could generalize, I'd say SEC West Champion is my title pick, but I become less sure of who that will be every day.

As for who I would pick to win a playoff today ... Auburn's damn hot right now. We'll see if the Tigers can keep it up, but I really like that Ole Miss defense, and they destroyed it in the second half. They needed their typical late-in-a-November-game good fortune to make sure they survived, but they're very good.

Ian:

I haven't kept up with them as much recently but I still feel that Alabama is probably the most well-rounded football team in the country and if their young corners can get better come January that pretty much seals the deal. They don't have the easiest path of course, with remaining dates against Mississippi St and Auburn. Any of those three teams from the SEC West would probably become my favorite to win it all if they won the league but I wouldn't totally discount a healthy Oregon or FSU either.

Final question, which team do you expect to be most helped in their playoff hunt by the results of this coming weekend and which team will be knocked out?

Bill:

The TCU/KSU winner will get a nice boost, as will the ND/ASU winner. (If you were looking for specific predicted winners there, TOUGH.) But I do just kind of assume that here's where Bama turns it on a bit. Win in Baton Rouge, beat MSU in T-town next week, and you're well on your way...

Ian:

I'll be the man in the room ;) and take both road dogs to win in TCU/KSU and ND/ASU. I'd say there's a good chance of Notre Dame's perpetually positive reputation for football prowess putting them in the playoff, possibly at the expense of a 2-loss Big 12 champion.

No doubt that Alabama's remaining path is brutal...whoever comes out of that mess in the SEC West has to be in, even if they somehow lose the SEC title game. The committee should probably just ignore that game and let the SEC East sit at home and watch in January.

What about all you football study hall readers?