Base Points: Rank 13 teams eligible for the College Football Playoffs (although not the top 4 this week)
Every Saturday night, Andy Staples and Ari Wasserman react to the weekend’s match list The Andy Staples Show & Friends. On Mondays, Andy revisits his and Ari’s biggest takeaway from Saturday night’s instant reaction. This week: Ari gave all homework: rank the 13 teams eligible for the College Football playoffs.
The only rankings that really matter debut on Tuesday. And even these don’t really matter. Remember, the first time the College Football Playoff Selection Committee published a ranking in 2014, these were the top four:
- Mississippi state
- State of Florida
- Be young lady
How many of these teams actually participated in the inaugural CFP? One. The Seminoles went 13-0, entered the group as seeded no. 3 and were crushed Oregon in the Rose Bowl. So don’t despair if your team isn’t in the top four on Tuesday when the committee reveals its first league table of the 2022 season.
As long as your team is one of the Lucky 13, of course.
In the post-match edition of The Andy Staples showAri and I have decided which teams remain eligible for the CFP. We could be wrong, but eight seasons of selections have established a fairly reliable pattern. The committee has not yet entered a team with two losses * in the top four. You don’t have to be a conference champion to get into the top four, but you’d better not suffer an explosive loss. (Unless you avenged the defeat in the match for the conference title or beat the team that blew you up early in the season.) At the end of the show, Ari gave us all a homework assignment: ranking these 13 teams.
* You will notice two leaks LSU is omitted from Lucky 13. This builds on the committee’s precedent. LSU should beat Alabama and then beat Georgia or Tennessee in the SEC title game, perhaps this changes this year. A two-defeat Auburn would likely have made the group in 2017, but the Tigers lost the rematch against Georgia in the SEC title match.
Going into this week’s games, these are the 13 teams that can still play CFP, listed by conference.
- State of Ohio
- Be young lady
The fact that so many teams remain on the hunt means we’ve had a pretty fun season so far. Also, it doesn’t seem like there are a team or two that would absolutely do that destroy everyone else still on the hunt. When CFP expands to 12 in a few years, we will be able to measure the teams still on the hunt at this point by the dozen. But for now, we’re happy that the number is so high.
To complete Ari’s assignment, I tried to imagine how I would vote as a member of the committee. I have collected some statistics that I know are important to the committee. I’ve also used some that I think are important. I used the SP + predictive ranking created by Bill Connelly of ESPN. This is my favorite predictive ranking formula, but I won’t cavort if you want to use ESPN’s Football Power Index or Jeff Sagarin’s rankings. (Bill’s formula doesn’t seem to accept that Texas won’t come back this year, but I’m willing to forgive it.)
However, I like the strength of the FPI planning measurement. So I used that too. The FPI also has a handy measure of remaining program strength, but it is not necessary for this exercise as we can only rely on games that have already been played. I also used the FPI Record Strength, which measures how difficult it is to hit a team’s record based on the strength of their opponents, travel time, rest time, and other factors.
One stat I love is the net points per unit. This is the number of points of a team’s average attack per drive minus the average number of points the team’s defense allows on each opponent’s drive. Brian Fremeau maintains this statistic his great site. It also keeps yards available, which is another fun. If a team catches the ball at 20, they have 80 yards. If he scores a touchdown, he earns 100 percent of the available yards. But I didn’t want to get into the weeds too much. So I left it out.
Instead of using wins against the top 25 teams, which seems quite arbitrary and would also require me to rank 25 out of 131 teams, I stole a concept from the NCAA Basketball Selection Committee. In basketball, the committee weighs on quadrant 1 (matches against teams in the top 25 percent of the NET rankings) wins heavily. Football doesn’t have a lot of data points, so I decided to count the wins in quadrant 1 and quadrant 2 using SP + as a leaderboard. Quad 1 are the teams classified from n. 1 to n. 30. Quad 2 are the teams classified by n. 31 to no. 60.
I also wanted to use some raw numbers which are not governed by any proprietary formula. So I went with the yards per play earned and the yards per play allowed. This adjusts the timing better than total attack and total defense and also helps identify outliers.
While I know enough about these teams to make educated guesses about their identities based on their numbers, I removed the team names from my spreadsheet before I started sorting the stats. My hope was to forget which team corresponded to which letter. That way, I could rank based solely on what the team had done this season and not on brand name, past success or failure or conference affiliation.
Does this make this ranking objective? Obviously not. Rankings are inherently subjective. At some point, I have to look at two (or three or four) data sets that look quite similar and decide which one to place on top of the other.
