ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Who should be ranked higher: Michigan or Michigan State? It’s a topic worth debating after the College Football Playoff committee put the Wolverines ahead of the Spartans despite a head-to-head loss.
The committee revealed its latest CFP poll Tuesday night and placed Michigan at No. 6, with Michigan State directly behind at No. 7. Since Michigan lost to Michigan State just 11 days prior, this obviously raised some eyebrows.
But is the outrage justified? One head-to-head matchup shouldn’t determine a ranking if the resumes are otherwise drastically different. The reason people are frustrated: That’s simply not the case in this situation.
It’s hard to imagine two resumes being more similar than those of Michigan and Michigan State. Through nine games, both teams are 8-1, with a 5-1 record in the Big Ten. They’re undefeated at home and have one loss on the road.
Both Michigan and Michigan State are 4-0 against their weak common opponents -- Indiana, Northwestern, Nebraska and Rutgers. Both teams stomped Northwestern and struggled against Nebraska. Michigan blew out Indiana and had a scare against Rutgers, while Michigan State blew out Rutgers and had a scare against Indiana.
We’ll call those four games a wash.
In the non-conference, Michigan State beat a Miami team that is now 5-4, as well as two much lesser opponents in Youngstown State and Western Kentucky.
Likewise, Michigan beat a Washington team that’s much worse than expected (a 4-5 record) and two MAC opponents.
There might be some minor differences here. Miami is probably slightly better than Washington and both Western Michigan and Northern Illinois could be slightly better than Western Kentucky. But overall, that’s not enough to turn the tide in either direction.
Best win, quality of loss
We’ve determined that through seven games on each team’s schedule, Michigan and Michigan State are essentially dead even. Let’s use the CFP committee’s own rankings to break down the two most critical data points on each resume.
The best win undoubtedly belongs to Michigan State: A 37-33 victory over No. 6-ranked Michigan. The Wolverines have a win over No. 18 Wisconsin, so we’ll say the Spartans’ top win is 12 spots better (18 minus 6) than Michigan’s, according to these rankings.
Well, Michigan’s only loss (to Michigan State) came against the No. 7-ranked team in the poll, while MSU’s loss came to No. 19 Purdue -- an identical 12-spot difference (19 minus 7) in the rankings.
So Michigan’s loss came to a team ranked 12 spots higher than the team that beat Michigan State. Meanwhile, Michigan State’s only ranked win came over a team ranked 12 spots higher than the team Michigan beat for its only ranked win.
Once again, we’re deadlocked.
When resumes are this incredibly similar, it should be a no-brainer to use head-to-head results as a tiebreaker. These teams have physically played on the field, and it was just two weekends ago. It’s my opinion that Michigan State should be No. 6 and Michigan should be No. 7.
The CFP committee believes that Michigan is the better football team -- and I actually agree with that. But who cares? The two teams played each other, and Michigan State won. Do the actual results not even matter?
If the committee members are going to make their own obscure judgements about who they “think” are the best teams and allow that to supersede what happens on the field, then why even play out the season? Just put Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State in the playoff from the start. Oregon and Oklahoma can play each other for the fourth spot, but don’t even keep score -- just let the committee watch and see who they think looks “better.”
Playoff expansion can’t come soon enough for this sport, but in the meantime, while we’re stuck in this ridiculous, ineffective four-team format, we at least deserve rankings based on results.