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UWDP CFP Roundtable: Ain’t Nole Love

There’s another half to the CFP bracket, and nobody is happy about Alabama over FSU

NCAA Football: North Alabama at Florida State Morgan Tencza-USA TODAY Sports

Other than the brilliance of Michael Penix, Jr., the most popular topic in the college football zeitgeist this week has been the CFP’s decision to include Alabama in the field of four, thus leaving out undefeated ACC Champion FSU. While Jordan Travis is out for the year for FSU, it is the first time an undefeated Power 5 Champion has been left out of the CFP. So, UWDP staff, I pose to you:

Does anyone agree with Alabama and Texas making the CFP over FSU and why? Or maybe to put it more mildly, is anyone not actively angry about the situation?

Andrew Berg

Personally, I’ve got nothing. I don’t even like FSU, but I felt horrible for them and their fans after they did everything they could possibly do to make the CFP and still fell short. The SoS argument feels weak to me- Clemson and even FSU have made the CFP in recent memory against the same conference, and FSU scheduled both LSU and Florida (historically very safe bets to be tough opponents) to bolster it. If they are excluded based on the injury to Jordan Travis, that feels very theoretical. The Patriots won a Super Bowl with a backup QB once upon a time. I’m not saying Tate Rodemaker is Tom Brady, but the Committee doesn’t have enough evidence to write them off on the basis of a single player’s injury (as an aside, I said the day after Travis got hurt that FSU should announce nothing about his injury and say that they hope to have him back for the CFP to avert this specific outcome. The lesson, as always, is to lie to the NCAA authorities). It’s not even as if Alabama and Texas are clearly better based on their on-field performance. FSU is #7 nationally in EPA margin, ahead of both Texas (12th) and Alabama (24th). FSU’s greatest strength is their pass defense; they rate 2nd nationally in EPA against dropback passes. That kind of disruption has been crucial for teams in past CFPs. I simple can’t come up with a coherent, competitive reason to leave FSU out of the field.

Coach B

I get why they did what they did but I’m still not a fan of the committee’s decisions this year. They are setting a bad precedent and aren’t being consistent or honest about it. To-date, the committee has been pretty good about including the undefeated P5 teams in the playoff because they were deemed unequivocally better than the field, so all the tie breakers like common opponents or player availability were irrelevant. It never seemed like the committee placed more weight on hypotheticals over actual results, and for the most part it seemed like the P5 teams always could control their destiny if they went undefeated. That’s just not the case anymore, and I don’t like the precedent that the eye test and hypotheticals now matter more. It’s simply discrediting the CFP itself and is setting up a pretty legitimate case for a split championship if FSU beats UGA. It won’t be official obviously, but I also wouldn’t be mad if FSU claimed one for this year (assuming we don’t win it all).

Also, I hate the inconsistency of the ranking criteria being applied. If Boo Corrigan just came out and said they used the eye test for everyone, then at least we know what to expect and how to schedule/play. However, the fact that FSU is out of the playoff because Jordan Travis is out and they don’t think they’re as good as Texas or Bama without him, but is still ahead of UGA just feels disingenuous.

NCAA Football: North Alabama at Florida State Morgan Tencza-USA TODAY Sports

Kirk DeGrasse

I’m a bit surprised at how mad I am about FSU being left out, but all of this has been helpful to me in clarifying my own belief about what the playoffs should be about and what matter when discussing all of this. Being a fan of Washington and seeing how this season has played out has also been important in evolving my thinking. Long rant incoming:

For anyone that remembers the before times when I used to write here frequently about Washington football (and college football in general), they know that I greatly value advanced metrics and analytics. In a team sport like football it’s easy to get caught up in standard statistics that, as it turns out, don’t have nearly as much correlation with winning and success as we had assumed. The explosion of more advanced metrics that go in-depth in matching data with success is a boon for those trying to project future outcomes and having a deeper understanding of what drives success in football. But those metrics aren’t perfect: they (generally) don’t account for particular schematic and personnel match-ups, play-calling tendencies and they can’t account for the fact there’s still a lot about football that is best described (for better or worse) as “luck”.

