Many groaned when they saw Alabama, despite having lost at Texas A&M, ranked second in the first College Football Playoff rankings. The reaction is understandable because it seems as if Bama’s loss just doesn’t matter to the Selection Committee.
However, Alabama being ranked #2 is nowhere near as bad as Oregon being ranked 4th. Even worse, it is rather obvious that the committee ranked Oregon 4th simply because it loves Ohio State, which came in at 5th.
Oregon’s Bad Resume, Sans Ohio State
Oregon beat Ohio State in Columbus, 35-28, way back on September 11th. Granted, it’s probably the best win any team has on its resume to date; however, since that impressive win for the Ducks, Oregon has done nothing to back it up.
In fact, Oregon’s best two wins of the season both came in the first two weeks. The week prior to knocking off Ohio State, Oregon scored a touchdown with 2:57 left to play against Fresno State to defeat the Bulldogs, 31-24. Fresno now stands at 7-2, with the other loss coming at Hawaii (4-5), and is ranked #23.
Since defeating Fresno State and Ohio State, Oregon has beaten FCS Stony Brook (3-5), Arizona (0-8), Cal (3-5), UCLA (5-4), and Colorado (2-6). The Ducks have also LOST to Stanford (3-5), 31-24 in OT.
In other words, since September 11, Oregon’s best win is by a field goal over UCLA (5-4), 34-31. Oregon’s seven wins this season, including against Fresno and Ohio State, have come against teams that have a combined record of 26-31.
More importantly, Oregon lost a game to a team that is currently two games back from .500 – a team whose only other wins are over USC (4-4) and Vanderbilt (2-7).
How does a team that’s lost a game to a team with a 3-5 record get seated at the playoff table when several undefeated and one-loss teams with better losses are available?
The Best of the Rest
I’d argue that Oklahoma (9-0), Cincinnati (8-0), Oklahoma State (7-1), Baylor (7-1), Notre Dame (7-1), Michigan (7-1), and even Wake Forest (8-0) all deserve to be positioned better than Oregon because, unlike Oregon, none of those teams has a bad loss.
According to the Sagarin Rankings, #4 Oregon has faced the 64th toughest schedule in the nation.
#7 Michigan, which has one loss at #3 Michigan State, has played the 35th toughest schedule in the nation.
#10 Notre Dame, which has one loss vs. #6 Cincinnati, has played the 9th toughest schedule in the nation.
#11 Oklahoma State, which has one loss at Iowa State (5-3), has played the 29th toughest schedule in the nation.
#12 Baylor, which has one loss at #11 Oklahoma State, has played the 56th toughest schedule in the nation.
And yet, here’s Oregon ranked 4th with the 64th toughest schedule in the nation to date and a loss at Stanford (3-5).
What does that loss to Stanford mean? Apparently not much to the Playoff Selection Committee. It should mean a lot, however.
Stanford opened the season by getting bludgeoned by K-State (5-3), 24-7, in a neutral site game that was much more lopsided than the score indicates. Stanford didn’t score until there were less than four minutes remaining and got out-rushed by K-State 200 yards to 39.
Stanford went on to win two straight against USC and Vanderbilt – two teams with a combined record of 6-11. Those two wins, along with the victory over Oregon, are it for Stanford.
On the other hand, Stanford’s losses have come against teams that are a combined 24-18 – a winning record (57%), but not fantastic.
The Oklahoma State Example
Consider Iowa State, the team that defeated #11 Oklahoma State. The Cyclones have three losses to teams that have a combined record of 17-7 (70.8%). Moreover, two of the teams that beat Iowa State are ranked in the CFB Playoff Top 25: #12 Baylor and #22 Iowa. Obviously, Oregon’s loss at Stanford is much worse than Oklahoma State’s loss at Iowa State.
Sticking with the Oklahoma State example, the Cowboys’ seven wins have come against teams that have a combined record of 29-27 (51.8%). Compare that to the 26-31 (45.6%) mark set by the teams Oregon has defeated and then consider that Oklahoma State beat K-State, the same team that wiped the floor with Stanford at a neutral site.
Oklahoma State has played a tougher schedule than Oregon. Oklahoma State’s opponents have a better overall record than Oregon’s. And Oklahoma State’s one loss came against Iowa State, a 5-3 team with two of those losses coming against the Top 25 while Oregon’s one loss came against a 3-5 team that is currently in last place in Oregon’s own division.
In case you were wondering, the odds that Stanford will right the ship and finish at .500 or better are exactly zero-point-zero. Stanford’s remaining schedule is vs. Utah (5-3), at Oregon State (5-3), vs. Cal (3-5), and vs. #10 Notre Dame (7-1). At best, Stanford will be favored in just one of those games and is most likely to finish 4-8.
But Oregon beat Ohio State AT Ohio State!
Quality wins should matter, but so should bad losses. If every game counts as every game should, who a team loses to is just as important as who a team defeats.
Imagine one of the four coveted playoff spots going to a team that LOST to a 4-8 team. It’s preposterous, isn’t it? The committee has clearly lost touch with reality by positioning the Ducks to do so.
If the committee loves Ohio State so much that it has to pretend that Oregon didn’t lose to a 3-5 team, it should just rank Ohio State 4th and put Oregon where it belongs: outside of the Top 10 to where it can only reach the playoffs if it doesn’t lose again and multiple other teams lose two games.
Make no mistake, Oregon is where it is because of what the committee thinks of Ohio State, not what it thinks of Oregon.
I’m afraid this is the Top Four the committee truly wanted but didn’t have the courage to give us:
3. Ohio State
Clemson Michigan State