The Week 12 College Football Playoff rankings have been released this evening, and there are few surprises in the rankings when one compares the selection committee’s top teams to where the old BCS formula would rate everyone:
So the committee favors Oklahoma over Notre Dame, setting aside the common opponent argument to place the Sooners into the current top four. None of the top eight teams are more than two spots away from where they would have been positioned using the old system to calculate the hierarchy. Only Stanford, at ninth in the CFP committee’s top 10, is three spots away from where it was slotted by the BCS calculations.
Of the full top 25 put out by the committee Tuesday, the greatest discrepancies are with Florida State, ranked 13th by the CFP group but just 17th by the BCS projections, and a 19th-ranked TCU team that would be four spots higher under the old system. Only two teams, Utah and Temple, are ranked by the committee but not by the BCS; in its place the old methodology would have subbed out Houston (at 21st) and LSU (at 24th).
What does it all mean? Frankly, what it seems to project is that the issue that was flawed with the BCS era was not the method used to rank the teams but rather the fact that only two teams were granted the opportunity to play for the title once the calculations were complete. With the shift to the College Football Playoff, we gained a plus-one bracket system — but at the expense of a transparent methodology that allowed each team to reasonably see where they stood each week, and whether there was a realistic shot to surge up the standings before the final selection after conference championship games.
As much as Jeff Long spins the committee’s rationale each Tuesday evening for a national audience, the reality is that the CFP Top 25 is nothing more than a 12-person poll. As such, it is ultimately a popularity contest as much as anything else, no different in many ways than the AP or coaches polls. What the BCS provided that the modern method did not was a counterbalance that the computer algorithms provided, smoothing both the sample bias of a small polling number as well as helping to normalize a disparate landscape where 128 schools play vastly different schedules.
We had the tool to provide the best of both of those worlds, but now it exists only as this exercise of nostalgia. It would have hardly been a quantum leap to transpose a four-team playoff system onto a formula that grafted transparency and quantitative objectivity into the process of team selection. In the excitement of obtaining a limited playoff, people jumped hastily to trash a system that did its job quite well in the end.
With that in mind, here are what the numbers and the pecking order would look like if the BCS still reigned supreme as the means of determining the most deserving playoff teams of the year.