Here is my spreadsheet. Feel free to rank the teams as you see fit …
The current committee chooses a bucket of about six teams to select the top three. He then scrolls through the list three at a time until he reaches 25. The six that seemed to belong to the top here were teams E, F, K, J, M and L.
So I moved them to a different spreadsheet and tried analyzing them. Team J he drives all of them with four Quad 1 wins but has one defeat. Team M has three Quad 1 and two Quad 2 wins and the strength of the record n. 1. But team M is one of only two on this list with more than 15 yards per game in the nation. Its defense is No. 39 yards per game allowed. But the attack of him is n. 3 in yards per game earned and is n. 5 in net points per drive. In other words, his defense might give up yards, but team M usually wins their games by a good margin.
Team K and Team F look cleaner. Neither has a loss and both have single-digit ranks in yard-per-game stats. K team is number 2 in net points per unit and has one Quad 1 win and three Quad 2 wins. Team F is number 2 in terms of records and number 1 in net points per unit. The downside of these two? Their schedules weren’t as difficult as those of Team J or Team M.
However, these two have been so consistent that I feel I have to place them between the top two. So I will do Team F No. 1 And Team K No. 2. Now I only choose the top three, so I have to decide between team J and team M and then send the team back in the pool. The strength of the record n. Team M’s 1 suggests who I should pick, but I suspect Team M handed the loss over to Team J. I like to use head-to-head results as a playoff. (Otherwise why bother playing?)
So I peek at my key, which confirms my suspicion. Team M will be number 3. Team J goes back to the pool.
My first three are like this:
- State of Ohio (Team F)
- Georgia (Team K)
- Tennessee (Team M)
Now let’s move on. You’ve probably guessed by now that Team J is Alabama, but let’s try to ignore this knowledge and compare it to the next group.
Let’s take the three remaining teams from the first round (J, E, L) and add three more teams (H, C, G).
The two that jump off the page are Team J And Team E. We are trying not to make any assumptions because we know who J is. What has happened since 2009-21 is not important here. And he has a similar record strength, two Quad 1 and two Quad 2 wins and a better net score by driving grade. The defense seems to have been more stingy, but the attack isn’t nearly as explosive. The biggest difference is the strength of the program. Team J’s program strength is 10th out of 131. Team E is 79th, the lowest in this group of six. So let’s give a nod to Team J. Therefore Team E.
4. Alabama (Team J)
5. Michigan (Team E)
Now we choose the n. 6 from the remaining four on our list (H, C, G, L). All of these teams have more flaws than the others, and these flaws seem to manifest themselves in defense. Team G has a defeat but only a Quad 1 or Quad 2 victory. So that team goes back to the pool. Team CThe record’s strong point is number 3, which means that he has achieved something difficult with respect to his schedule. Team L has the best net points by driving rank and has two Quad 1 wins and one Quad 2 victory.
I think I’ll go with Team C. After peeking at my key, I see that I have classified:
6. TCU (Team C)
I’ll spare you most of the gory details, but I’ve ranked the next 13 equally:
7. Ole Miss (Team L)
8. Clemson (Team A)
9. Oregon (Team G)
10. UCLA (Team H)
11. Illinois (Team D)
12. USC (Team I)
13. North Carolina (Team B)
The biggest surprise? Ole Miss at no. 7. If I had had the team names next to the stats, I probably would have placed Ole Miss around the no. 10. After seeing the rebels against Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss, I don’t trust their defense to hold out enough to allow them to beat Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State and the SEC East Champion. But their defensive stats aren’t as bad as I thought and Clemson’s weren’t as good as I thought. Additionally, Ole Miss has an elite attack and Clemson a pedestrian one.
That said, I think Clemson is much more likely to stay undefeated and play CFP than Ole Miss going 12-1 and making the round. But after looking at these numbers, I have less faith in the Tigers to beat Our lady, Louisville, You love me, South Carolina and the champion of the Coastal Division (probably North Carolina) in consecutive weeks compared to before. Taken individually, Clemson should beat each of those teams. But it seems the Tigers aren’t playing with the same margin of error they had when they did CFP every year. Another sloppy game like theirs Syracuse matchup could result in a loss.
But that’s why they play. Clemson could prove me wrong and end up on the pitch.
The bigger question: will it be a Lucky 13 next week? The Tennessee-Georgia underdog probably stays on the list. But all the others can?
(Photo: Eakin Howard / Getty Images)
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