And the committee has spoken!

Gordon P Smith Roar Guru

By , Gordon P Smith is a Roar Guru

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    College football is growing in popularity in Australia, with the Sydney Cup as evidence. (Photo: Jack Prichard)

    Originally, I wanted to talk about the surprise teams of the 2017 college football year: Iowa State, Boston College, Arizona, even Austin Peay and Elon in the FCS. But the elephant in the room was too large.

    The first College football playoff rankings came out Tuesday night (Wednesday, Australian time).

    Wisely, the 13-member committee of ‘experts’ (how sarcastically that term is used depends on your opinion of the process; I think it’s as good as we can expect) do not issue any preliminary rankings until a few weeks before the actual need for a top four and a top twelve, so as not to waste our time or theirs.

    As expected, their top four teams as of week 9 are (drum roll, please).

    The Georgia Bulldogs, Alabama Crimson Tide, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and the Clemson Tigers.

    (You could hardly ask for a better, more varied set of mascots than that, could you? Maybe if we had the TCU Horned Frogs in there, or the Ohio State Buckeyes…)

    In the ELO-Following Football rating system, which regular readers of mine are undoubtedly familiar with, there are five teams who stand head-and-shoulders above the others, and they particularly show up when you remove the pre-season ranking bias that we and every other system incorporates in September at least.

    I’ve found that maintaining the pre-season portion of the rating improves prediction results over the adjusted scores, which is why I only use the adjusted score for demonstrations like these. And one of those teams named today isn’t among them, despite their on-field credentials.

    When you make that adjustment in our numbers, here are the top five teams.

    Alabama (adjusted score: 0.) ELO-FF rating: 5, first place
    Georgia (adj score: 1.) ELO-FF rating: 11, fourth place
    Ohio State (adj score; 1.) ELO-FF rating: 7, second place
    Penn State (adj score: 2.) ELO-FF rating: 9, third place
    Notre Dame (adj score: 2.) ELO-FF rating: 14, tie for sixth

    Then, there’s a significant gap to the next team, Oklahoma State (adjusted score of 5, fifth place ELO-FF rating of 12), and an even bigger gap to seventh place and beyond (with adjusted scores of 9 to 13).

    Iowa State, Mississippi State, TCU, Auburn, Central Florida, Virginia Tech, Stanford, THEN Clemson, Wisconsin, and the University of Washington. Strictly speaking, the next lowest score belongs to defending FCS champion James Madison at 14, with North Dakota State close behind them at 16!

    If you’re serious about picking out the four best teams for the playoff at the end of the year, that’s as far down as we need to go when we’re two-thirds of the way through the season.

    Seriously: do you think Arizona or Texas are getting in? Those are teams #17 and #18 on our list right now.

    As for Clemson, undoubtedly the reasoning the committee used was that their one loss, as bad as it was (27-24 to lowly Syracuse), came on a short week, in a road game, when their starting quarterback went down early in that game. But the ELO-FF system ignores that for the simple reason that if you’re evaluating teams strictly on their on-field performance, as they claim to be (for example, the committee famously does NOT account for games yet to be played – see Baylor/TCU three weeks ago).

    Clemson played that game, and they lost. The teams the one-loss crew of ours failed against – Notre Dame lost to Georgia by one; Penn State to Ohio State, and Ohio State to 7-1 Oklahoma – all fall in the CFP top six. (OU was fifth, OSU sixth, and Penn St seventh).

    Syracuse, not surprisingly, is not ranked by the committee, despite their “signature win”.

    former Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb

    (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

    We still believe that those five teams that have separated themselves from the peloton in our ratings – two SEC schools, two from the Big Ten that just played a phenomenal, 39-38 thriller won by OSU in the final minutes, and the independent powerhouse Notre Dame – are basically guaranteed to have first say in the make-up of the CFP foursome.

    The winner of the SEC championship game on December 2 – and if they’re both still undefeated going in, very possibly the loser as well – will be there.

    Ohio State now has a clear run to their finals spot if they beat Michigan in a few weeks, and then win the conference title game (most likely against Wisconsin). Both Penn State and Wisconsin will have something to say if they hiccup, but it’s now the Buckeyes’ spot to lose.

    An 11-1 Power Five champ will be in the playoff.

    As for Notre Dame, their independent status is advantageous only when it allows them to schedule well – and this year, it has. Besides the one-point loss to Georgia in one of the games-of-the-year, they’ve wiped up ACC Atlantic leader North Carolina State by 21, resurgent Boston College by 29, and Pac-12 South leader USC by 35 points!

    Their scheduled ‘lightweights’ aren’t that light, either: Miami-Ohio (top tier team in the MAC), equally resurgent Michigan State, and two teams expected to be better than they have been, Temple and North Carolina.

    If they finish 11 and 1, they’ll also have beaten a strong Naval Academy club, a Wake Forest team we have in our top 25, #18 Stanford and #9 Miami of Florida. No other team has that kind of ‘Murderer’s Row’ to battle through, so if the Irish succeed, they’ve written their own ticket to the CFP.

    Do any other teams have a chance? Of course.

    Even if these five teams hold up their end of the bargain, you’ve only got two conference champs in the bunch. It would be easy for the committee to “reserve” a spot beyond Notre Dame and the SEC and Big Ten champs (and off course, if more losses creep into their resumes, more spots may open up): Justify Penn State’s absence as having been the victim of their unofficial ‘elimination game’ this past weekend, and remove the loser of the Alabama-Georgia SEC title game the same way.

