The College Football Playoff committee has released their final ranking of the 2016 season and despite all the debate and all the screaming and yelling, there were no major surprises.
With Washington and Clemson winning their respective conference championships this weekend, the final debates came down to the exclusion of Penn State, the champions of arguably the best conference this season, the Big Ten.
At the end of the day, the one stat that mattered more than any other was the most basic stat of them all: losses.
Here is the final ranking for the 2016 season. Take a look at the pattern in the loss column. In the top 15, no team from a Power-5 conference is ranked below a team with more losses and the four teams with fewer than two losses are in the playoff.
This is the third year for the College Football Playoff ranking. Of the 30 teams ranked in the top 10 of the final playoff rankings the last three years, only two teams were ranked behind teams with more losses, and in both cases it did not impact who made the playoff.
In 2015, Stanford had two losses and was ranked No. 6, ahead of No. 7 Ohio State with one loss. In 2014, both No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon had a single loss and were ranked ahead of undefeated Florida State at No. 3.
In other words, the committee has never put a Power-5 conference team in the playoff with more losses than another Power-5 conference team who did not make it, and we saw it again this year.
Of course, there is still debate among teams with the same number of losses. But at the end of the day, it is better to have fewer losses, and moving forward, that means teams are probably going to stop scheduling tough non-conference games.
In the BCS era, prior to the implementation of the playoff, teams were judged heavily on “quality wins” and strength of schedule. At the same time, they were criticised for scheduling too many so-called “cupcake” opponents. But now the opposite is true. For all the talk of Washington’s weak non-conference schedule, which included Portland State and Idaho, they are in the playoff simply because they have fewer losses than Penn State, Oklahoma, and Michigan.
Penn State’s win over Ohio State didn’t matter because they also lost to Pitt and Michigan. Oklahoma’s undefeated conference record in the Big 12 didn’t matter because they also lost to Ohio State and Houston. And Michigan’s wins over three teams in the top 10 of the final ranking (Colorado, Wisconsin, and Penn State) didn’t matter because they also lost to Iowa and Ohio State.
It looks pretty simple: If Penn State had scheduled Cupcake State instead of Pitt, the Nittany Lions would be in the playoff. If Oklahoma had scheduled Podunk University instead of Ohio State, the Sooners would have been in contention in the final week and they might be in the playoff now. Instead, neither ever really had a shot because both had two losses.
This season had an unprecedented level of big-time, early season matchups as teams tried to load their resumes with strong opponents. But we better not get used to that. As fun as that was, there is just too much at stake and the committee has spoken: lose fewer games and the rest will take care of itself.
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