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Ranking college football by resume before Halloween is hypocritical

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Why using the college football playoff committee's criteria to rank teams in September is a flawed endeavor.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Many made noise this weekend when the polls came out about how Michigan State, a team which barely beat Oregon at home, could be ranked many spots ahead of Utah, a school that crushed the Ducks by 42 points in Eugene. Add that in Utah has a win over Michigan that is more impressive than anything Michigan State has outside of defeating Oregon, and this became a talking point.

That sentiment is coming from those who believe teams should be ranked only on what they have done to this point, AKA "resume ranking."

To be clear, resume ranking is what the college football playoff committee will be doing when it sets out to figure out the top four college football teams. It is in its mission statement.

But there is a clear difference between people complaining about pollsters not doing resume ranking in September and what the committee does in early November: specifically, the sample set is half as big, perhaps even smaller when considering that college football schedules are front-loaded with FCS teams and cream puffs.

Resume ranking this early also involves some inherent hypocrisy. While advocates want pollsters to ignore what they think a team they are attempting to rank is, and instead rank only based on what it has done, they are still requiring the pollster to evaluate a team at some point.

To wit, why is a big win over Oregon impressive? Certainly not Oregon's resume: Oregon has no wins over Power-5 teams on the year and gave up lots of points to a mid-major and an FCS team. It is impressive because of what Oregon has been as a program in previous years (and college football is incredibly static, with things not changing all that quickly) -- precisely the criteria resume ranking advocates demand rankers avoid.

Note: Patrick Vint actually brought up this point six years ago:

"When you determine the "most impressive" wins of the week (especially in the first few weeks) based on points and yards in combination with "strength of opponent," you are simply trading a team's preconceived strength for that of its opponents."

It also produces results that feel a bit disingenuous. Does anyone seriously believe Utah, which likely has football's best "resume" is the best team in the country? The eyeball test, as unscientific as it may be, is almost certainly more accurate this early on.

Of course, ranking teams this early is probably stupid regardless of method. It increases the chance of a poll being skewed by confirmation bias later in the year due to flawed early voting. Resume ranking teams this early doesn't exactly get rid of that.

But there is a reason the committee is not putting out Week 6 playoff rankings. The results would be ridiculous.

Once teams have played two months of games, resume ranking makes a lot more sense. It helps to remove bias, and it encourages fluidity. Once November rolls around, Utah's beatdown of Oregon might not matter at all if Oregon has lost two more games. Or it might matter a ton if Oregon has bounced back. But the key is that the sample set will be sufficient enough to determine if the line item on Utah's resume that is crushing Oregon can be seen through the lens that is the season and not some evaluation of Oregon shaped by Oregon's historical standing.

Rankings, though, are not going away. They are a massive source of traffic. And so is the great debate that follows them as well.