    So who’s most likely to fill that spot? Well, Clemson certainly deserves consideration.

    The ACC champ will certainly have an argument, especially if it’s defending champion Clemson, but even an undefeated (or even a one-loss) Miami of Florida, or possibly a one-loss Va-Tech would be considered were they to make it through the gauntlet. See previous comment: an 11-1 Power Five champ should get in.

    Perhaps the carnage in the Big Twelve will ease up these last four weeks, and one of TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma or Ok-State will end up with just the one conference loss, a victory in the nonsensical title game and thus a legitimate argument for a spot at the finals table.

    Even with OU currently rated fifth, it’s hard to see them running the table against OSU and TCU and perhaps one of these three again.

    Sydney Cup college football NFL

    (Photo: Jack Prichard)

    And in the land of make-believe, there’s also the possibility that the CFP will forget that the one-loss Washington Huskies were the victims of perhaps the ugliest of the losses any of that category of teams suffered. Or that carnage will ensue and either the two-loss Stanford Cardinals, the two-loss Southern Cal Trojans, or the remaining Adam Ashley-Cooper-unbeaten, Central Florida, will emerge as a viable option when December third comes around.

    More likely, those teams will be hoping for a seat at the New Year’s Six banquet, rather than a backstage pass to the playoffs.

    But if I were a betting man (and I’m not), the top three in the initial CFP ranking is also the way I’d bet for the top three to look in five weeks, when it matters, with the Big Ten champ (most likely Ohio State) taking spot four.

    Let’s take a look at this week’s top games.

    There are two huge games in the ACC Saturday. Clemson travels to North Carolina State to try and re-take control of the Atlantic division, while Miami of Florida hosts Virginia Tech and hopes to hold off the Hokies’ attempt to do the same in the Coastal division.

    While Vegas has Clemson as a 7.5 point favourite and Miami as a three-point underdog, we see Clemson as just a three-point favourite, and rate the Miami/VT game as a toss-up. (Georgia Tech at Virginia may also be a classic, although we favour the “ramblin’ wreck” by 12.)

    Nothing in the Big Ten rivals the Ohio St/Penn St heavyweight clash from last Saturday night, but Penn State does have to host Michigan State, and despite being touchdown favourites (we have it more like two scores), PSU could be in danger of a letdown game against a good Spartans team.

    The other interesting games are Ohio State waving to the children’s hospital patients at Iowa (and winning by about 15), and Northwestern playing at Nebraska (nobody knows what to make of Nebraska this season: the spreads range from one point Nebraska’s way to four points the Wildcats’ way. We like Northwestern by two).

    Bedlam reigns in the Big Twelve this weekend – Oklahoma plays at Oklahoma State. For once, the Sooners are underdogs: the home team is favoured by three in Vegas, and by us by seven points. But each is 4-1 and has company at the top from TCU and surprising Iowa State, which has beaten both TCU (14-7 this weekend) and OU (38-31 earlier this season).

    They have a tough game at West Virginia (we see WVU by two), while TCU hosts Texas (the Frogs are a five-point favourite everywhere).

    Stanford goes to Washington State, and the loser’s third loss eliminates them from title consideration completely (we have Stanford by five; Vegas has WSU by two!). In the Pac-12 South, Arizona has to go to the Coliseum and must play as a touchdown underdog to USC in their climb to conquer the division.

    Alabama has the first of its big tests in the SEC, hosting LSU this Saturday as twenty-point favourites, while Georgia hosts South Carolina at the same spread. The most interesting game may be watching how Florida reacts to the sudden ousting of its coach following a bizarre disagreement between he and the administration regarding death threats.

    Florida plays at Missouri Saturday, and while Vegas has them as field goal underdogs, it’s hard to fathom how to predict the way interim coach Randy Shannon and the Gators team reacts this weekend.

    In the Group of Five, we’ll be keeping an eye on the Conference-USA match-up between two rising teams in the east Friday night. Marshall goes to Florida Atlantic as a touchdown underdog. In the west, North Texas’ run to the conference title game will have to go through Louisiana Tech, which is between a three and ten-point favourite (we have it at ten) at home.

    As for the FCS, North Dakota State faces perhaps its toughest challenge of the home-and-away season, travelling to South Dakota State as just three-point favourites. They’ll finish out the season against the two teams directly beneath them in the Missouri Valley Conference, South Dakota and then Illinois State.

    Their major rival nationally, 2016 national champ James Madison, has a fairly easy game at Rhode Island this weekend (they’re favoured by 26), but then finishes their season against traditionally tough Richmond and 2017 upstart Elon as they seek the Colonial Athletic Association crown.

    We went 6-3 in the games we picked in this space last week, and 76-33 overall for the week. For the year, we’re batting 76.5 per cent in our overall picks, and compared to the Vegas lines and the Sagarin system predictions over all FBS games this season (Vegas traditionally doesn’t publish lines for FCS games), we have enjoyed a margin of accuracy over the two of 175 to 164 for Vegas and 152 for Sagarin.

    Past performance does not guarantee future accuracy, however, and we never recommend that you use our predictions for monetary purposes.

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