College Football Playoff Top 25 vs. simulated BCS Top 25 after Week 10

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Following the release of the second set of College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday, there was once again widespread disagreement on the order presented by committee chairman Gary Barta and Co.

Calls of subjectivity and inconsistency could be heard across television and on social media, as many claimed head-to-head matchups seemed to be taking a backseat to brand name and team history. 

How would the old BCS system feel after 10 weeks of college football? While there is agreement at the very top, the comparisons largely end there.

There is consistency in the Top 10, albeit in a different order

The first 10 teams in both polls are the same, but they become very different after the first two spots. Georgia and Alabama would face each other for a national championship under the current BCS rankings if they still ruled college football. The CFP rankings would have Georgia play Ohio State and Alabama play Oregon. The winners would face off for the national title.

Both Oklahoma (+4) and Notre Dame (+3) are highly favored by the computers. The schools fall behind Michigan and Michigan State in the CFP rankings. Presumably, the computers like Oklahoma’s unblemished resume and Notre Dame’s loss to No. 3 Cincinnati. Interestingly, despite toppling the Wolverines on Oct. 30, both polls have Michigan ahead of Michigan State after the Spartans fell to Purdue on Saturday. 

The CFP rankings favor a different set of teams. Oregon moved into the No. 3 spot in the CFP rankings, up one place from last week, even after struggling to put away a bad Washington team. The BCS simulation has Oregon in the No. 9 spot, suggesting they would not have a shot to play for a national championship barring mass chaos. NC State and Utah are also six spots higher in the committee’s rankings than in the BCS poll, while Baylor, Purdue and San Diego State are five spots higher. 

Conference comparisons

Big Ten: seven BCS, six CFP

SEC: five BCS, six CFP

Big 12: three BCS, three CFP

ACC: three BCS, three CFP

Pac-12: one BCS, two CFP

Independent: two BCS, two CFP

Group of Five: four BCS, three CFP

Last week, there were five Group of Five teams in the BCS rankings and only three Group of Five teams in the CFP rankings. Once again, the CFP rankings do not heavily favor Group of Five teams, although UTSA did break into the rankings as one of only four remaining unbeatens in the country.

The Big Ten and SEC continue to dominate both polls. In the CFP rankings, the SEC lost Mississippi State and Kentucky but gained Arkansas, and the Big Ten lost Minnesota but gained Purdue.

Big Ten uncertainty to be sorted out in the coming weeks

The biggest gripe with Tuesday’s CFP rankings was by far Michigan State falling behind the Michigan team they beat on Oct. 30. Both schools have remaining games against Ohio State and Penn State where it seems they will not only try to win, but they will try to post style points to win the favor of the committee. 

The Wolverines and the Spartans also have Maryland on their remaining slate. 

Michigan has the bigger test this weekend, as they head to Happy Valley on Saturday night. Penn State is not ranked in the BCS simulation or the CFP rankings, but they have two wins over ranked teams (Wisconsin and Auburn), and they played a close contest in Columbus against Ohio State. 

Michigan is 3-3 against the Nittany Lions under Jim Harbaugh, but they are 1-2 at Beaver Stadium. The line is even for the noon ET kickoff on ABC.

From BCS to CFP

Prior to the current CFP system, college football was governed by the BCS, whose final rankings were computer generated, and two teams faced off in the national championship to conclude the season. The system also created matchups for four additional prestigious bowl games: the Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. 

The BCS formula used a number of factors to produce its list. There were three components to the rankings, with a mix of human and computer generated thoughts: the Harris Poll, the Coaches Poll and the computer rankings. All three parts were weighted equally. 

The Harris and Coaches Polls had values assigned to each spot in reverse order. For example, in the Harris Poll of 25 teams, the top team receives 25 points, the second team receives 24 points, etc. The Coaches Poll had a similar scoring system, although there were fewer voters involved.

The third part, the computer rankings, included six additional polls: Anderson & Hester, Richard Billingsley, Colley Matrix, Kenneth Massey, Jeff Sagarin’s USA Today and Peter Wolfe. In the end, the final values assigned to each team in the three categories are averaged, and the BCS rankings were produced.

Beginning in 2014, the CFP replaced the BCS. Two semifinal games are played around New Year’s Day, and the games take place on a rotating basis at six of the country’s top bowls — the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. The two winners advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship. That game is played on a Monday night in the second week of January.

The CFP selection process is more subjective than the BCS, as the teams are decided upon by 13 people and there is no longer a strict computer component. The selection committee is composed of athletic directors, former coaches and student-athletes, and others in the college administration world. 

“The selection committee ranks the teams based on the members’ evaluation of the teams’ performance on the field, using conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, and comparison of results against common opponents to decide among teams that are comparable,” the website says.

Additionally, there is a board of governors made up of presidents and chancellors from the 10 FBS conferences plus Notre Dame which governs the administrative actions of the CFP.

Alabama is the reigning national champion and holds the most CFP wins at eight. In total, the SEC and the ACC each have eight playoff appearances, driven largely by Alabama and Clemson’s near-constant presence at the top in recent years. Technically, all FBS teams have equal access to the playoff; there are no automatic qualifiers. 

College football remains the only college sport in the country without an officially NCAA-sanctioned championship. At its core, the CFP is really a television contract currently owned by ESPN.