Ranking the Best in College Football

Head-to-head Matters Most

College football is not an Olympic sport.  That’s why the scoreboard is (or at least should be) more important than the stats sheet when ranking teams.  I start with who beat who, and then go from there.  Yes, football is a game of inches.  The more inches a team accumulates, the better the odds are to put points on the scoreboard.  So “ball control” (quantified by total yardage and time of possession) is a good indicator of a team’s ability.  But . . . . .

Points Trump Stats

Points are the point.  Not Yards.  Not possession.  Let me be clear.  When I say points trump stats, I’m not advocating a team getting a ranking bump for dropping 70 points on Northeastern Key West University.  What I am advocating is if Team A and Team B have the same record, the winner between the two should be ranked higher.  In a three way tie, you evaluate other factors (results against common opponents, strength of schedule, etc).  Also, among the five power conferences, a team with a better win/loss record should be ranked higher than a team with a lesser win/loss record.  A “lucky” win is better than a “quality” loss.

We are talking about college football, not track and field.  We are not awarding medals for who can run fastest, who can jump highest, who can throw farthest, or who can lift the most.  It’s not about which team has the “better” athletes.  It is about winning the game.  We are trying to determine which teams deserve to compete for the national title.  Of course, my plan (AKA the King’s Decree) is the perfect solution, but until it is adopted and implemented, it is critical to minimize subjectivity and bias in the ranking process.  Certainly strength of schedule, strength of record and common opponents are factors to consider, but these should only be used to differentiate between teams that have the same win/loss record.  Of course, I recognize strength of schedule becomes a much more significant factor when you are looking at teams outside the five power conferences, which is why I drop those teams further for a loss than I do a power five team.

I find the college football playoff (CFP) selection committee’s ranking to be highly suspect, particularly regarding the ridiculous “eye test” so often spouted by sports analysts and pundits.  This 13-member “panel of judges” should be called The College Football Pageant Selection Committee.  That designation is a more accurate description of how the group operates.  The Associated Press (AP) ranking is significantly better, but still somewhat flawed.  Therefore, week by week, I will give you my ranking of the top 25, compared to CFP and AP.  It will be interesting to see how things turn out, for both the current 4-team playoff format as well as my proposed plan (AKA the King’s Decree).  Stay tuned.


Notre Dame’s Place in the Kingdom

In the King’s Decree, I advocate for five super conferences and an 8-team playoff comprised of the five conference champions and the next three highest ranked teams.  It could be argued that Notre Dame should be placed in the Northern Super Conference (NSC), and I certainly considered this, long and hard as a matter of fact.  However, in the end, I decided the rivalries Notre Dame has with USC and others are more important to college football than other considerations.  Placing Notre Dame in the NSC would effectively end most of these rivalries.  So, by the king’s decree, in order to maintain independent status, Notre Dame must play the same six rivalries every year and then play any six teams of its choosing to fill out its 12-game schedule.

In order to compete in the 8-team playoff for the national championship, Notre Dame would have to finish the season among the next three highest ranked teams beside the five conference champions.  That would be no easy task.  Consider that an 8-4 division winner can knock off an 11-1 division winner to claim a conference championship and a spot in the playoff.  That 11-1 team would still be in a position to potentially claim a playoff spot based on rank.  Keep in mind, this is the same path available to any team outside the five super conferences.  Of course, this would dictate such teams schedule and defeat some super conference heavy weights in order to increase their strength of schedule.

If for some reason Notre Dame were to become unhappy with this arrangement and wanted to be in a conference, there would be two options.  The best option would be for Notre Dame to replace Cincinatti (with apologies to the Bearcats) in the NSC East division.  The other option would be for Notre Dame to replace Connecticut in the ESC North division.  Of course , Notre Dame would have to compensate one of these two schools to essentially buy a spot in one of these super conferences.


The King Holds Court

After issuing his decree, the king has heard rumors of discontent among some of his nobles.  There have even been whispers of rebellion.  Therefore, the king has called into his presence the nobles from all across his kingdom to hold court at his palace and give ear to any grievances or petitions.  The wise king rules with firmness and vigilance.  He knows some of his nobles wield great power and often look only to benefit themselves.  Many have formed strong alliances and might would conspire against the king if not dealt with appropriately.  With all his nobles seated before his throne, the king invites any to come forward who wishes (or dares).

