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College Football Playoff penultimate rankings have fans in frenzy

Selection Committee criticized for inconsistencies in determining how teams are ranked
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers QB Grayson McCall in 2020
Posted at 9:38 AM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 09:38:54-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — College football fans are in a frenzy about the disparity among teams in the penultimate playoff rankings.

The College Football Playoff unveiled its second-to-last rankings Tuesday night, which once again placed the same teams -- Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State -- in the coveted top four spots.

Next in line was Texas A&M. The one-loss Aggies held onto the No. 5 ranking after their game against Mississippi was canceled.

But, after that, the field gets muddled.

Florida, which had been sixth in the rankings, inexplicably dropped just one spot despite losing at home to a sub-.500 LSU team after Tigers kicker Cade York booted a 57-yard field goal with less than a minute remaining.

LSU Tigers kicker Cade York celebrates after 57-yard field goal vs. Florida Gators in 2020
LSU's Cade York celebrates after kicking a 57-yard field goal against Florida in the final minute Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla. LSU won 37-34.

Taking the place of the Gators at No. 6 was two-loss Iowa State, which will play 10th-ranked Oklahoma this weekend for the Big 12 Conference championship.

Of the top six teams in the rankings, only Alabama played a game last weekend -- a 52-3 win at Arkansas that helped the Crimson Tide improve to 10-0.

Meanwhile, a pair of undefeated Group of Five teams -- Cincinnati (8-0) and Coastal Carolina (11-0) -- appear to be far removed from having any legitimate shot at sneaking into the playoff.

"Well, the games are important because that's what we evaluate," College Football Playoff Selection Committee chair Gary Barta said. "You know, certainly losses are considered, and they're an important part of the evaluation, but so are wins. So are the teams -- in Iowa State's case, they beat No. 10 Oklahoma. They beat No. 20 Texas. Both wins and losses and strength of schedules are considered. So, the games are obviously important."

But that doesn't explain how an undefeated Power 5 team like Southern California (5-0), which will play for the Pacific 12 Conference title this weekend, remains outside the top 10.

USC Trojans receiver Jaylen Erwin avoids UCLA Bruins defensive back Mo Osling III in 2020
UCLA wide receiver Jaylen Erwin avoids a tackle by UCLA defensive back Mo Osling III during a game Saturday, Dec 12, 2020, in Pasadena, Calif.

"The thing that I will tell you the committee has taken note on, so there's not a top-25 win in those five games," Barta said. "The other thing, three of those games against teams that are under .500, in three of those games, USC was behind in the fourth quarter and had to -- and good for them, they made the comeback, but I think this past weekend it was inside of 30 seconds that they had to make a comeback and win. It's important to win, but the committee watches all the games, and who you play is important and how you win those games is also important."

Fair enough, but then how does the committee justify Florida's current ranking?

Barta said Florida's head-to-head victory over Georgia factored into the decision to put the Gators at No. 7 and the Bulldogs at No. 8.

"The decision of the committee was that those two teams, Florida and Georgia, were still better than Cincinnati," Barta said.

Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts stiff arms Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Lewis Cine in 2020
Florida tight end Kyle Pitts tries to get past Georgia defensive back Lewis Cine after a reception during the first half, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Four two-loss teams (Iowa State, Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma) are ranked ahead of Coastal Carolina and USC, while three of those teams (Iowa State, Florida and Georgia) are ranked ahead of Cincinnati.

Iowa State moved up without playing a game, as did Georgia and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the No. 9 Bearcats, who haven't played a game since Nov. 21, dropped a spot each of the past two weeks.

"They don't have a win against a top-25 team, and that factored into it," Barta said. "So the committee has been going back, even though Cincinnati hasn't been playing, the committee has been going back and watching the games over, watching their last game against Central Florida, and in the Central Florida game they struggled, if you remember or recall. They were behind, I think, in the third or fourth quarter and had to come back."

Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell in 2020
Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell works the sideline during a game against South Florida, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, in Cincinnati.

That explanation has led many to argue that the selection committee holds Group of Five schools to a different set of standards than it does Power 5 programs.

Take Coastal Carolina and Louisiana, for instance.

The Chanticleers are the nation's only 11-0 team, yet they're only 12th in the latest rankings.

"They're undefeated and they're having a terrific year," Barta said. "They have two wins against top-20 teams."

But, Barta said, they struggled against a 5-6 Troy team last weekend.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers running back Sherami Jones runs vs. Troy Trojans in 2020
Coastal Carolina running back Shermari Jones runs by Troy defensive lineman Shakel Brown (21) during the second half of a game, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Troy, Ala.

Meanwhile, the Ragin' Cajuns are 9-1, their lone loss to Coastal Carolina. They also have a road win over Iowa State on their resume. But Louisiana is ranked just 19th.

Barta's reasoning makes it sound a lot like these Group of Five teams are being penalized more for not winning impressively than the Power 5 teams are being penalized for losing (see Florida).

Confused? Welcome to college football in a pandemic.