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Are the four best teams in the College Football Playoff?

Notre Dame - College Football Playoff


_DSC817” by Daniel Hartwig is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yesterday morning we found out which teams will be participating in the College Football Playoff. The four teams selected to be part of the College Football Playoff this year are Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.

Three of the four College Football Playoff teams this season (Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma) were also in the playoff last season. The one team who isn’t returning from last season is the Georgia Bulldogs.

The College Football Playoff could have easily been the same four teams as last season, as many thought Georgia deserved to be in this season, despite losing to Alabama in the SEC title game.

Well, despite what some people thought, Georgia didn’t get selected as one of the four playoff teams this year. As has been the case since the College Football Playoff system took place, there’s always going to be a debate about if the committee selected the right teams.

In order to determine if the committee got it right, we must first look at their mission. According to the College Football Playoff website, the mission of the committee is, “to select the 25 best teams in college football, rank the teams for inclusion in the playoff and selected other bowl games and then assign the teams to bowl sites.”

As the mission states, the selection committee is to select the four best teams to make the College Football Playoff. With that mission in mind, the fair question to ask is, did the selection committee select the four best teams in college football?

A lot of this debate is personal opinion, meaning the four selected teams could go any which way. Since personal opinion can’t correctly determine the four best teams, we have to look at the numbers.

What I’ve done below is broken down the top six teams in the College Football Playoff race with numbers rather than opinion. I chose the top six teams because there were really only six teams in contention for a spot. The numbers for each team will allow us to truly see if the four best teams in college football made the playoff this season.

 

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 13-0

Record of opponents: 85-72 (54.1%)

Losses: N/A

Conference title: Yes (SEC)

Offensive rank: 2nd (47.9 points per game)

Defensive rank: 4th (14.8 points per game)

Analysis

There shouldn’t be any question as to whether or not Alabama is one of the top four teams in college football. Not only are the undefeated, but they play in arguably the toughest conference in college football (SEC).

On the season, Alabama beat four ranked teams. Two of those ranked teams were ranked in the top four at the time Alabama beat them. They almost lost to Georgia in the SEC championship game, but their ability to come back and win showed why they’re the number one team.

If that’s not enough to convince you they’re number one, maybe this will. There were two times this season the Alabama defense shut out their opponent. Both games were against ranked teams. The first time was against No. 3 LSU, with the second time coming the very next week against No. 16 Mississippi Sate.

Alabama showed they are beatable against Georgia, but beating them won’t be easy for anyone, also shown against Georgia. Both the offense and defense rank in the top five. They’re one of two teams in the College Football Playoff race to have both sides of the ball ranked in the top five.

The other team is perhaps Alabama’s biggest competition for the National Title. A team they’re very familiar with in the College Football Playoff. You guessed it, it’s the Clemson Tigers.

 

2. Clemson Tigers

Record: 13-0

Record of opponents: 89-66 (57.4%)

Losses: N/A

Conference title: Yes (ACC)

Offensive rank: 5th (45.4 points per game)

Defensive rank: 2nd (13.7 points per game)

Analysis

As just mentioned when talking about Alabama, Clemson is the only other team in the College Football Playoff who ranks in the top five both offensively and defensively. Like Alabama, they also went undefeated this season and are conference champs.

While Clemson did go undefeated this season, that undefeated record didn’t come without a couple scares. They almost lost to Syracuse, but pulled off a 27-23 win. Their only other real scare came a few weeks earlier against Texas A&M, but they ended up winning that game 28-26. Outside of those two scares, Clemson pretty much destroyed every opponent on their way to the College Football Playoff.

This team holds the number one defense in the College Football Playoff, being ranked second in the country. They also hold the fifth ranked offense. Its obvious Clemson is a very well rounded team, being dominant on both sides of the ball.

Just like there shouldn’t be any question about Alabama being in the College Football Playoff, there shouldn’t be any question about Clemson being in either.

 

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Record: 12-0

Record of opponents: 77-69 (52.7%)

Losses: N/A

Conference title: N/A

Offensive rank: 34th (33.8 points per game)

Defensive rank: 9th (17.3 points per game)

Analysis

Here’s where the real debate starts. Of the four teams who made the College Football Playoff, I’m least confident in Notre Dame. Yes, they’re undefeated, but I’m not sure they can compete with the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma.

With that being said, it’s not like Notre Dame had an easy schedule this season. The Fighting Irish had wins against four teams who were ranked at the time they played them (Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech and Syracuse).

Perhaps what gives me a lack of confidence in Notre Dame is their offense. Among the teams who had a legit chance of making the College Football Playoff, Notre Dame’s offense is the worst. They’re ranked 34th in the country, while the next lowest team is ranked 13th (Georgia).

Despite their lack of explosive offense, which we see from teams like Alabama and Oklahoma, the defense for Notre Dame has been exceptional. Their defense ranks third among these teams, behind Clemson and Alabama. If they’re going to win against the best teams from the best conferences, it’ll be because of their defense.

Another knock on Notre Dame is the fact that they don’t have a conference championship. It’s not because they lost their conference title game, but rather because they didn’t play in a conference title game.

Every other team fighting for a playoff spot had to play 13 games. If Notre Dame had to play for a conference title, would they have been able to stay undefeated? We’ll never know. The fact that this team is undefeated is impressive, but we’ll see how they do against bigger, faster and more explosive teams.

 

4. Oklahoma Sooners

Record: 12-1

Record of opponents: 82-74 (52.6%)

Losses: 48-45 loss to No. 19 Texas

Conference title: Yes (Big 12)

Offensive rank: 1st (49.5 points per game)

Defensive rank: 96th (32.4 points per game)

Analysis

The Kyler Murray led offense of the Oklahoma Sooners has proven all season long they can compete with any team in the country. This offense ranks first in points per game, scoring an average of 49.5 points.

While the offense has proven they can compete with any team, the defense has also proven they can’t compete with any team. Of all the teams who were competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff, the Sooners by far have the worst defense. They rank 96th, which is 41 spots worse than Ohio State (55th).

The terrible defense of the Sooners has made itself known throughout the season. They gave up 48 points in their only loss of the season to No. 19 Texas. They gave up 46 points to unranked Texas Tech, 47 to unranked Oklahoma State, 40 to unranked Kansas and 56 to No. 13 West Virginia.

With the defense being as bad as it is, you have to wonder if this Oklahoma team would be as good as it is if it weren’t for QB Kyler Murray.

One thing I would say goes in favor of Oklahoma being in the College Football Playoff, is the fact that they’re one of the few teams in college football who can say they’ve beaten everyone on their schedule. Oklahoma may not be undefeated because of the loss to Texas, but they beat Texas the second time round to win the Big 12 championship.

The three teams above Oklahoma can say they’ve beaten everyone on their schedule to this point, but neither Georgia or Ohio State can say that. Do I think Oklahoma can beat any of these teams who were in the College Football Playoff race? Yes, but I also think they could lose to any of them because of their defense. That makes it difficult to determine if they’re really a top four team.

 

5. Georgia Bulldogs

Record: 11-2

Record of opponents: 97-60 (61.8%)

Losses: 36-16 loss to No. 13 LSU and 35-28 loss to No. 1 Alabama

Conference title: No

Offensive rank: 13th (39.2 points per game)

Defensive rank: 15th (18.5 points per game)

Analysis

Georgia by far had the toughest schedule among the teams competing to get in the College Football Playoff. Their opponents won a combined 61.8% of their games. The next toughest schedule faced was by Clemson, whose opponents won 57.4% of their games. Georgia’s opponents won 4.4% more of their games than any other team fighting for a playoff spot.

