CRAWFORD | Why Louisville fans shouldn't sweat the Cardinals' No 5 playoff ranking
The University of Louisville is still outside the Top 4 of the College Football Playoff Rankings, but WDRB's Eric Crawford says the team still has a path to the playoffs.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After a night of arguing (I know, I was there), morning has come in Louisville with the College Football Playoff selection committee's rankings being are what they are.
I'm not sure why the surprise. For two days, I said on three different mediums (internet, television, radio) that the Cardinals would be the No. 5 team in the rankings when they were announced Tuesday night, and sure enough, there they were. (Or, as Mr. Tony Kornheiser would say, I believe I had that.)
But I also believe I have this: If Louisville wins out, even moderately impressively, the Cardinals have a path to the college football playoff, and a good chance of being one of the four teams standing at the end.
That's not a guarantee. But I will tell you why I think that, along with outlining some other facts (and/or opinions) on this entire process. Read on:
1). REASON NO. 1 WHY LOUISVILLE FANS SHOULD REST EASIER. Embedded in committee chairman Kirby Hocutt's comments on ESPN after the rankings were released Tuesday night was a statement that seemed to pass without much comment. The statement was this: "There is a small separation between teams two through six."
Why is that important? For this reason. Those are the main one-loss contenders. Hocutt just as easily could have said "two through eight," which would've picked up Penn State and Wisconsin, each with two losses but each with a shot at the Big Ten title. He did not say that.
For right now, we must believe from this comment that a line has been drawn between one-loss teams and two-loss teams, and no two-loss team has done enough to cross it, which is significant, because some of those two-loss teams have multiple wins over teams in these rankings already.
I have believed this from the start -- if Louisville finishes its season with one loss, including wins in these final two games that are impressive in any degree -- it goes to the playoff, so long as there are only two other one-loss teams, plus Alabama, in the Top 10. HOWEVER, if Washington finishes with one loss (along with Clemson and Ohio State or Michigan), which would mean it has won the Pac-12 championship, it could edge Louisville out in the final rankings for the No. 4 playoff spot.
Hocutt explained to the media during a conference call Tuesday night that the criteria given to the committee (emphasis in this quote is mine):
"Consistent to our protocol that when there is a small separation between teams, when teams are comparable, then the Selection Committee has been instructed by the management committee, the commissioners, as well as the athletics director at Notre Dame, to apply four metrics. One is conference champions; one is strength of schedule; another is head to head match-ups; and the fourth is comparable outcomes against common opponents. Those four metrics are not weighted. They're in no particular order. So it's up to the 12 individuals that make up the College Football Playoff Selection Committee as to what they see value in. So really it's the subjective opinion and analysis of 12 individuals giving those four metrics when teams are comparable."
Again, catch the phrasing, "when there is small separation" and "when teams are comparable." Hocutt said Tuesday night that the small separation in this ranking is among teams two through six. And that those criteria, including conference championships, come into play only when there is small separation.
Based on that, I'm trowing out two-loss teams, even if they do wind up winning conference championships. That "one" in the loss column is a separator. I may be wrong to believe that, but based on what we're told right now, I don't think I am. Whether that can change in coming weeks, I don't know.
If you doubt me on this, consider: Hocutt was asked point-blank, why keep Washington ahead of two-loss Wisconsin. His answer: "Again, I would say that the margin of separation was small between teams 2 through 6."
A two-loss team is not getting into this playoff as long as there are enough teams to fill it from among the current top six.
2). SHOULDN'T LOUISVILLE BE WORRIED THAT TEAMS LOST BUT DIDN'T MOVE DOWN? No. Had a team suffered its second loss but stayed ahead of Louisville, then yes, it should be worried. Note -- Washington suffered a loss, and now is behind Louisville. Michigan, which suffered a loss but has a high strength of schedule, stayed ahead.
This is not a traditional poll as we know it. In the AP poll, if you lose, you drop. This, however, is an attempt to seed a playoff. For that reason, the committee considers the full resume every week.
