Rankings, polls carry intrigue into playoff era

Clemson's Cole Stoudt, left, and Tajh Boyd pretend to be boxers after Wednesday's practice at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's Cole Stoudt, left, and Tajh Boyd pretend to be boxers after Wednesday's practice at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida.

We're almost a month removed from the Orange Bowl - a little less from the final rankings – as we approach Signing Day on Wednesday.

When talking polls in the past era, there were the three spots that mattered – Nos. 1, 2 and who was left out in the BCS top-two. Starting next year, that field expands with the four-team playoff.

Polls and how we weigh them has always been interesting in college football. In the old system, the USA Today Coaches and Harris Interactive polls combined with the average of six computer rankings to determine the title game teams.

In 2014, the selection committee, including one Clemson AD Dan Radakovich, will be able to pick and choose what rankings they use - human, computer or a mix of both. They will release infrequent rankings for teams to see where they stand - the only ranking that will really matter going forward.

In 2013, Dabo Swinney's Tigers finished No. 7 in the final Coaches Poll and No. 8 in the AP. Clemson had as about wide a range as any in the AP final voting.

They were ranked as high as No. 4 (Robert Cessna, Bryan-College Station Eagle) and as low as No. 16 (Josh Kendall, The State), a full four spots behind the next lowest rank.

Of that AP top-10, computer polls had the biggest negative variance with Clemson and Central Florida.

Sagarin's rating pegged Clemson for No. 14 (87.22) and UCF No. 25 (82.02). Strength of schedule was a factor, as while the Tigers played four top-30 Sagarin teams (and won two) - the twin FCS matchups brought them down to a non-top-50 schedule (54). UCF's was far worse (79th).

Sagarin's top-five? Florida State (14-0, 101.90), Oregon (11-2, 93.58), Alabama (11-2, 93.37), Auburn (12-2, 91.76) and Stanford (11-3, 91.57). Despite the three losses, the Stanford love from the non-human polls was pretty constant.

In Football Outsiders' FEI ranks, Stanford is a not-so-distant No. 2 (.311) behind the Seminoles (.319). They had the top defense, No. 2 special teams unit and No. 3 field position advantage per FO, and at Sagarin, they went 7-2 against the top-30. They played seven more top-30 teams than FSU, and in the top-10, only Auburn played near the amount of tough clubs (7, 5-2; Arizona State played the most nationally, going 6-4).

By FEI, Clemson's defense (No. 17) is ranked higher than the offense (No. 26), while lackluster special teams (No. 78) and in turn, field position (No. 49), has them at No. 22 overall (.170) – 16 spots behind South Carolina (.120) and four spots behind...7-5 Georgia (.192). Odd indeed.

FO has a lengthy explanation at the head of their rankings on the variety and complexity of their measures, but there's little doubt that wins and losses aren't factored as heavily as human polls. In 2010, the Tigers went 5-7 against FBS competition and finished with a No. 25 FEI. Going 10-2 against FBS competition in 2012, they finished the same.

Before you completely throw out Football Outsiders, their play-by-play-heavy ratings seem to peg Clemson a bit better - ranking No. 6 overall (256.7) last season, with the No. 12 offense and No. 12 defense. The top-five in those rankings: Florida State (14-0, 310.3), Alabama (11-2, 270.9), Baylor (11-2, 262.4), Stanford (11-3, 257.7) and Louisville (12-1, 257.3).

College football enters a brave new world with a playoff committee, which could very well open the selection process to more advanced statistical looks like these. In basketball, KenPom ratings are becoming a bigger factor in that selection process, as RPI tends to look more and more antiquated.

Of course, it can sway towards the often fallible "eye test" as well, but with a diverse 13-person committee, college football's championship future is intriguing.

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Comments » 6

TigerNE writes:

I am convinced the first season selections will be really controversial. Especially the choice of the "last" or #4 team will make a lot of people angry. It may take a few years of testing different ways to evaluate teams.

tigerrob44#291802 writes:

I am not getting this straight I don’t think. Is there not going to be an AP or Coaches Poll every week like there has been for 300 years? If so, that won’t last because the rank and file college football fan thrives off these polls from Monday thru Friday of every week during football season. What would we be able to argue about if not for the polls and being able to say our team is ranked higher than your team? Or say, “Did you see that idiot Coaches Poll have us ranked number 11 while the smart guys over at the AP have us at number 9. Boy, what a bunch of hinnies that are not smart those guys are”. And a 4 team playoff is not nearly enough. 8 teams would be a perfect number to settle things at the end of the year. It would add 3 weeks of football. Get rid of about half of the nonsense bowls we have now and play the 4 games on January 1 in the Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Rose Bowl. Get rid of the Fiesta Bowl and make the Cotton a big-time bowl just like it was for so many years.

Those 4 bowl games use to make-up our New Year’s Day football fun and everybody loved it. Every kid and daddy in the country stayed in front of the TV all day long until the Orange Bowl was finally over and football was gone till next year. Bowls were special back in those days and now if you don’t go to a bowl you got to really be bad, whereas many years ago you had to really be good and then pray the Orange or Sugar picked you to play in their game. Older folks know what I am talking about. I don’t think there was but 7 or 8 bowls games on up into the early 70’s. The Sun, Liberty, Gator, Sugar, Rose, Orange, Cotton and Bluebonnet. I think that was all of them for a long time. Someone check me out on this. I may have left one game out.

BrandonRink writes:

The AP for the last couple years hasn't had a direct effect on the national title vote, and now all polls/rankings don't have a direct effect on it either for the first time, ever. The polls will be released and debated on for sure, but the playoff committee doesn't have to be bound to their findings.

TigerNE writes:

AP has been useful lately until the BCS rankings come out. Then they are just talking points for the rest of the season. Because so many people have been following AP polls, I expect they will still get a lot of attention at least in 2014.

What's not clear is when the public will first know anything about the Playoff Committee's analysis or evaluation. Will we not know anything until they announce the 4 teams as the end of the season?

BrandonRink writes:

in response to TigerNE:

AP has been useful lately until the BCS rankings come out. Then they are just talking points for the rest of the season. Because so many people have been following AP polls, I expect they will still get a lot of attention at least in 2014.

What's not clear is when the public will first know anything about the Playoff Committee's analysis or evaluation. Will we not know anything until they announce the 4 teams as the end of the season?

From what they've been saying, they'll have infrequent top-20, top-25 rankings that they'll release to the public during the season to let folks have an idea of where they stand.

clemvol writes:

Maybe it's me but I think this whole thing has been over thought and over dramatized. I would suggest to simply have an 8 team playoff with the final rankings determined by the AP. Number 1 plays number 8, number 2 plays number 7, number 3 plays number 6 and number 4 plays number 5. After this the highest ranked team to win plays a lower ranked and so forth until we get to the final 2 teams. I don't believe you would have as many complaints with 8 teams instead of 4.I also believe it would continue to add additional chatter to "why was my team not in the top 8". If I am off base on this I will go back to sleep. P.S. I still can't find nor have I've seen the lamecocks "state championship trophy". That's more proof that slurrier is a legend in his own mind.

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