Rob Oller | Buckeyes brace for confusing CFP selection subjectivity

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra

I am making this column up as I go along, which is the same strategy used by the College Football Playoff selection committee when picking which four teams will comprise the playoff.

Don’t believe me? It used to be that two regular-season losses spelled doom, and that was when teams played full 12-game regular-season schedules. Now? There are fewer games, yet that same two-loss season may not be the kiss of death. Go figure. It is fuzzy math or, um, making it up as you go.

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It is conceivable that Clemson (9-1) makes the playoff even if on Saturday the Tigers lose to Notre Dame (10-0) for the second time this season. Or it could be that Iowa State (8-2) makes the playoff. Or even two-loss Florida (8-2), which lost to unranked LSU last week but dropped only one spot.

All it would take for one of those two-fers to have a puncher’s chance would be for undefeated Ohio State to lose to No. 14 Northwestern on Saturday in the Big Ten championship game.

Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell isn't the only person who would like an explanation of how the College Football Playoff committed bumped his undefeated Bearcats back a spot in this week's rankings despite their not playing last week.

In the unlikely event it happens — the Buckeyes are 20-point favorites — look for one-loss Texas A&M to move to No. 4, unless the Aggies (7-1) lose to Tennessee, in which case the fourth spot is up for grabs. Depending on the outcome of the conference championship games, two losses might be better than one. Or even none.

Just ask Cincinnati. The Bearcats are 8-0 but saw their chance of making the playoff crumble after dropping from No. 8 to No. 9 in Tuesday’s CFP rankings. They did nothing to deserve such punishment. Literally nothing. Cincinnati did not play last week when a COVID-19 outbreak in its program forced cancellation of a game against Tulsa.

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Know who else was idle? Iowa State, but rather than get punished for having the weekend off, the committee bumped the Cyclones from No. 7 to No. 6.

 All together now … making it up as you go.

Also, just to refresh, there are different versions of undefeated. Cincinnati is 8-0 while Ohio State is 5-0, which proves that a goose egg in the loss column trumps anything in the win column. Or not.

The Buckeyes would improve to 6-0 with a win over Northwestern. Southern California also would be 6-0 if it defeats Oregon in Friday night’s Pac-12 championship game. Yet despite identical records the Trojans are No. 13 and Buckeyes No. 4. USC has had too many close calls to be handed a playoff invitation, but nine spots lower than Ohio State? Behind four two-loss teams?

By the way, Northwestern also must be wondering what’s going on. The Wildcats are 6-1 but would not get a sniff of playoff love even if they knock off the Buckeyes.

Confused? Good, because that’s how the CFP committee likes it. The 13 voting members count on sleight of hand to fool fans into thinking there exists a clear and consistent methodology that determines the rankings. Instead, it comes down to the eye test, which is a less-than-scientific way of saying “We do whatever we want.”

What they want is Ohio State in the playoff. And Alabama. And Notre Dame. And Clemson. They want the four best teams. Most would agree those four are it, so in a way all the wrangling over rankings is so much noise.

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The real danger with where the committee’s decision-making is trending is not who gets selected but how. It feels like outcomes — and thus the games themselves — increasingly are insignificant to ranking. See Florida’s loss to LSU and Iowa State’s loss to Louisiana.

Those of a skeptical bent would argue the committee has reverse engineered the rankings to fit a desired outcome. I wouldn’t go that far. Instead, I wonder what use the committee is in the first place?

Consider the Associated Press rankings in the preseason poll: 1. Clemson; 2. Ohio State; 3. Alabama; 4. Georgia. The first three were thought to be locks. Georgia was more of a guess, getting tossed in ahead of Oklahoma, LSU (ha-ha) and Penn State (har-har). Notre Dame was No. 10.

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Looking at those rankings, I contend the committee is little more than a rubber stamp soaked in window dressing. The answer is not to fix the format but get rid of it. This unusual season has revealed the need for an atypical solution. 

My “Season of Change” plan is controversial, and too much to digest in this column, but it centers on copying something resembling the NFL system based on game-by-game results, not committee voting.

I am a longtime proponent of “poll titles,” basing my reasoning on the concept that rankings controversy in college football fuels interest in the sport. But the time has come to create clear-cut rules and stick to them.

Making it up as you go needs to be gone. Ditch the committee.  

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD