There's been a lot of discussion regarding potential College Football Playoff rankings after the upcoming Conference Championship Games. No surprise. This happens every year prior to some of the biggest match-ups of the season. The possible scenarios are endless and dizzying:
What if...the ACC championship game goes to triple overtime and Clemson wins because of an obvious blown call, Ohio State loses by 10 to Wisconsin, UGA and LSU play to a 6-6 tie and the game ends in a two-point conversion shootout with UGA winning 10-8, Utah blows out Oregon 59-0 and OU absolutely poops the sheets losing to Baylor 48-3?
I mean, any given Friday night or Saturday, right?
If the past five seasons tell us anything, it's that conference championship games rarely turn into colossal upsets. In fact most of them are chalk. In the CFP era only four teams ranked lower in the previous week's CFP rankings have won their CCG: 2015 #5 Michigan State vs. #4 Iowa, 2016 #7 Penn State vs. #6 Wisconsin, 2017 #8 OSU vs. #4 Wisconsin and #6 Georgia vs #2 Auburn. (Someone needs to tell the CFP Committee the B1G West is a bad bet.) All of those teams were within four spots of the teams they beat, so they hardly qualify as huge upsets.
History may not hold all the answers to the possible scenarios, but the first five years of the College Football Playoff rankings contain enough data for us to perform a cursory analysis and discern the potential effects of winning or losing "the 13th data point". Granted, the CFP Committee has seen numerous personnel changes and is hardly a model of consistency. But the charts below do illuminate five interesting trends.
|2014||Teams||Score||Rec||Wk 14 Rank||Wk 15 Rank||Change|
|Big Ten||Ohio State||59||12-1||5||4||+1|
|AVG change||CCG Winner||+1|
|2015||Teams||Score||Rec||Wk 13 Rank||Wk 14 Rank||Change|
|big ten||Michigan State||16||12-1||5||3||+2|
|AVG Change||CCG Winner||0|
|2016||Teams||Score||Rec||Wk 13 Rank||Wk 14 Rank||Change|
|Big ten||Penn State||38||11-2||7||5||+2|
|AVG change||CCG Winner||+1|
|2017||Teams||Score||Rec||Wk 13 Rank||Wk 14 Rank||Change|
|Big Ten||Ohio State||27||11-2||8||5||+3|
|AVG Change||CCG Winner||+2|
|2018||Teams||Score||Rec||Wk 13 Rank||Wk 14 Rank||Change|
|Big Ten||Ohio State||45||12-1||6||6||0|
|AVG Change||CCG Winner||+1|
1. Wining a CCG, on balance, does very little for teams. In nearly every season, the winners of the Power Five CCGs moved up no more than two spots or less. Only 2017 saw an average change of two places in the CFP rankings for the CCG winners. Notably, that season saw Ohio State and Georgia upset teams ranked four spots ahead of them, resulting in moves of three places each in the final rankings. Those are the two largest jumps from a CCG win in the CFP era.
2. Win and you're in. No #1 team that won its CCG has ever moved down, regardless of opponent ranking. Even Clemson's close win over #10 North Carolina in 2015 had no effect on the Tigers' final ranking. That may also have something to with them being the last undefeated team standing. Regardless, in the past five years, #1 teams that win their CCG have all held the top spot in the final rankings.
3. On the flip side, don't lose. No Top 4 team that lost its CCG remained in the Top 4 in the final rankings. That may also be due to the fact that #1 has never lost, #2 Auburn got blown out taking their third loss of the 2017 season, and the other three teams to drop out (2015 Iowa, 2017 Wisconsin and 2018 Georgia) were all ranked #4.
4. Leapfrogging isn't a thing. No team that won a CCG* has been leapt by another conference champion with a comparable record. Although there have been multiple instances of teams not playing a CCG and making it into the CFP (2015 Oklahoma, 2016 OSU, 2017 Bama, 2018 Notre Dame), no team that won its CCG has ever dropped in the rankings or had another CC jump them in the rankings. Where you stand prior to Championship Weekend says a lot about where you should expect to finish.
* 2014 TCU was leapt by OSU, but the Horned Frogs didn't play a CCG. Likewise with 2015 Oklahoma and Michigan State.
5. Losing isn't the end of the world. Teams that lose a CCG rarely drop more than one to two spots in the CFP rankings. Many fans seem to believe there's enormous risk (from a rankings perspective) in playing a 13th game. History doesn't support that. Ranked, Power Five CCG losers have fallen an average of two spots over the past five seasons. Obviously there are some exceptions like 2014 Wisconsin that fell five places after losing to the Buckeyes (See #5). But teams like 2014 Mizzou, 2015 UNC and 2018 Utah lost their CCG and didn't budge in the rankings (See also #5).
5. Keep it close. Teams that get blown out in CCGs fall much farther than those that play a competitive game. The losing team's drop in the CFP is almost proportional to the point differential in the game. Lose by a score of 59-0, and Wisconsin drops five places in the final rankings (tied with 2017 Auburn for the largets drop by any team). Play a solid, competitive game like 2014 Georgia Tech versus Florida State (37-35) and the loss usually only drops your team one spot. In 2018 Utah (#17) lost to Washington (#11) 10-3 in the most 'Stanford' of Pac 12 championship games, but the Utes held their place in the rankings. And if you're really lucky, you're 2016 Virginia Tech (#23), you keep it within one touchdown of Clemson (#3) and you climb one spot in the rankings.
Based on these five observations, I feel confident saying that a Buckeye win on Saturday should keep Ohio State in the driver's seat for the final CFP Committee rankings this Sunday. Of course anything can happen when you put 13 people in a room and ask them for their opinions.
"Why, you may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together - what do you get? The sum of their fears." - Sir Winston Churchill