A New Way to Do College Football Playoff Rankings

“A good scout, a good analyst, they go and they watch the game. Your eyes see the game much better than the numbers. But the numbers see every game. And that’s a big deal.” That’s what Dean Oliver, statistician, author of the seminal “Basketball on Paper”, former head of analysis for ESPN’s Stats & Information group and former front office worker for several NBA teams, said. to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report in 2015. I’ve seen Oliver give a similar quote many times, and I’m still jealous that I didn’t find it first.

Numbers see all games. They connect the dots in a way we never could. While people sometimes try to think of them as the end of the conversation, I like to think of them more as an anchor, a way to beginning the conversation in the right place. And I can’t help but wish they had played a bigger role in college football playoff standings.

To be sure, numbers are involved. The CFP committee is given a nice scoreboard to compare teams, with green and red dots to signify superiority in certain categories, and their references to terms like game control or record strength show that they are internalizing the numbers they see to some extent.

Also, as I always feel the need to mention when discussing how the committee does its job, it is mostly successful when it comes to picking playoff participants. Of the 32 teams that have made the playoffs so far, I may have had minor complaints about a few. I wish Cincinnati had had more of a look in 2020 (mostly at the expense of Notre Dame) and I wouldn’t have complained if Baylor or TCU had gotten fourth place in 2014 instead of Ohio State (although I didn’t have a problem with the Buckeyes either). I was annoyed with the treatment of undefeated UCF in 2017, although I probably wouldn’t have put the Knights in the top four. However, the committee’s choices were more than acceptable. So when we complain, it’s more about process than outcome.

The process still matters, though. And the importance of the process will certainly not diminish in the future, when the committee will be responsible for choosing 12 teams to play for the national title instead of four (and choosing which of these teams will receive byes or games). at home in the first round). The CFP proudly refuses to use power ratings or resume rankings in any direct way, choosing instead to throw numbers at its committee and ask each member to create their own power ratings not tested in their respective heads. This will never be the most advisable approach.

So, as we work through the weekly ranking routine, knowing that in the end the outcome will likely be acceptable and predictable, let’s consider what role numbers might play in this process.

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