In my opinion, what ultimately led to Georgia being ranked fifth instead of in the top four, was their two losses. That, combined with not being a conference champion. If Georgia had beaten Alabama for the SEC title, they would have easily made it in. Despite losing, some thought Georgia should still have made it.

It makes sense when you go back and look at the final score of the SEC championship game. Georgia lost to the number one team in college football by one TD. That’s it, one TD. They were up most of the game until Alabama’s late comeback. This is a team who looked liked they could at least compete with anyone.

If we look at Georgia’s offense, neither their offense or defense were ranked in the top 10 in college football. However, both sides of the ball were ranked in the top 15. This shows how balanced this Georgia team really is.

The Bulldogs were one of three teams in the College Football Playoff race who ranked in the top 15 in both offense and defense. Who were the other two teams? Alabama and Clemson. Say what you want about this Georgia team, but they made themselves a strong argument as one of the top four teams in the country throughout this season.

They didn’t win a conference championship, but neither did Notre Dame. Yes, they had two losses, but both came against ranked teams who play in the best college football conference (SEC). One of those losses was to the best team in the country, and it’s not like they were blown out.

 

6. Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 12-1

Record of opponents: 75-82 (47.8%)

Losses: 49-20 loss to Purdue

Conference title: Yes (Big 10)

Offensive rank: 8th (43.5 points per game)

Defensive rank: 55th (25.7 points per game)

Analysis

Of all the teams who were in the College Football Playoff race, Ohio State was the only team whose opponents didn’t have a combined winning record this season. That already looks bad in itself. When you go back and look at Ohio State’s schedule, it looks even worse for the Buckeyes.

While Ohio State is 12-1, they could have easily been a four loss team. Their first almost loss came against Penn State, who was ranked No. 9 at the time. Ohio State was down in that game, but made a late comeback to win 27-26. Penn State finished the season 9-3, so this game was the best almost loss the Buckeyes faced.

Their other two almost losses didn’t look good. One week after suffering their embarrassing 49-20 loss to Purdue, Ohio State wasn’t too far away from losing to Nebraska, beating them by just five points. If you watched college football this season, you know how bad Nebraska was. Two weeks after almost losing to Nebraska, Ohio State had to go into OT to beat Maryland. They ended up winning by one point on a failed two point conversion.

Ohio State did have five wins over ranked teams at the time they played them, but their one loss to Purdue and several other almost losses showed how inconsistent this team was. You can see the imbalance by looking at their offensive ranking compared to their defensive. Their offense was top 10 in the country, but their defense ranked 55th.

The Buckeyes did just about everything they could at the end of the season to make their case for the College Football Playoff. They crushed No. 4 Michigan 62-39. Next, they went on to beat No. 21 Northwestern to win the Big 10 championship. While they had an impressive last two games of the season, their earlier games, especially their blowout loss to unranked Purdue, were too much to overcome. They proved they’re a good team, but they also proved they’re not a top four team.

 

Did the top four teams make the College Football Playoff?

To recap, there’s no question about Alabama or Clemson being top four teams in college football this season. Both teams rank in the top five offensively and defensively, while both teams went undefeated and won their conference championships.

The real question starts when we get to third ranked Notre Dame and fourth ranked Oklahoma. If either one of these two teams aren’t top four teams, who should be the team to replace them?

Based on what they’ve done this season, Ohio State doesn’t have a legit argument as a top four college football team. That leaves us with Georgia. If any team who didn’t make the College Football Playoff deserves to make it in, it’s the Georgia Bulldogs. Despite having two losses on the season, I honestly believe they’re a top four team.

If Georgia really is a top four team, who should they have replaced in the College Football Playoff? Is it third ranked Notre Dame? They went undefeated, didn’t win a conference championship. However, their rankings prove they’re a more balanced team than Oklahoma.

Or it is fourth ranked Oklahoma? They lost a game, but did beat everyone on their schedule and won their conference championship. They have the number one offense, proving they’re more explosive offensively, but their defense is severely lacking.

Which team would you argue for?

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