The first to stand and step forward is noble Texas.  “Your Majesty, your conference realignment plan has many merits and I find myself in agreement with much of it.  However. . . and please forgive my boldness , sire. . . but I must say I find it. . . how shall I say this. . . well. . . less than perfect.”  A number of faint but noticeable gasps are heard around the room which do not escape the king’s attention.  “Is that so?” the king responds.  “Well, then, noble Texas.  Please elaborate.”  “Your Majesty, let me just say I do not speak for myself alone when I say there are some here in this room who do not belong among the nobility.  Most of us gathered here, myself included, have a long lineage of noble birth stretching into the distant past.  Yet we find ourselves here in your presence with Boise State and Nevada. . . even Connecticut and New Mexico.  Surely, sire, you do not expect us to accept these peasants as our peers within the kingdom.  These undeserving dogs should be expelled from the kingdom at once.  Furthermore” . . . . . . . .

At that moment, the king holds up his hand.  “Pardon the interruption, noble Texas,” the king interjects, “but before you continue, I must briefly attend to a pressing matter of state.”  The king knows Texas must be dealt with swiftly and decisively or other nobles will be emboldened to speak out.  So, he turns to his trusted chamberlain seated at his side and speaks loudly and clearly for all to hear his words.  “Lord Chamberlain, the envoy I met with yesterday, he was from Houston was he not?”  “Yes, my Lord.  From Houston.”  “Now correct me if I’m wrong, but is he not from the Central Region of my kingdom, not far from the lands of noble Texas, in fact?”  “That is correct, sire.” “And did he not petition me to request Houston join my kingdom and I told him I had no need of his service at this time?”  “That is correct, sire.”  “Well, dear Chamberlain.  Please inform the envoy from Houston that I may have a place for his master in my kingdom after all.  It would appear there may soon be some lands available for me to bestow upon some deserving and loyal noble.  Now, go.  Make haste.”  “Yes, sire.”

As his chamberlain departs, the king turns toward noble Texas with a wry smile.  “Noble Texas, again please pardon the interruption.  I believe you had been commenting on my . . . how did you put it . . . ‘less than perfect plan’.  Yes, I believe that is what you said.  Now . . . please continue.”  The king’s veiled threat hits the mark.  “Actually, your Majesty, upon further reflection I now realize your plan is the epitome of perfection.  Why I failed to see it earlier, I do not know.  You, in your wisdom, have deemed it fitting to bestow these honors upon whomever you choose.  I accept your plan without reservation.  Long live the king!”  All the other nobles echo, “Long live the king!”  Noble Texas then quickly takes his seat.

The next to stand and step forward is noble Ohio State.  “Your Majesty, it is clear to everyone that your conference realignment plan is truly grand.  Indeed, I marvel at your brilliance.  In fact, I pledge to you my unwavering support, except for one very minor detail.  Although I do have some serious reservations about being in league with both Louisville and Kentucky, those can be addressed with time.  However, I simply can not accept Cincinatti.  I beg you, sire, to exclude him from the Northern League.  Surely it would be better if he were part of the Eastern League instead.”

The king has, of course, fully anticipated Ohio State’s objection to Cincinatti.  “Noble Ohio State,” the king begins.  “If it were better for Cincinatti to be in the Eastern League, I would have made it so.  Let me caution you to heed your king’s counsel, and not allow your greed to be your undoing.  You will fully support your king’s decree in every detail.  If you do not, you will be banished from my kingdom and exiled to the MAC (Mid-American Conference), never to be heard from again.  Are we clear?”  Noble Ohio State bows low before the king.  “Forgive me, your Majesty.  Of course, you are right.  I now see my error.  Allow me to state here and now before all my fellow nobles, I heartily accept noble Cincinatti into the Northern League.  As it should be.  And thank you, your Majesty, for your wise counsel.  Long live the king!”  All the other nobles echo, “Long live the king!”  Then noble Ohio State quickly takes his seat.

After this exchange, noble Iowa quickly abandons his intention to voice his objection to Iowa State’s inclusion in the Northern League.  If he were to speak up, what fate would the king have in mind?  Banishment from the kingdom and exile to the MVFC (Missouri Valley Football Conference)?  No.  Upon further reflection, Iowa realizes the king’s plan is perfect after all.

