Did the College Football Playoff committee goof up big time when it came to ranking the BYU football team?
That's been made abundantly clear by the fact that the consensus of all the college football pundits is that the Cougars are underrated.
It wasn't just the ESPN analysts on the rankings show who were stunned.
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated said in the "Top Takeaways From First 2020 CFP Ranking" column: "Wow, were the undefeated and dominant Cougars disrespected at No. 14. Yes, the schedule is weaker than a cocktail in a Provo bar, but this is a team that has passed the eye test with flying colors."
Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports said similar things in his "5 takeaways from the first CFP rankings" column: "The biggest surprise in the initial ranking was where the committee placed No. 14 BYU (9-0). While Cincinnati stayed even with its Associated Press ranking, BYU came in six spots behind. That’s a clear message to the Cougars that their schedule isn’t good enough."
CBSSports.com's Barrett Sallee "College Football Playoff Rankings reactions" column made the case for the Cougars, saying:
"My question is this ... what do you expect BYU to do? Its schedule got absolutely decimated by the COVID-19 schedule shuffle, and it did all that it could to piece together something that is attractive based on the available options.
"It went to Houston and Boise State and won big. How is BYU supposed to know that the Cougars would struggle and the Broncos would be on their third-string quarterback? It convinced Troy and Louisiana Tech -- two traditionally solid Group of Five teams -- to come to Provo, Utah. It left open the back end of the schedule to fill gaps of other teams that have games canceled due to the pandemic (even though one of those teams won't be Washington). Spare me the strength of schedule talk. BYU should be commended for piecing together something halfway decent.
"The Cougars have been more than halfway decent on the field. Quarterback Zach Wilson is a Heisman Trophy contender with 26 touchdowns and only two interceptions, the offense is third in the nation in yards per play at 7.87, fourth in scoring at 47.6 points per game and its defense ranks 12th nationally at 4.73 yards per play.
"What more does the committee want BYU to do?"
I think the case for the Cougars is very clear and BYU head coach Kalani Sitake has been busy doing national interviews making sure everyone keeps his team firmly in mind.
The main problem isn't with what the Cougars have or haven't done. It is the fact that the CFP system is inherently flawed.
I'd love to blow the whole thing up and start over but we all know that isn't going to happen in the near future.
So instead I've compiled a list of five simple things that I think the CFP committee should do differently right now to be better stewards of the game:
1. Rank teams blindly
If you really want to be true to the game, the committee members have to limit biases as much as possible. That won't happen unless they look at every team's performance without focusing on historic success or lack thereof.
Should a 4-0 team with a strength of schedule of 76 be ranked much differently than a 9-0 team with a strength of schedule of 81?
This group should be given the details behind what Team A and Team B and Team C have actually accomplished — things like record, strength of schedule, margin of victory (capped at three TDs) and margin of defeat (capped at three TDs) — and then be forced to organize the rankings that way first. They should also have to do this every week with a little carryover bias as possible.
2. Eliminate the "injury" factor
Does anyone really believe that those 13 committee members took the time to go through the impact of every injury on the two-deep roster of both the teams they ranked and the opponents those teams have played?
Absolutely not. It's mind-boggling to think of the effort that would take.
But football is a team game with 11 guys on the field. The loss of an offensive lineman or a linebacker or even a kicker can have far-reaching consequences.
Since the committee can't evaluate ALL injuries, they shouldn't evaluate ANY injuries. Judge each team as a TEAM. Each squad wins and it loses together as a whole and should be ranked accordingly.
3. Fight against "recency bias"
It's so easy to get caught in the trap of "this team played bad in Week 1 but are much better now" but the committee should be striving to avoid it.
Their job is to decide which college football teams have had the best seasons, not the ones that are playing the best at the moment. They should be taking into consideration all games and outcomes, just like a teacher takes into account all tests and assignments when giving a final grade.
There are so few data points in college football (even more so this year) that each and every one should be weighed equally.
4. Place more weight on margin of defeat
It's head-scratching to me that this hasn't already become the norm, since no team goes out and tries to get pummeled.
The reality is that a team that loses a close game (eight points or less) should be dealt with less harshly than a team that loses by 9-to-20 points and much less harshly than one that gets destroyed (loses by three TDs or more).
This year that means No. 9 Georgia's 17-point loss to Alabama and 16-point loss to Florida would be much worse than No. 12 Indiana's 7-point loss to Ohio State — but that doesn't seem to be the case, does it?
5. Reward on-field results and intent the most
There is other no sport in the world that I'm aware of where a national-level team can win every competition and not be considered to be the best in their classification.
College football stands uniquely awful in that regard.
The goal every week is to win and that should be considered before anything else. Losses should damage a team's potential to be at the top.
I'm not completely against the evaluation of strength of schedule, as I referenced earlier, but I believe the committee does a terrible job of handling it since teams have no control over how well the teams they play perform.
As long as programs aren't trying to avoid games against good competition, they should be rewarded for attempting to play the best opponents they can.