Judging New CFP Rankings

Written by Tom Fornelli at CBS Sports.com

The new College Football Playoff Rankings are out, and if you were hoping for a shakeup in the top four, you didn’t get one. It remains the same as last week, and honestly, it should. Where things get interesting is outside the top four, starting with a Wisconsin team I believe the committee is not getting enough respect.

No. 8 Wisconsin — Underrated

I want to start this off by making one thing clear: I don’t care what any talking head says on television, radio or a computer screen near you. If Wisconsin goes 13-0 and wins the Big Ten, it’s getting into the College Football Playoff. People will try to convince you there’s a chance it won’t happen, but it will. The only question is whether Wisconsin goes undefeated.

As for right now, however, I understand why Wisconsin is ranked No. 8. It doesn’t have what you’d consider a signature win. Its best win is over now-No. 25 Northwestern, and overall, its strength of schedule is pretty weak. But from what I remember, that’s not all that’s supposed to matter.

Let’s go back in time to the first year of the College Football Playoff when a two-word phrase was introduced to us for the first time: game control. Do you remember “game control?” It was something the committee used to defend its rankings, and I guess it’s no longer considered because when I think of game control, it’s hard to argue against Wisconsin.

Not only are the Badgers 9-0 — and I believe we’ve reached a point where we dismiss unbeaten teams too easily — but they’ve dominated their schedule. When the Badgers fell behind Indiana 10-0 last weekend, it was the first time they trailed in any game since falling behind 10-7 to Northwestern on Sept. 30. That was the first time the Badgers had trailed in a game since falling behind Utah State 10-0 in the first quarter of the season opener. In that Northwestern game, the Badgers would take a 14-10 lead with 9:16 left in the third quarter. Those five minutes and 44 seconds between halftime and that touchdown are the only time Wisconsin has trailed during the second half of a game at any point this season.

Not only have they won every game, but they’ve never entered a fourth quarter in any danger. Compare that to a Miami team that’s needed a couple of last-second scores to pull out victories. Compare that to an Oklahoma team that has nice wins but lost to Iowa State at home — or a TCU team that lost to Iowa State in Ames. Sure, upsets happen, but Wisconsin’s never even been in a position to suffer one this season. So while strength of schedule and “resume” wins should matter, so should never being in a position to lose.

No. 11 USC — Overrated

The Trojans jump up from No. 17 to No. 11 this week after beating Arizona 49-35, and I’m a bit surprised. I know USC has played one of the tougher schedules in the country, but SOS should carry only so much weight. How you’ve played against it should mean more. And look at USC’s résumé right now. What is its best victory? Is it the 49-35 win over Arizona? A 42-24 victory against Stanford back in September? Neither of those teams is in the committee’s current top 25.

Washington State and Notre Dame are ranked, however, and the Trojans lost by three to the Cougars and were crushed by Notre Dame 49-14. So what exactly has USC done to earn being ranked higher than the teams behind it? Speaking of the teams behind USC…

No. 12 Michigan State — Just Right

I know, I just said USC shouldn’t be ranked as high as it is, and Michigan State’s right behind it and I’m saying it’s a perfect spot. It doesn’t make sense on the surface, but I’m looking at this separate from where the committee puts USC. Make no mistake about it: I do not think Michigan State is the 12th-best team in the country. If you put it on a neutral field against some of the teams right behind it, I’d likely favor the majority of them. But Michigan State deserves this spot. Just because I’m not a believer in this team doesn’t mean it didn’t beat Penn State and Michigan. Now whether it beats Ohio State this week, well, I’m skeptical.

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