The next to stand and step forward is noble Michigan, joined by noble Purdue, who elects to stand behind Michigan to avoid the king’s direct gaze.  “Your Majesty,” Michigan begins.  “What about Notre Dame?  He is left to manage his affairs independent of the rest of the nobility.  Yet, his inclusion in the Northern League would greatly strengthen and enrich the League.”  “Noble Michigan, you make a valid point,” the king replies.  “However, noble Notre Dame has established strong and long lasting trade agreements with other nobles throughout my kingdom stretching far beyond his immediate domains.  This trade brings far more coin into my coffers than if his activities were restricted to the Northern League.  For that reason, I insist these trade agreements be maintained.  It is my decision, not his request.”  “Of course, your Majesty.  Very wise.”  Michigan and Purdue quickly take their seats.

The last to stand and step forward is noble Alabama.  “Your majesty, your plan is a masterpiece.  We, the nobles of your kingdom, shall follow your decree in every detail.  Each of us may wish for a change here or there, perhaps for our individual selfish interests.  However, taken as a whole, with all of its intracacies, your plan is truly sublime and can not be improved upon.  The entire kingdom will be strengthened and prosper.  Please, sire, grant us your leave that we may go forth from your presence to do your bidding and accomplish your will.”  The king replies, “Noble Alabama, you have spoken well.  Let it be so.  This counsel is hereby concluded.”

“Long live the king!”


Analysis of the King’s Decree

In “the King’s Decree,” I developed the plan for conference realignment with six objectives in mind in the following order of importance:

  1. Emphasize regional (geographic) cohesion – As I pointed out in “Conference Chaos,” Rutgers should not belong in the same conference as Nebraska, nor West Virginia in the same conference as Texas Tech.  Furthermore, I have long thought the geographic overlap of the ACC and SEC to be problematic, or at least less than ideal.  The King’s Decree corrects these issues.  Also, regional cohesion allows more fans to attend more away games closer to home.  As an added bonus, with the permanent non-division rival pairings, the plan creates some potentially awesome new rivalries like Florida State-Alabama, Nebraska-Texas A&M and Missouri-Arkansas.
  2. Maintain (and restore) traditional rivalries – Due to its regional emphasis (objective 1), the King’s Decree maintains almost all historic rivalries and restores many rivalries that have been lost (Nebraska-Oklahoma, Kansas-Missouri, Texas-Texas A&M, Arkansas-Texas, Pitt-Penn State, West Virginia-Maryland, and the list goes on).  As an added bonus, many in-state rivalries that are currently out-of-conference games will become in-conference games, which will only add to the heat of each rivalry as these teams battle for division and conference supremacy.  These include Florida-Florida State, Clemson-South Carolina, Louisville-Kentucky, Iowa-Iowa State, Pitt-Penn State, Utah-BYU and others.  In order to maintain historic rivalries, Notre Dame is allowed to remain independent, with certain provisions.
  3. Standardize conference structure and schedule – I really like (and am proud of) this one.  Each conference looks and operates the same way.  Same number of teams and divisions.  Same number of conference and out-of-conference games.  Every conference has a championship game.  None of this “one true champion” stuff.  No more 8 conference games over here, 9 over there.  It’s all the same.  And simple.  By the way, did you notice each conference has a roughly similar (by state count) geographic footprint?  Two conferences have 7 states each, two have 8, and one has 9.  Nice.
  4. Preserve bowl games tradition/system – The bowl games are woven into the fabric of college football tradition and lore.  The King’s Decree affords eight deserving teams and their fan bases the opportunity to revel in the excitement and pageantry of the historic New Year’s Day bowls.  And after that, you have the “Final Four” of college football.  Sweet!
  5. Reward conference champions – In my view, winning your division, and with that, having the chance to win your conference, should be every team’s first goal.  If a team manages to do both, it deserves an opportunity to compete for the national title.  Especially considering how the King’s Decree evenly balances out the five super conferences.  Yes, some divisions and some conferences will be stronger than others.  However, in the King’ Decree, every team plays 10 of its 13 conference foes every year. There will be no easy path.  A champ is a champ.
  6. Improve national championship format –  I’m glad the BCS has been replaced.  Four is definitely better than two.  And 16 is clearly too many.  However, eight is ideal, and the King’s Decree is the perfect plan for it.  The champions of five super conferences and the next three highest ranked teams competing for the national title within the framework of the historic bowl system.  There is no better plan.  Period!  By the way, the current 13-person college football playoff selection committee can and should be abolished.  I find the committee’s rankings to be highly suspect, particularly regarding the ridiculous “eye test” so often spouted by sports analysts and pundits.  My ranking system is perfectly (and better) suited to determine the next three best teams to compete with the five conference champions for the national title.

That’s a wrap.  Love live the king!  🙂