Sporterberg on CFB: CFP Rankings review

Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins plays against Wisconsin during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State beat Wisconsin 38-7. Associated Press

By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer

The initial College Football Playoff rankings came out Tuesday night to some eyeball emojis. Ohio State is ranked No. 1 in the country by the committee, while LSU, Alabama and Penn State round out the top five. I’ve got some issues here.

Ohio State is currently third in Strength of Record, an ESPN metric used to determine how hard a team’s win-loss record would be to obtain. Sitting above them are LSU and Penn State, two teams ranked below them.

They’ve beaten two teams that were ranked at the time of the game, blowing out both No. 25 Michigan State and No. 13 Wisconsin by a combined score of 72-17, but those are the only things that stand out. The Buckeyes also have a 42-0 win against now-ranked No. 20 Cincinnati, but it’s hard to see why Ohio State would receive the nod.

Perhaps it’s the average margin of victory, which stands at 40 points. Maybe it’s because they have three legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Justin Fields, running back J.K. Dobbins and defensive end Chase Young. I’d argue it’s the fact that Alabama and LSU play Saturday.

It’s a “prove it” game for the Tigers in Tuscaloosa, Alab. Two of the top teams and quarterbacks go toe to toe this weekend, and the committee has a tendency to let teams work it out on the field before they put a ranking on paper.

LSU just has the No. 1 SOR in the country. They have three top-10 wins this season, while no other team can boast no more than one. Led by quarterback Joe Burrow and safety Grant Delpit, the Bayou Bengals field one of the top offenses in the country; and as always, the defense is up to par in a competitive SEC.

Alabama, meanwhile, is near the top for the 28th out of 32 playoff rankings. Tua Tagovailoa remains one of the best players in the country, and even coming off of an ankle injury will be a handful for the LSU defense.

The game this weekend is an excuse for the committee to slot them both behind the Buckeyes until the results unfold. Next Tuesday the winner will be No. 1 and Ohio State will fall to No. 2, but until then the Colombus, Ohio team will sit atop the college football world.

Penn State finishes off the top four, and while that’s intriguing, Clemson’s snub is where the story lies. The defending champion and active win streak-leader fell outside the playoff picture because they just haven’t played anyone.

They don’t have a win over a current top-25 team. Their best win is over then-No.12 Texas A&M who has since fallen from grace all the way out of the rankings. They also have the ugliest win of the top-five teams, a 21-20 victory over Mack Brown’s UNC squad that may have gone the other way had it not been for a botched two-point play as regulation ended.

Clemson will be fine if they win out, a task that doesn’t seem too arduous with their only one ranked opponent down the stretch. If they do take a loss in the final three games, they will practically eliminate their chance at the playoff.

I don’t get Utah. Their one loss is to USC by a touchdown, and their best wins are over unranked Washington State and Arizona State at home. They’re ranked 13th in ESPN’s FPI and 11th in SOR. Why are they ranked at No. 8 and Baylor at No. 12?

Baylor is ranked fifth in SOR, reflective of their undefeated record with road wins over No. 16 Kansas State and No. 23 Oklahoma State. If the committee has such respect for the third and fourth-ranked teams in the conference, it should have the same for the undefeated second team.

I fear once again it’s the committee’s stubbornness that has led to its indecision. The same plague that hit LSU and Alabama hit the top of the Big 12, as Oklahoma and the Bears will face off on Nov. 16; and barring a setback this week, it’s likely College Gameday will be heading to Waco.