Following the College Football Playoff committee’s latest rankings, one thing is increasingly clear: it’s about whether you win or lose, not how you play the game.
Florida State checks in at No. 17. One-loss West Virginia is at No. 14. Undefeated Western Michigan is at 9-0. Other than that, the committee seems to be ranking teams almost entirely on win-loss record.
One of the nation’s toughest schedules hasn’t earned the ranking some expected for Florida State. The Seminoles are currently six spots behind number 11 Oklahoma State. Yes, the Cowboys are 8-2 and haven’t lost since September at Baylor, but their Strength of Schedule, per ESPN, is 57th – 51 spots worse than FSU’s.
How to split hairs between a two- and three-loss team? A metric like Strength of Record can help.
A couple quick refreshers:
- Strength of Schedule refers to the strength of a team’s schedule. Cool.
- Strength of Record uses that SOS, along with a team’s current win or loss record not accounting for each game’s score, to evaluate what that team has done thus far. It reflects the chance that an average Top 25 team would have achieved a team’s record or better, given the schedule.
This helps explain why, then, Florida State’s Strength of Record at 12th bests six teams currently ahead of it in the playoff picture. This is why, in spite of underperforming expectations and not a single win versus a currently ranked team, FSU gets marks in the most deserving category.
As a point of reference Oklahoma State’s SOR is 25th.
Yet the ‘Noles still trail six teams with worse SOR. The losses seem to come first. To the playoff committee, unless the analytics are being used in a tiebreaker, they don’t hurt or help nearly as much.
In spite of our growing knowledge about the game, nothing affects teams as much as a loss, even a quality one.
This is disappointing, but if the committee is going to be most concerned with record and not with things like margin of victory, or dominance, it should at least consider strength of record more heavily.
Following a week that saw Clemson, Michigan and Washington fall, along with four other top-20 teams to unranked opponents, strength of record shifted.
The top nine teams in last week’s playoff rankings matched strength of record almost perfectly, with only Louisville and Wisconsin flipped.
Now, within the top ten, only Alabama and Louisville see their ranking and SOR match perfectly.
Michigan’s playoff rank is 3, while its SOR is 7. Oklahoma is 9, but its SOR is 13. Oklahoma State is 11, while its SOR, referenced above, is 25. Florida is 23 with a SOR of 28.
While FSU does have a legitimate gripe, West Virginia and especially Western Michigan are being even more disrespected. West Virginia at 14 is eight spots worse than its SOR.
And Western Michigan, which is undefeated, is stuck at 21, despite a SOR of 10. Western Michigan is being punished for having the No. 114 schedule, but perhaps too much, if you believe in the Strength of Record measure.