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College Football Playoff Ranking Reaction: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The committee is sending mixed messages on the importance of head-to-head results.

There’s no better way to get college football fired up than a group of rankings three weeks before the regular season is scheduled to end.

Let the anger flow!

The CFP Selection Committee released its latest rankings on Tuesday night, a week after members were skewered for their placement of undefeated Cincinnati at No. 6. Have no fear, college football world, the Bearcats moved up to No. 5 this week.

But a new controversy is engulfing this set of rankings and it involves the Mitten State, where Michigan and Michigan State each have one loss and find themselves adjacent to one another: Michigan is No. 6 and Michigan State is No. 7.

It’s too bad these two teams, in-state rivals and top-10 clubs, can’t play on a field to determine who’s better! Well, we have news for you.

They did.

The final score from East Lansing, in a game played less than two weeks ago: Michigan State 37, Michigan 33.

Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III runs vs Michigan

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III runs vs Michigan.

So why is Michigan State, 8–1, behind the team it beat, Michigan, also 8–1?

CFP chair Gary Barta says the Wolverines were deemed as “a more complete team. The debate within the committee room for the 6-7 spots raged for a good half-hour, he said.

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OK then, Gary. Your work here is done and we absolve you of all sins (not really)!

Let’s get to our Good, Bad, Ugly and a Bonus!

The Good

You might not think this is good, but we do. The committee barely changed the rankings from last week after a weekend of games where no top-10 team looked particularly dominant. And that is, yes, a good thing. Consistency! For the most part, every team basically moved up a spot, including the Bearcats. Imagine if, suddenly, the Wolverines jumped ahead of Cincinnati? Or even if Michigan State, with a loss at Purdue, stayed in front of them?

As Barta said on the call, nobody “separated themselves” in the group ranked No. 2-6. Oregon had probably the most impressive win, he said, with a 10-point victory at Washington in poor weather. But it wasn’t enough to jump the Ducks over Alabama, which struggled at home in a one-score victory over unranked LSU.

The Bad

Penn State isn’t ranked. And while that seems like a shoulder-shrugging, who-cares decision—after all, the Nittany Lions do have three losses—it makes little sense when factoring in some other metrics. For instance, Wisconsin (6–3) and Auburn (6–3) are ranked in the late teens. Penn State beat both of them, holds the same record and isn't even in the top 25.

It’s another example of the committee, rather unfortunately, not giving more credence to on-field, head-to-head results. Why are we playing the games if they’re not going to impact the rankings?

The Ugly

This one is easy this week. When one team beats another team less than two weeks ago and you rank the loser—with the same record—ahead of the winner, guess what? It’s ugly. That said, we do understand why the committee did this. Michigan controlled much of the game in East Lansing and its one loss is a better quality than Michigan State losing at Purdue.

But still, the games must matter. They have to impact the rankings. There is little justification for this decision, especially after the committee has ranked Oregon ahead of Ohio State based significantly on their head-to-head result (the Ducks won in Columbus earlier this year). In fact, the committee jumping Michigan over Michigan State might just show that, by the end of the season, a one-loss Ohio State could do the same to a one-loss Oregon. In that set of rankings, it could really matter—the Ducks, despite a win at OSU, could be on the outside.

The Bonus!

UTSA is ranked! The undefeated Roadrunners slid into the rankings at No. 23 a week after they were left out. Sure, their strength of schedule is in the 100s and their best win is at Illinois (76th in the Sagarin ratings). But being ranked is being ranked. … Oklahoma didn’t move out of its No. 8 slot during a bye week. Barta again mentioned the Sooners’ change at quarterback to freshman Caleb Williams. The move “changed that team,” Barta said. “[We are] looking to see if that continues."… The committee likes them some Oklahoma State, according to Barta, who lauded the Cowboys and their stifling defense. “Very impressive. The fact that their defense is so dominant this year is noted,” he said.

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