Last year, we wrote a very similar piece after the College Football Playoff picked its final four teams. So here we go again, as college football—the most corrupt and least transparent major sport on the planet—once again faces credibility issues in “picking” its mythical national champion.
In announcing Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State as the top three seeds in the process, the CFP got the teams right—and in the order wrong, just like last year. This matters not, however, as the three major sabermetric systems we like to use (ESPN FPI, Football Outsiders, and Jeff Sagarin) merely had the Buckeyes in the second slot and the Tigers in the third.
This is not the fix that was in last year, elevating LSU from No. 3 in the all the rankings to No. 1 in the seedings—knowing the title game was to be playing in New Orleans. Alabama looks very good, and it really doesn’t matter whether Clemson or Ohio State is second or third, since they’d still be playing each other in the semifinal bowl game.
(However, watch the officiating in that game nonetheless … just like last year.)
The CFP issues in 2020 come from the fourth team selected: Notre Dame. After beating the Tigers at home in double overtime earlier in the season, the Fighting Irish lost the rematch, and badly, in the ACC Championship Game. Thus, Notre Dame finished sixth in the ESPN FPI rankings, fifth in the FO rankings, and seventh in the Sagarin rankings.
How did the Irish get to No. 4? Good question. The primary reason is money, of course. Notre Dame played a good schedule (ranked 27th out of 127 teams this season, according to the SRS). The Irish beat a COVID-weakened Clemson team, and the only other ranked team Notre Dame beat was then-No. 25 North Carolina.
The Tar Heels finished ranked 14th in the Associated Press poll—which also has schools like Coastal Carolina (9th) and San Jose State ranked this year at the end of the regular season. Meanwhile, Indiana University finished with one loss as well, losing by just 7 points to Ohio State.
With the Irish losing a conference title game by 24 points, they should have been immediately tossed on the scrap heap. And before anyone mentions Texas A&M, the Aggies lost to Alabama by 28 points and beat just one ranked team this year. The Hoosiers beat three ranked teams and had a better loss than both these overrated schools (i.e. money-bringing crowd favorites). Heck, TAMU’s SOS was 86th this year!
As always, however, we do not advocate for any non-championship teams of a conference to make the CFP. Indiana would be the team to make that leap if we were in that disposition, however—not Notre Dame. The team(s) we think should have been invited to the fourth spot instead of the Irish are … drumroll, please … either the Cincinnati Bearcats (9-0) or the Oklahoma Sooners (8-2).
Both are conference champs, and both played better schedules than either Indiana or TAMU. In the end, though, sabermetric finishes for Cincinnati (14th on average) and Oklahoma (5th) show us that the Sooners really should have been the fourth team.
Clearly, the CFP was scared away by the two losses on Oklahoma’s slate, and maybe that’s a thing—although the Bowl Championship Series had no issues giving a two-loss SEC team laughable shot at the MNC in 2008. So why should the CFP have balked at this in 2020? It’s a good question.
The Sooners beat three ranked teams this year after losing twice early by a combined 10 points. Oklahoma avenged one of those losses in the Big XII Championship Game. The Sooners also have won 7 straight games, which is one of the longer unbeaten streaks in the country right now.
So, Notre Dame had a better SOS, but it didn’t win its conference—and it didn’t have the impressive victories the Sooners did. Meanwhile, Oklahoma played a lesser overall schedule and lost one more time than the Irish did. We see the CFP making its decision based on money and perception here—not sabermetrics and transparency.
This is why once again the College Football Playoff continues to be a joke.