Playoff committee shows brand-name bias still in full effect with flawed first rankings

Brand-name bias is alive and well with the College Football Playoff selection committee. This does not qualify as breaking news.

It’s same-as-it-ever-was news in the sport. The traditional powers, the laundry, the big names get exaggerated respect. And the have-nots, the outsiders, the traditional paupers are eternally downgraded.

The CFP committee reinforced that with their first Top 25 Tuesday night by relegating Memphis to No. 13. That’s the same Memphis that is 8-0 and owns a 13-point victory over Mississippi – an Ole Miss team that won at Alabama and that the committee ranked 18th. How Memphis isn’t in the top 10 baffles me.

The only logical explanation is that Memphis is a historical nobody that began the season as a nobody, and thus will remain at least a semi-nobody in comparison to the somebodies from the Power 5 conferences.

Nick Saban's Crimson Tide are currently in the playoff field at No. 4. (AP)
Nick Saban's Crimson Tide are currently in the playoff field at No. 4. (AP)

The committee ranked Memphis behind five teams with losses. The Tigers are one spot behind Utah, which lost to a USC team that is not in the CFP Top 25. They are two spots behind Stanford, which lost to the No. 21 team, Northwestern, and beat a UCLA team that is ranked five spots behind Ole Miss.

Memphis is four spots behind Iowa, which beat Northwestern and nobody else of consequence. The Tigers are five spots behind TCU, six spots behind Michigan State and seven spots behind Baylor – all of which are a collective 1-0 against the committee’s Top 25 (counting Michigan State's fluke win over Michigan).

Memphis is eight spots behind Notre Dame, which has a loss on its record (No. 1 Clemson) and one win over the Top 25, No. 22 Temple. It is nine spots behind Alabama, which lost to the same Ole Miss team Memphis beat, and which has one victory over a Top 25 team – Texas A&M, which is ranked one spot behind Mississippi. And Memphis is 10 spots behind an Ohio State team that is 0-0 against the Top 25.

What do bluebloods Notre Dame, Alabama and Ohio State have that Memphis doesn’t? Nothing right now, yet everything in perpetuity – more money, more fans, better conference affiliation and exaggerated clout with a committee that is supposed to see beyond laundry.

(Looking at one-loss Alabama at No. 4 and Iowa at No. 9, I’m wondering whether the committee may have overvalued victories against a certain unranked team from the upper midwest. Take a bow, Wisconsin athletic director and committee member Barry Alvarez.)

So there you have it, Memphis. If you thought you were going to get a fair, blind-résumé shot at this thing, you were wrong. And the cynics who never believed Memphis would get a fair shake are nodding knowingly right now.

The Tigers do have the potential to move up with three remaining games against teams currently in the CFP Top 25. They play at No. 25 Houston on Nov. 14, at No. 22 Temple on Nov. 21, and could face Temple again in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

But here’s a strong likelihood: if Memphis wins those games it will knock Temple and Houston out of the rankings faster than a vagrant being booted from a country club. It’s a handy Catch-22 for the establishment to use to discount the non-establishment.

The other entities who should be sweating their current standing are the Big 12 and the Pac-12. Neither conference has a team in the top four, which currently contains two from the Southeastern Conference (No. 2 LSU and No. 4 Alabama), one from the Atlantic Coast Conference (Clemson) and one from the Big Ten (Ohio State).

Paxton Lynch and Memphis aren't getting much respect despite handling Ole Miss this season. (AP)
Paxton Lynch and Memphis aren't getting much respect despite handling Ole Miss this season. (AP)

The Big 12 has unbeatens ranked sixth (Baylor), eighth (TCU) and 14th (Oklahoma State), plus one-loss Oklahoma (15th). Those teams all will play each other in the coming weeks, which will inflate their strength of schedule and improve the standing of whichever team rises to the top of that league.

“We rank to this point in time, and those teams just haven’t played the strongest part of their schedule yet,” committee chair Jeff Long said of the Big 12.

The committee was no fan of Baylor’s soft non-conference schedule last year, and appears to feel the same this year. If it comes down to a hair-splitting contest involving the Bears, they might be nervous.

The Pac-12 doesn’t even have a team in the top 10. It also doesn’t have an unbeaten team. Stanford and Utah are Nos. 11 and 12, and UCLA is the only other team ranked (23rd). The league champion certainly will have a chance to climb into the top four by the time all is said and done, but that team will likely need some help along the way. There are three SEC teams and three Big Ten teams in their path, plus two from the Big 12, one from the ACC and Notre Dame.

Stanford will have its own shot at removing the Notre Dame impediment Nov. 28 in Palo Alto. That has the makings of a playoff elimination game, if both win out until then. But after that, the Cardinal would likely have to win the Pac-12 title game as well. Notre Dame, which has no 13th game, would have all its hay in the barn on Thanksgiving weekend.

With one loss, the storied Irish will have a chance. For an outsider like Memphis, relegated to 13th despite a perfect record and a big win, there may not even be a chance at 13-0.

College Football Playoff rankings Week 9
College Football Playoff rankings Week 9