Opinion: Don't fall for the College Football Playoff committee's meaningless rankings

·5 min read

Welcome back to Tuesdays with the Nonsense Crew, an event so specifically concocted to inflame and yet so free of substance and importance that it defies logic why we pay attention at all.

And yet, once again, the College Football Playoff committee will hook us in tonight with the first reveal of its weekly rankings on ESPN. Moments afterwards, the pistons will start firing on a predictable cycle of accusing committee members of various biases, pointing out inconsistencies in the way they ranked the teams and then listening to chairman Gary Barty meander through a series of talking points designed by the CFP staff to make all of this sound very official and logically sound.

Instead, what we will actually get is reporters asking pointed, sometimes even anger-tinged questions that are batted back by phrases like “We looked at the entire body of work” and “data points” that are really just code for “We like this team better than that team.”

It’s infuriating. And we fall for it every time.

The first College Football Playoff rankings of the season are scheduled to be released Tuesday.
The first College Football Playoff rankings of the season are scheduled to be released Tuesday.

But we can make a different choice. Every year, we have the opportunity to do better. No matter which team you’re a fan of, there’s no need to let this process drive you nuts.

The dirty little secret of the CFP rankings is that until the conference championship games are played on Dec. 4, none of what’s said Tuesday matters even a little bit. This is the eighth year of the Playoff, and by now we know exactly how this is going to go.

After all the games are done, there will be five power conference champions. Any of those that have zero or one losses — a group that currently consists of 10 teams but will get smaller when some of them play each other — will be in good shape.

That's true even for Oklahoma, which obviously hasn't impressed the selection committee by being placed No. 8 in this week's rankings but will have chances to impress down the stretch against Baylor, Oklahoma State and whoever the Sooners would play in the Big 12 championship game. If they finish undefeated, they're almost certainly getting in.

If Notre Dame finishes 11-1, the Irish will be under consideration but probably not ahead of any one-loss conference champions because their schedule hasn’t provided opportunities to play many good teams.

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If undefeated Georgia loses to one-loss Alabama in the SEC championship game, they’re both going to get in the Playoff. That was clear already, but confirmed by the committee starting Alabama at No. 2 despite its loss to Texas A&M.

At No. 6, the scenario for Cincinnati is clear. If the Bearcats finish 13-0, they’ll be ahead of Notre Dame but behind the SEC champion (whether it’s Georgia or Alabama), the Big Ten champion (whether it’s one-loss Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan), a one-loss Oregon and an unbeaten Oklahoma. It's not impossible, but it would take a lot of help for Cincinnati to get in the top four.

And that’s it. That’s all you need to know. Because regardless of what the committee says Tuesday or where it ranks the teams, the top four will almost certainly sort themselves out over the next month — because they always do.

At most, the committee will have to make one tough decision by the end. But nearly all of the time, things fall into place pretty automatically with that top four.

The last time there was even a choice between one-loss power conference champions was 2018 when the last spot was going to either Oklahoma or Ohio State, but because the Sooners’ only blemish was a three-point loss to a top-15 Texas team while the Buckeyes had lost by 29 to Purdue, there was really no controversy about the end result.

The only other time a one-loss power conference champion got left was the very first year, 2014, when the committee jumped Ohio State over both 11-1 Baylor and TCU for the No. 4 spot.

For all the dramatic visuals ESPN will show from the committee room, this is actually a very simple process that could be done in 30 minutes. Maybe an hour if there’s a really close call between the last two teams.

But because college sports administrators are addicted to largesse and formality, they will fly the 13 committee members into Dallas and put them up at a fancy resort to debate these rankings for two days so that ESPN can have a Tuesday night TV program.

You can’t blame them for that. People will watch, they’ll get mad, they’ll react. It’s all part of the show.

It’s also a massive waste of time and energy. No matter what Barta, the committee chairman, actually says on Tuesday, the notion that they’re picking the “four best teams” is not nearly as vague as it sounds or as complicated as they’ll have you believe.

Nearly a decade into the Playoff era, we know the criteria. We know the history. We know that the conference championship games will end up separating the top tier from the rest. We know that this process doesn’t actually give us a whole lot to complain about at the end.

And yet, complain we will — tonight and for the next four Tuesdays. Because that’s exactly what the committee and ESPN wants us to do.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College Football Playoff rankings are meaningless until December