Michigan has wins over No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 8 Penn State and No. 10 Colorado. Those wins were able to keep the Wolverines' total resume better than Clemson or Louisville's, in the eyes of the committee, despite a one-point loss at Iowa. Likewise, Ohio State, with wins over Wisconsin and No. 10 Oklahoma, as well as No. 19 Nebraska (62-3), made its three-point loss to Penn State more palatable to the committee.
Clemson has wins over Louisville, No. 15 Auburn and at No. 17 Florida State among teams ranked in the playoff rankings, and its close call to Troy looks better than it did early in the year -- it was Troy's only loss, and Troy now is in the AP Top 25. All of that outweighs its loss to Pittsburgh (which also has a Top 10 win over Penn State).
Louisville has only its blowout win over Florida State to outweigh its quality loss at Clemson.
Hocutt, when asked directly about Louisville's loss compared to these others, said this Tuesday night: "Well, we evaluate the complete résumé. You know, in Michigan's case, although they lost to an unranked team, they do have three wins against current CFP top-10 teams. As you look at Clemson, they have three wins against current CFP top-25 teams as well as the head-to-head over Louisville. Louisville, very talented team, only one win over a CFP top-25 team, that being a very talented Florida State team. We talked in depth about those quality wins. We talked in depth about those losses and all the other facets that make up each of those teams' résumés. We'll continue to evaluate all of these teams each week based upon their full body of work."
It's about a full body of work. Not just one week's results by themselves.
3). SO WHO ARE THE THREATS TO LOUISVILLE? Given that Michigan or Ohio State will lose when the two teams play, I believe that leaves only Washington as a threat to Louisville in this playoff chase. Washington, which will play at No. 22 Washington State in its regular-season finale before facing possibly USC in the league's title game, could move up with wins in its final games.
And because it already has been established as a team "where there is small separation" with Louisville, the conference championship then would come into play and could leave Louisville on the playoff sidelines. The teams have no common opponents.
(There is an outside shot that Ohio State loses one more. I don't expect it. Michigan has an injured quarterback. Ohio State has been rolling lately. I suppose if chaos reigned and Ohio State did lose again, I'd have to revisit my theory on two-loss teams. But I really don't think that's going to happen.)
4). WHAT ARE LOUISVILLE'S PATHS TO THE PLAYOFFS? I'm reluctant to talk about "paths" after the election we just had, but the Cardinals indeed to have paths. All paths begin with:
a). Winning the final two games on their schedule, preferably in convincing fashion. Beating Kentucky in comparable fashion to what Alabama beat the Wildcats, for instance, wouldn't hurt.
After that, their path includes:
b). The loser of Ohio State-Michigan dropping below them in the rankings -- which likely will happen.
c). Any loss by Washington
That's simply one path. If Clemson were to lose again, that would also create a path. The key is finishing the season with one loss.
5). WOULDN'T HAVING THE HEISMAN WINNER COME INTO PLAY? According to Hocutt, no. And he was asked about Louisville's Lamar Jackson and whether his presence would weigh at all in Louisville's favor on Tuesday night.
"No, it doesn't," Hocutt said. "We talk about teams, performances of the team. We don't talk about individual players in that regard. You know, as we talk about the offensive production for a particular team, a particular individual may be mentioned, but not as it having impact on our rankings."
6). FINAL THOUGHTS. Just remember this rule of college football: Somebody always gets screwed. Someone is going to be left out, and they're going to be angry about it. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino was a proponent of the old BCS system -- pick the two best teams and let's go. That would probably mean Alabama and Ohio State would meet for the title, and Louisville could go to the Orange Bowl or something. Or, in the old system of computer rankings, Louisville would find itself needing to leapfrog three teams instead of just needing to climb one spot.
Regardless, some things in these rankings don't make sense. I don't know how you justify Oklahoma at No. 10, and Hocutt did a poor job explaining it. I have trouble buying Tennessee at No. 23. But in the end, those rankings aren't likely to have any bearing on this playoff.
So, if you're a Louisville fan, root for your team. Root against Washington. And relax. This season has a few more twists and turns before it's finished.
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