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.
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.