Alabama Football: Another way to look at polls and CFB Playoff rankings

Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports /

When the traditional college football polls were released on Sunday there was little change in the top nine spots. Alabama Football is again No. 8 in the AP and Coaches polls. Last Tuesday, when the first CFB Playoff ranking was released, it matched the top eight slots with AP Poll voters.

The CFB Playoff Selection Committee ostensibly ignores the traditional polls. That is a wise plan and one more of us might want to consider. In addition, whenever a computer ranking is mentioned to a Selection Committee member they attempt to disavow any perspective that an algorithm might have as much or more value than the committee’s expert judgment.

All season the Alabama Crimson Tide has been rated more highly by computers than it has been by humans. The reason is simple. The algorithms used by ESPN, Jeff Sagarin, and others calculate strength of schedule (SOS) and strength of record (SOR) closely. Poll voters guess, mostly based on wins and losses and some varying degree of watching teams play.

The vagaries of the latter approach both overrate and underate teams. A current example is Fresno State ranked No. 25 in the Coaches Poll. The Bulldogs’ only decent win is over a Boise State team that has lost four games. In ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), Fresno State is No. 55.

Alabama Football Making the Playoff

Historically, the number of teams worthy of Playoff inclusion has ranged from two to five teams. This season it could be that five or six and maybe seven are playoff-worthy. The general assumption is an Alabama Football SEC Champion would make the field. In contrast to that premise is an assumption the champions of the Big Ten and the Pac-12 are locks. An almost-lock assumption is that undefeated FSU gets on one of the four slots. That could leave Alabama, Georgia and Texas at 12-1 (and possibly a 1-loss Pac-12 team), vying for the fourth slot. Would Texas get the head-to-head nod over the Crimson Tide? What about a 1-loss Washington team that is not the Pac-12 champion, after a narrow loss to Oregon in the title game?

What the Selection Committee should do is dive deeply into SOR in the last couple of weeks of the season through championship weekend. Check out what a deep dive would currently show, using wins against top 20, FPI teams.

Wins over ESPN FPI Top 20

  • Alabama Crimson Tide (4 wins) – LSU (No. 10), Ole Miss (No. 13), Tennessee (No. 14) and Texas A&M (No. 16)
  • Texas Longhorns (2 wins) – Alabama (No. 5) and Kansas State (No. 11)
  • Washington Huskies (1 win) – Oregon (No. 3)
  • Ohio State Buckeyes (1 win) – Penn State (No. 4)
  • Florida State Seminoles (1 win) – LSU (No. 10)
  • Oregon Ducks (zero wins) – best win against Utah (No. 21)
  • Georgia Bulldogs (zero wins) – best win against Missouri (No. 24)
  • Michigan Wolverines (zero wins) – best win against Rutgers (No. 44)

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Before the Selection Committee’s Tuesday night update, I’ll offer a take on how the top 10 should be ranked.