Selection Committee Doubles Down on Favoritism in Penultimate Rankings

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This is a joke. A bad joke. A bad joke that keeps getting worse the closer we get to Selection Sunday.

If you thought the College Football Playoff selection committee gave outrageous preferential treatment to members of the Power 5 conferences last week at the expense of the outsiders, we have an update: They doubled down on the favoritism this week.

In the latest flagrant case of brand-name bias, Florida dropped exactly one spot in the Top 25 after what was easily the worst loss all season for anyone ranked in the CFP top nine. The Gators were 23.5-point favorites at home against an LSU team that came into The Swamp 3–5, with key players opting out and injured, and a freshman quarterback making his first college start.

Those Tigers bore no resemblance to the 2019 national champions, and yet the committee seems to have considered that massive Florida flop to be a quality loss—quite likely because the name LSU and the purple-and-gold laundry carry specious cache. The Gators were injected with helium when they should have had stones tied to their tails.

The FWAA-NFF Grantland Rice Super 16 poll will debut the same year the College Football Playoff reduces the importance of all polls.

This is probably the point where I need to mention that Florida’s athletic director is on the selection committee. I’m sure the well-respected Scott Stricklin followed protocol and recused himself from discussing his team, but apparently his colleagues were terrified of hurting his feelings when he came back into the room.

Now a team that should be completely out of playoff contention is still very much in playoff contention. If Florida beats clear No. 1 Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship, the Gators could leap into the top four. And the SEC would have half the four-team field.

In the Power 5, all losses can be excused, rationalized, downplayed and eventually just ignored. (Well, except the Pac-12, which is inexorably marginalized.) Outside the Power 5, you not only have to be undefeated, you get penalized for having open dates.

That’s what happened to unbeaten Cincinnati, which in the past two weeks has slipped from No. 7 to No. 8 to, now, No. 9, while not playing a down of football. At this critical juncture in the rankings, the Bearcats were penalized the same amount for having a high COVID-19 count as Florida was for gagging against LSU.

Guess who hasn’t dropped at all while also not playing a down of football the past two weeks? Blueblood Ohio State, still No. 4 in the rankings. Funny how that happens.

The committee has seen all it needs to see to be sold on the Buckeyes—even if the body of work is five games, four of them against teams with losing records. But Cincinnati, which has played eight games, and which has a larger margin of victory than Ohio State (24.9 points per game, compared to 23.4)? Not enough information!

Iowa State, meanwhile, continued its meteoric rise, jumping from ninth to seventh last week and then moving up to sixth this week—despite not playing Saturday, and despite membership in the manifestly inferior Big 12. I discussed the failings of that league after the farce last Tuesday, and they bear briefly repeating this week.

Two-loss Iowa State is now 13 spots clear of Louisiana, the one-loss team that beat the Cyclones 31–14 in Ames to open the season. And Iowa State is now six spots ahead of undefeated Coastal Carolina, which beat Louisiana, which beat the Cyclones.

The Big 12 went 0–3 against the Sun Belt, which is the conference of Coastal and Louisiana. And yet it still is accorded power status despite having done nothing present-day to earn it.

“They’re leading the Big 12,” committee chair Gary Barta said on ESPN Tuesday night of the Cyclones. Which means what, Gary?

Barta again noted Iowa State’s wins over teams in the CFP Top 25, Oklahoma and Texas. And why do those teams—especially 6–3 Texas—deserve to be ranked? Because their names are Oklahoma and Texas. So it becomes a self-fulfilling scam: Beat ranked teams that primarily are ranked because they’re from your power conference, while Cincinnati plays nothing but unranked teams and is docked for it.

“The committee has shown appreciation for Cincinnati from the beginning,” Barta said, spitting in the direction of Nippert Stadium and telling the Bearcats it’s raining.

“There are two really good Sun Belt teams,” Barta said, referring to Coastal Carolina and Louisiana. But the committee sure isn’t putting either of them within a country mile of playoff contention.

When Barta was asked on the subsequent media teleconference about the Chanticleers vs. Cyclones, he threw this shovel of dirt on Coastal: "They played a game this past week against an under .500 Troy team, and it took them until the last 30—they were behind, and I'm sure you watched the game. They were behind with 35 seconds left and [quarterback] Grayson McCall made a great play and threw a touchdown pass, but they struggled against a 5–6 Troy team."

Anybody on that committee remember Iowa State–Baylor on Nov. 7? That's a Baylor team that finished the season 2–7. And that's a Baylor team that led the Cyclones in Ames by two touchdowns in the third quarter. Iowa State stormed back to take a 38–31 lead, but didn't secure the game until the Bears threw an interception in the Iowa State end zone in the final minute. That would qualify as struggling against an under-.500 team—but, hey, Big 12 leader!

The first words out of Barta’s mouth when identifying why the top two teams in the rankings are where they are? “Alabama is undefeated … Notre Dame is also undefeated …”

So are Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina, of course, stashed down the ladder at ninth and 12th. Undefeated doesn’t matter so much for them.

Fact is, everyone knew this would be the toughest year yet to rank the teams due to the disparate number of games played and the dearth of nonconference matchups. But the difficulty should have been reserved for teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12 that have played half as many games, in some instances, as other contenders.

Instead, we are watching the committee rig the system for the likes of Iowa State and Florida to stay in contention at the expense of teams that have played a comparable number of games with superior records.

So spare us the “body of work” and “analytics” and “data points” malarkey and just call the College Football Playoff what it is: of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.