The Spread, Week Eleven: The Name Game

Team A has one loss, to a 6-3 team who hasn’t lost since October 4th. And the team they lost to back then? Don’t worry, Team A already beat them–one of just two losses suffered by that team.

Team B also has one loss, to a 7-2 team who lost their last two games. The teams who beat them are pretty good, but Team B hasn’t played those teams yet.

As far as wins go, neither Team A or B has beaten anyone all that impressive, but Team A probably has a slight edge if we’re comparing each team’s best single win.

In the new College Football Playoff rankings released this week, Team A is #22, a pretty reasonable ranking for what I’ve described above–no remarkable wins and an okay loss. You could argue that the ranking is a little low for a one-loss team.

Team B doesn’t have that problem. They’re ranked #5, just outside the as-of-yet-imaginary playoff field.

How could two teams with such similar resumés end up so far apart in the rankings? After all, the playoff website tells us that the committee is looking at things like win-loss record and strength of schedule–exactly the things I covered above.

Team A is Duke.
Team B is Alabama.

The Crimson Tide get a pass because of who they are and what they’ve done in the recent past. To argue otherwise is silly. It can’t be about blowouts vs. close wins/losses, because the committee isn’t supposed to be looking at margin of victory. It can’t be about projected success, because they aren’t supposed to be doing that either–each week’s rankings are supposed to be about the season up to that point. There really is nothing left other than Alabama has a much greater football tradition than Duke.

Not convinced? Why is TCU, with a lone loss to one-loss Baylor along with wins over Oklahoma and West Virginia, also ranked behind Bama? Both teams beat WVU (and remember, it doesn’t matter by how much) but Bama hasn’t played anyone as good as Oklahoma. You could make similar arguments for Kansas State and Michigan State.

But look at those names: Duke, Texas Christian, Kansas State, Michigan State. These are not traditional football powers, claiming just 8 national titles between them, with 6 of those belonging to the Spartans, easily the biggest football brand of the bunch. Alabama claims 15 national titles alone.

Just so we’re clear, this is not an accusation of bias or intentional artificial boosting of the SEC or even just Alabama by the committee. Think of it as a friendly reminder that despite progress, we’re still very much in the age of haves and have-nots in college football, and our shiny new playoff–as welcome and exciting as it is–is still the product of human subjectivity.

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