To use but one example that hits close to home, pretty much all the notable advanced metrics (FEI, SP+, FPI, Sagarin) figured Oregon was a better team heading into the first match-up with Washington. We all know the Huskies won, but in the weeks following - as the Huskies struggled to put away lesser teams while Oregon steamrolled opponents - it was easy for folks to figure the Huskies “got lucky” and if the teams played 10 times, the Ducks would win 7 of them. The metrics didn’t account for the significant injuries Washington had (JMac, Letuligasenoa, Asa, KamFab, etc) while Oregon remained remarkably healthy. And the metrics don’t - and can’t - account for intangibles. I don’t know how much stock to put into the idea of Washington having a resolve, a mentality, a psychological toughness that provides them an edge over opponents, but the fact is they faced a lot of close calls this season and they made just enough plays when they needed to that allowed them to stay undefeated. And so when the rematch with the Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship game came, the metrics were more sure than ever that the Ducks were the better team, and yet once again it was the Huskies winning, this time with even more certainty in how it came about.

However you want to judge that, whether it be that the Huskies simply (once again) got “lucky” and that the Ducks would win 7 of the next 8 matchups, whether you choose to dismiss the value of advanced metrics because they aren’t perfect - the bottom line is that the Huskies won. They won every game, and as simplistic and cliché as this sounds, that’s the point of all of this. The standings that matter are the win/loss standings. You play the game to win, not to have better statistics. Yes, the statistics matter in projecting future outcomes, but those are still just projections. You don’t get championship trophies for “most times projected to win”.

And so, when I look at FSU, I can’t help but feel intensely aggrieved on their behalf that they have been left out. They won every single game on their schedule. Alabama didn’t. They did everything you can ask of a team that is trying to make the playoffs. You can’t accuse them of playing a soft schedule - they played a neutral site game against an SEC powerhouse (LSU) and won, and they beat another SEC team - and in intense in-state rival - on the road (Florida). Their strength of schedule isn’t ranked particularly high (61st by Sagarin), but let’s also keep in mind that the ACC had the 2nd best out of conference mark this season (10-9) compared to the 7-9 posted by the SEC; not only that, the ACC went 6-4 vs. the SEC this year. There weren’t many really good teams in the ACC this year, but there weren’t many easy outs either. Brian Fremeu (creator of FEI) has an interesting metric that rates what an “average” team would do in wins/losses vs. a particular team’s schedule, and among the top CFP candidates FSU is 4th with 7.22 wins more than the average team (UW is 1st by the way with 8.43). This isn’t a case like an undefeated Liberty this year, or UCF back in 2017 where you can credibly dismiss their case with an obviously inferior strength of schedule.

What this situation has made clear is that the mandate by the CFP committee to select the “best” four teams rather than the “most deserving” is fundamentally flawed, because as much as we like to think we know who the “best” teams are, the results on the field don’t always go according to projections. There was a notable rant a couple days ago about how the CFP selections are turning college football into figure skating. Unless the conferences at some point agree to hard and fast criteria for playoff qualification (not likely) there’s always going to be some amount of human judgement involved in selecting the participants, but the general thrust of the “figure skating” argument is legitimate. We’re asking a committee to project outcomes as the most important factor vs. weighing what they’ve already accomplished. We were told that FSU’s undefeated record wasn’t good enough because without Jordan Travis, the committee doesn’t think FSU is as good of a team as Alabama or Texas. That may well be true, but it’s still a projection. Even worse, there’s clear inconsistency in the application of that “best” standard; if it’s truly about which four teams are the “best” teams with the greatest chance of succeeding in the playoffs, then why isn’t Georgia included? Depending on how you measure “best” teams like Oregon, Ohio State, Penn State could feel mad they’re not included. And if we are to believe in some consistent standard of what matters to the committee, then how did Texas jump 4 places in the final rankings to get into the CFP? Certainly a big win over Oklahoma State didn’t move the needle that much. If the committee instead were told to pick the “most deserving” there’s still subjectivity involved, but it becomes easier to define, and an undefeated Power-5 champ like FSU almost certainly gets in over a 1-loss Power-5 Champ.

It all feeds into the conspiracy theory perception that the CFP committee - and ESPN - was never going to allow a 4-team CFP bracket to not have a 1-loss SEC champion, regardless of how many other undefeated Power-5 conference champions there were. And so if it was predetermined that they were going to put in the winner of the SEC Championship game, then it meant that when Alabama won, they had to bump up Texas 4 spots to get in, because they didn’t want to have to explain how the Longhorns would be left out after beating the Tide by 10 in Tuscaloosa. Which meant they needed to use the Travis injury as their excuse to give the Seminoles the short end of the straw. And for all the talk about how Alabama improved significantly over the course of the season after the loss to Texas and the close calls over USF, aTm and Arkansas and “wasn’t the same team”, let’s not forget they needed a last minute miracle TD on 4th and 31 vs. a 6-6 Auburn team in their last regular season game.

