Flaws in the College Football Strength of Schedule Formula and two big games today that will change the landscape of the College Football playoff picture

This past week, we got our first look at the playoff rankings for college football. The top five went as follows.
1. Ohio State.
2. LSU
3. Alabama
4. Penn State
5. Clemson
I was puzzled as to how and why Ohio State was ranked ahead of LSU. Clearly with their strength-of-schedule, LSU should have been the number one ranked team in the country. With wins over Auburn, Florida and at a healthy Texas Longhorn team, that should have cinched LSU’s number one ranking.

But Ohio State was ranked the number one team in the country and one of the reasons used by the committee was their superior strength-of-schedule to LSU’s. How could Ohio State possibly have a better strength-of-schedule than LSU when their best win was against 13th ranked Wisconsin whereas LSU had beaten number 10 Florida and number 11 Auburn?

The chairman of the committee even had come out and said that LSU had the two most impressive wins out of anybody in the top 5 with their wins over Auburn and Florida. So the fact that Ohio State was still ranked number one and was determined to have the the better strength-of-schedule was perplexing.

So I decided to investigate how strength-of-schedule is determined. It is determined by opponents winning percentage. That right  there is a major flaw in the system. Let’s take a look at Ohio State and LSU’s schedule and why determining strength-of-schedule based on opponents winning percentage is a deeply flawed formula.

Ohio State has wins over 7-1 Cincinnati, 6-3 Florida Atlantic and 7-2 Indiana.  Florida Atlantic doesn’t have any wins against ranked opponents and they were blown out by unranked Central Florida. Indiana padded its record with wins over teams like Ball State and Eastern Illinois and lost to Michigan State who is having a down season this year. Indiana’s best win was against an unranked Nebraska team.  Cincinnati struggled against a 4-5 UCLA team and their best win is against unranked Central Florida.

So Ohio State is benefiting from the fact that their opponents have a good winning percentage as a result of padding their win totals against inferior competition. So it’s  pretty easy to see  how this is a deeply flawed system.

Now let’s compare that to the schedule of LSU which will really illustrate how deeply flawed the system is. LSU has wins over 10th ranked Florida, 11th ranked  Auburn and unranked Texas who if they beat Kansas State on Saturday will be back in the top 25. But those teams have 2, 2 and 3 losses respectively.

So even though those three teams are clearly better than Cincinnati, Florida Atlantic and Indiana, as a result of the formula used by the college football playoff committee, LSU’s strength-of-schedule is determined to be less than that of Ohio State’s because those three teams winning percentage isn’t as good as the three teams that Ohio state had played.

Let’s take an even deeper look. One of LSU’s wins is against 2-6 Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt plays in the SEC which is the toughest conference in all of college football. As a result, their winning percentage isn’t a good one at 2-6. But when you look at who they have lost to, Georgia, Purdue , LSU and Ole Miss, it’s easy to see why they have struggled. And when you look at the fact that one of their wins was against number 22 Missouri, that is further proof that Vanderbilt is a better team than what their record indicates.

Vanderbilt has played a much tougher schedule than the Indiana’s, Florida Atlantics and Cincinnati’s of the world. It’s not a stretch to say that if you put Vanderbilt in the American Athletic Conference with Central Florida, Florida Atlantic and Cincinnati, Vanderbilt at the very least breaks even.

So even though Vanderbilt is a team that is a lot better than their record indicates because of the fact that they have played better competition, and this is further Illustrated  by their win over a ranked Missouri team, something that Cincinnati, Florida Atlantic and Indiana does not have, LSU’s strength-of-schedule is hurt by the fact that Vanderbilt is 2-6.

College football needs to come up with a more encompassing formula when it comes to determining strength-of-schedule. Because if you look at all the factors involved when it comes to comparing the schedules of Ohio State’s and LSU’s, there’s no way one can come to the determination that Ohio State has played a tougher schedule than the LSU Tigers.

Now let’s get to the two games that could potentially have a huge impact on the college football rankings. Number 4 Penn State   travels to undefeated number 17 Minnesota and number 2 LSU travels to Tuscaloosa to play number 3 Alabama.

(4) Penn State @ (17) Minnesota.  (2) LSU @ (3) Alabama 

It was a slight surprise to see Penn State come in at number 4 over the unbeaten and defending national champion Clemson Tigers. This is one where the committee actually got it right though. Clemson’s best win was against an unranked Texas AM team. Where as Penn State has two wins against ranked opponents in Michigan and Iowa.

There is a lot riding on this game for the Nittany Lions to say the least. Not only do the Nittany Lions need to win but, they probably need to win somewhat impressively in order to hold off Clemson from overtaking them in the rankings. Even though Minnesota is ranked 17th and is undefeated , they are another team that doesn’t have any quality wins.  If Penn State struggles to beat Minnesota and Clemson blows out number 19 Wake Forest in a few weeks , the committee could see that as being enough for Clemson to leepfrog Penn State in the rankings.

There is another thing that needs to be taken into consideration as well when it comes to Penn State holding on to that number 4 ranking. And that is how far will the loser of the LSU Alabama game fall? Especially if LSU is the team that loses that game. If LSU loses a close game on the road to Alabama, the committee could make the case that even with one loss, LSU only deserves to drop to number four because of their strength-of-schedule. Thus pushing Penn State out of the top four.

If Alabama is the team that loses, Penn State will probably be safe. Alabama hasn’t beaten anybody of note. If they lose this game to LSU, they could fall as low as 6th in the rankings because of their inferior strength-of-schedule. Ohio State, LSU, Penn State and Clemson will all still be undefeated. So Alabama will be ranked behind those four teams. Georgia has one-loss like Alabama does but they have a win over a ranked Florida team and Alabama doesn’t have any wins over ranked opponents. So that would drop Alabama below them.

My guess is that if Alabama were to lose to LSU, they would drop to number six behind Ohio State, LSU, Clemson, Penn State and Georgia. Even though Oregon also only has one loss, their loss is to an Auburn team that is ranked lower in the standings than. LSU.

So no matter what happens in these two games , we’re definitely going to see some movement in the standings. Just how much movement will be determined by the results. Should be a great weekend of college football.

 

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