And don’t forget, in the first rankings release this year, 10 of the top 13 came from the SEC and Big Ten. ESPN's hosts pleased with the audience just to let things shake out. Why? Call a spade a spade already. Here’s one example that tells you what you need to know from this past Saturday: Texas A&M lost to Miss. State, who entered at 3-5. How far did the Aggies fall in the national playoff rankings? From No. 4 to No. 8.
Let’s turn to the Pac-12. Because no other conference has so many teams ranked below where data suggest it belongs. And WSU is the poster child.
Among the Power 5 conferences, no team was discounted more by the selection committee this week than WSU say the computers -- 23rd in the national playoff rankings vs 14th in the CFCC.
Bear in mind, according to the computers, the Pac-12 is the No. 2 rated conference. The Big Ten, for all it’s pomp, circumstance and Fox/ESPN swooning, ranks a mere fourth. The bottom of the Big Ten, frankly, is abysmal, and from my chair the middle of the conference has underwhelmed at every opportunity. (By the way, the top two in Massey’s computer ratings are conference subsets: The top conference in America is the SEC West and the No. 2 conference in the land is the Pac-12 North, Massey says).
Let me stop you right there: This is not to say things were any better when the computers were in play. Oh no. But the 4-team playoff committee was supposed to fix all the drawbacks of the old BCS system. Instead, it’s gotten worse. Much worse.
PERHAPS THE eyeball test matters more to the committee? Okay, then who on earth actually thought the SEC looked good last week? Florida and Texas A&M fell flat on their faces and Auburn needed a last second interception to beat Vanderbilt. Alabama managed to shut out LSU in Death Valley, but scored a mere 10 points of its own and was blanked through three quarters. (Somewhere, Mike Leach quietly wept when he learned of that).
Nothing about last weekend's results supported any of the committee's original conclusions – and yet there was no significant shakeup in their rankings in their second release. What the hell? Someone needs to explain that.
Oh, I know, Washington is (finally) in the top four. But UW fans are now just happy to be there. And some Cougar fans are thrilled just to be included in the discussion and ranked at all after starting 0-2. And the selection committee is probably thrilled with both fanbases feeling that way -- as opposed to Cougar, Husky and Pac-12 fans instead complaining about what a fixed game we are all playing.
Oregon's athletic director is a part of the selection committee now but beyond that, the Pac-12’s only representatives appear to by Ty Willingham (a Michigan State grad who got fired by Washington) and Condoleezza Rice (a former Stanford provost who has spent most her life on the East Coast). Only one of 12 members is a Pac-12 alum, and only one of the members ever served in a Pac-12 athletic department, the lowest such number of any Power Five Conference. Of the six former coaches on the committee, only Willingham has ever coached West of the Rockies, and even he spent more most of his career back East.
Since the playoff came to be, the Pac-12 has received the fewest playoff bids of any major conference – and the fewest non-playoff New Year's Six Bowl invitations to boot. It is a continuation (and worse) of the old BCS racket that yielded much of the same.
Now, many if not most fans within the Pac-12 are of the opinion the conference is down this year. But even if that is true, most other conferences are in the same boat. The Big 12 is having a disastrous season. The SEC East too. Miami and Florida State are a combined 6-7 in the ACC.
Hence, the question: Why is the Pac-12 the only conference paying the price? Did the SEC get dissed after preseason national title contenders Ole Miss, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee were exposed as playoff frauds? Is the Big Ten having to answer for Michigan State and Iowa's collapse into mediocrity after being awarded a playoffs and Rose Bowl berth, respectively, last year?
Of course not.
I'VE HEARS COUGAR FANS say, 'Yeah, but this is what we get for losing to Eastern.' To them I say: Iowa and Northwestern lost to FCS teams too. That doesn't seem to be haunting the Big Ten. The Big 12 went 0-3 in its games vs. the Pac-12. Oklahoma State lost to Central Michigan -- what in the T. Boone Pickens are the 7-2 Cowboys doing 10 spots above the Cougs?
The SEC and Big Ten own the top four two-loss teams in the national playoff rankings. The committee claims it's because of strength of schedule. If strength of schedule is so important, why is Nebraska still hanging around? The Cornhuskers nearly lost to Oregon in Lincoln and have only a single win over a team with a winning record. Half of the Pac-12 has throttled the Ducks this year, but somehow that has only hurt Pac-12 teams’ SOS?
LSU tells an even less impressive story. They haven't beaten a team ranked higher than No. 63 by the computers. But there they are, just behind WSU at No. 24 and no doubt, poised to jump over the Cougs at some point. Dear selection committee: The only criteria LSU can be applauded for is its strength of loss.
Let’s not forget about Penn State, who seems to have built a playoff résumé in just one week. PSU’s victory over Ohio State was impressive, but Penn State doesn't have another victory over a Top 40 team. They got throttled by Michigan, and they lost to Pitt. Why do North Carolina and Virginia Tech with identical 7-2 records, and whom beat Pitt, sit behind Penn State in the rankings? Why does Colorado's narrow loss to Michigan somehow work against them, but PSU getting clown stomped by Michigan does not?
The answer to all of this is simple: All these teams play in the SEC or Big Ten ... and they effect the strength of schedule of the teams the committee has as its top playoff contenders.
MAKE NO MISTAKE, the Big Ten and SEC champions will make the playoff. It doesn’t matter if it’s Auburn, Ohio State or Wisconsin. Those teams, along with Alabama, Clemson and Michigan effectively control their own destiny. Washington, as much as Husky fans might not want to believe, does not. The committee told them so last weekend.
And this much is also clear to me: A one-loss Washington is going to be out. And the rest of the Pac-12 will never seriously contend for any of the spots. Alabama won’t be left out even if they lose to Auburn. A one-loss Michigan team might be in too. Why? Because the committee’s top 10 is so overloaded with SEC and Big Ten teams, it virtually assures there will be no significant change in conference ownership at the top. They all play each other.
I believe the winners of Ohio State/Michigan, Alabama/Auburn, Wisconsin/B10 East Champ will almost certainly be chosen over the top Pac-12 representative. Meanwhile, the losers will likely still rank above the Colorado's and, yes, the WSU's of the world. "It’s hard to ignore a win over a 'top 10' team!” an ESPN talking head will no doubt breathlessly gush in the days to come.
This is the most exciting season WSU has had in 14 years, and I hate playing the role of the wet blanket. But the Cougs need only concern themselves with winning the North: everything else is just a fifth deuce card in a stacked deck.
I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the committee drops the Cougs behind LSU or Arkansas next week; regardless of if WSU beats Cal on Saturday. After all, we can't have the Cougs be seen as hurting the SEC’s strength of schedule.
RELATED STORY: Where the Cougs are ranked, plus links