Thankfully the arguments over the CFP decisions won’t be quite as meaningful starting next year when it expands to 12. The arguments certainly won’t go away - which 4 teams deserve the 1st round bye, which 7 teams really deserve the at-large bids - but the stakes will be lower. That however won’t fix the fact that Florida State’s players, coaches, staff and fans got absolutely robbed this year of a chance that they earned to play for a National Championship.

Gabey Lucas

You should post this as an article.

Oh wait I didn’t even realize this was in a roundtable lol I’m stupid.

Andrew

Well said, Kirk, but since none of us has been granted the power to revise the CFP field by fiat, what are you looking forward to in the Michigan-Alabama game and how do you project it to go?

Kirk

I haven’t watched much of either team this year, so I don’t have much insight. Michigan has been more consistently good this season, but Alabama is extremely talented and extremely well-coached. So I guess that leaves me just thinking about which team I’d rather face, and I just don’t know.

For a long time I had a great deal of respect for Michigan’s program; from all the great match-ups against them, both in Rose Bowls and some classic regular season games, to their iconic helmets, to their great history - they were a team I could root for when they weren’t playing Washington. And that only deepened when Ohio State turned into a slimy, SEC-style program under Tressel and Meyer and Penn State was revealed to be harboring a molester. I was stoked when they hired Harbaugh as I was looking forward to some epic battles with Meyer and Ohio State. Yeah, Harbaugh was/is weird, but in a fascinating way. Except it turned out that he doesn’t much care for rules either and I’ve become very disillusioned with Michigan.

Alabama are the big, bad bullies. They have been most of my lifetime, starting with Bear Bryant and now, incredibly, even more so under Nick Saban. I’m beyond tired of SEC dominance and it gets old seeing Alabama winning so many titles, but a grudging tip of the cap to the one-time Don James player and grad assistant Saban - he’s the GOAT.

So which team would I rather see the Huskies face if we get past Texas? I can’t pick; both teams will be very tough to beat (as will Texas) so I don’t know there’s much of an edge to facing either one. There’s the historical aspect to facing Michigan and the potential symmetry of playing them to win a National Championship, our first since beating Michigan in the 1992 Rose Bowl to claim the ‘91 title, but there’s also the potential revenge factor of getting to beat Alabama after losing to them in 2016 in our only prior CFP game.

NCAA Football: SEC Football Championship-Georgia at Alabama Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew

All of those thoughts make sense. I have to admit that I’ve never viewed Michigan as an enemy. For whatever reason, I grew up despising Ohio State and was more friendly to Michigan as a result. I visited the Big House as a kid and loved watching Charles Woodson, so as far as loathsome blue bloods, they’re not near the top of my list. I concede that the sign stealing and many of the other things Harbaugh has done are slimy and unlikable, but I just am not yet at a place where I can hate Michigan as much as I hate teams like Alabama and Ohio State. Plus, just having someone outside the SEC win the National Title is always a small victory. If the Dawgs can’t win it, maybe Michigan can bring home the trophy for our beloved Big 10.

On the field, it should be an interesting match-up. Alabama has turned a corner this year as they have given Jalen Milroe more freedom within the offense. I would say that Michigan is a different sort of defense- and 99% of the time that’s true- but Milroe just had a big game against Georgia, who is right there with Michigan among the best defenses in the country. I don’t have the most faith in Tommy Rees based on his early-season wobbles as OC and prior tenure at Notre Dame. If he reverts back into a conservative shell, it might be the difference in the game.

Michigan’s style also makes me wonder. Some of the teams that have upset Alabama in the Saban era have been ones with mobile QBs who make plays with their feet when things break down. JJ McCarthy is certainly mobile, but Michigan doesn’t throw enough for the scramble to be a big part of the offense. Also, Michigan isn’t trying to upset Alabama. They have had a better season and might even have a better roster. I think I will end up picking Michigan in a close game because they are comfortable with what they do and have the right players to do it against just about any opponent.

What say you, UWDP readers?

Poll

On a scale of 1-5, how egregious is the CFP Committee decision to rank Alabama over FSU?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    1 - It was justified. Without Jordan Travis, FSU is not a worthy contender and the CFP is supposed to determine the best team at the end of the year.
    (16 votes)
  • 3%
    2 - It’s a tough call but the right one for the sport.
    (20 votes)
  • 11%
    3 - I don’t agree, but I see why they did it.
    (62 votes)
  • 15%
    4 - It was clearly an unfair choice, but I’m not so angry about it.
    (78 votes)
  • 66%
    5 - It was unfair and inconsistent in a way that makes me question CFP administration in general
    (343 votes)
519 votes total Vote Now