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McGuire Metric and College Football Playoff Contenders

Oregon slipped past Florida State in the latest College Football Playoff ranking Tuesday night. In the grand scheme of the playoff format, which team is ranked second and which is ranked third is rather meaningless. The location of the game for No. 2 and No. 3 is determined after figuring out where No. 1 will be playing, and the only other thing determined by the ranking is which team gets to wear home jerseys and which calls the coin flip. Right now, Oregon and Florida State would meet in the Rose Bowl, but there will still be some wondering how a one-loss Oregon team could pass an undefeated Florida State.

The most likely explanation for Oregon passing Florida State is the overall body of work and strength of schedule. In simple terms, Oregon has been more impressive in victories than Florida State has this season, at least according to the committee. What Oregon has done in wins this season is enough to overcome losing at home to Arizona as a 21-point favorite. Florida State has not been particularly sharp this season, but the Seminoles have continued to overcome various forms of adversity on the field to remain undefeated. The committee will tell you Oregon has more victories against top 25 opponents (three) than Florida State, and this is true based on current standings. But Florida State actually has beaten three top 25 teams, the same as Oregon. Louisville fell out of the ranking after losing to Florida State. One of the differences between Oregon and Florida State is the Ducks won two of those top 25 games on the road and Florida State won two at home.

The other sticking point here is the level of respect given to the Pac-12 compared to the ACC. Florida State, in a sense, is punished because it is perceived to be dominant in a weaker conference. The ACC lacks the national pedigree as a conference the SEC or PAc-12 or even the Big 12 receive, but for those who have been tracking my experimental McGuire Metric this season, you know the ACC is actually faring pretty well in non-conference action this season. In fact, the ACC has done more to boost its overall profile in non-conference action than any other conference this season, including the Pac-12. Here is how the conferences stack up in non-conference action this season as we head to Week 12 of the college football season.

McGuire Metric as of November 12, 2014. Click for larger image.

McGuire Metric as of November 12, 2014. Click for larger image.

The ACC has put together the most impressive non-conference body of work among all conferences to date, so should the ACC should be getting a little more respect than it may have been getting?

Why is the ACC so high in this ranking system? Remember that this is an experimental and cumulative stat that adds up points based on rankings of that particular week. The ACC racked up some big points early on this season with Virginia Tech winning at Ohio State and Boston College upsetting USC. Both were victories against top 10 teams at the time the games were played. Once we move into the offseason and before bowl games are played I will take some time to do a final adjusted ranking based solely on end-of-the-year College Football Playoff rankings to see how everything compares. Numbers can be influenced by snap judgements in the rankings earlier in the year before we have a great feel for how teams will shake out. For instance, Boston College beat USC when the Trojans were just inside the top ten. USC is clearly not a top ten team this season, so Boston College’s number will be inflated as a result. Virginia Tech beat Ohio State when the Buckeyes were ranked eighth in the AP poll. It has taken a while for things to fall into place for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes are now ranked eighth in the College Football Playoff. Sometimes things work out.

The point here is, before you go assuming the ACC is a poor conference, keep in mind how it has represented itself on the field this season instead of past seasons. The Big 12 owns zero wins against top 25 teams outside its conference. The Big Ten has one. The SEC has three, the Pac-12 two. The ACC has three as well, and each can be considered better than the Pac-12’s or SEC’s top 25 victories. The ACC has gotten the job done in a more impressive way than any other conference. Can the ACC finish on a high note with a handful of games against SEC opponents to wrap up the season? This will be the big test for each conference.

How The College Football Playoff Contenders Stack Up

The Top Six in the College Football Playoff according to the latest selection committee rankings are:

  1. Mississippi State
  2. Oregon
  3. Florida State
  4. TCU
  5. Alabama
  6. Arizona State

For the sake of comparison, the top six in the McGuire Metric this week are:

  1. Mississippi State
  2. TCU
  3. Texas A&M
  4. Auburn
  5. Arizona State
  6. Oregon

Texas A&M feels so out of place here, and for good reason. The Aggies have a total this year that is partially inflated by a week one upset at South Carolina, which remains one of the more valuable wins of the year. Of course, the win looks far less impressive now as the season has played out and South Carolina has fallen out of the SEC East race. This is one reason why the metric will be given a postseason adjustment for comparison purposes. Regardless of Texas A&M, the rest of the teams seem to at least make some sense.

Alabama has been lagging behind the top competition but as I have suggested before, now is the time I expected Alabama to make a push with big games against Mississippi State and Auburn coming up. A win this weekend would likely catapult Alabama into the top five of the McGuire Metric. But getting back to the current College Football Playoff rankings, let’s see how the latest rankings are doing compared to McGuire Metric numbers. Here is the current top 10 in the playoff ranking, with each team’s McGuire Metric total and rank to this point in the season.

  1. Mississippi State (52.0, 1st)
  2. Oregon (37.0, 6th)
  3. Florida State (33.0, tied for 9th)
  4. TCU (50.0, 2nd)
  5. Alabama (20.5, 16th)
  6. Arizona State (38.0, 5th)
  7. Baylor (32.5, 10th)
  8. Ohio State (23.5, 15th)
  9. Auburn (38.5, 4th)
  10. Ole Miss (35.5, 7th)

Some interesting results taking place here. First thing I would do is take the two-loss teams (Auburn and Ole Miss) out of the conversation. Despite higher McGuire Metric totals, there is no way a two-loss team would get in over some of the other options in the top ten this week. Second, Oregon’s McGuire Metric is superior to Florida State’s at this point, so the number supports Oregon moving past Florida State this week. The metric also supports having TCU in the top four, although the number suggests it should probably be ranked ahead of Oregon and Florida State. In any event, the McGuire Metric has managed to correctly rank two teams in the top four so far, which is kind of neat to see. It also has Arizona State one spot off from its playoff ranking and Baylor within striking distance.

What About the Group of Five

Colorado State may have beaten Utah State, but the Rams still need some help. Photo: Desert NewsIt has been a little while since last discussing where the Group of Five schools rank. No Group of Five school appeared in the latest College Football Ranking, but one did manage to crack the top 25 of the latest McGuire Metric this week (technically not due to ties for a few other spots, but technicalities). And it is not Marshall or Colorado State or Boise State. Utah State is the highest ranked Group of Five school according to the McGuire Metric, which I thought was a bit of a surprise.

Utah State is 24th in the McGuire Metric, but at 7-3 the Aggies will likely have a tough time making much of a move to enter the access bowl conversation without a ton of help. Utah State does play Boise State ion the final week of the regular season, and Colorado State fans are rooting for the Aggies in a big way. Boise State is in control of the Mountain West Conference at this point thanks to a win over Colorado State.

Here is how the McGuire Metric ranks the top Group of Five schools through Tuesday night’s MAC games:

  1. 14.5 – Utah State
  2. 12.5 – East Carolina
  3. 11.5 – Marshall
  4. 10.0 – Colorado State
    10.0 – Northern Illinois
  5. 9.5 – Georgia Southern
    9.5 – Louisiana Tech
  6. 9.0 – Central Michigan
  7. 8.5 – Boise State
    8.5 – Western Michigan
  8. 8.0 – Air Force
    8.0 – Bowling Green
    8.0 – Nevada
  9. 7.5 – Rice
  10. 7.0 – Memphis
    7.0 – South Alabama

Marshall continues to be undefeated but does not appear to be gaining much respect. As you can see according to these numbers, the Thundering Herd still trail Utah State and East Carolina according to the McGuire Metric, which would suggest Marshall needs help even if they go undefeated at this point. East Carolina still has a path to an American Athletic Conference championship even after losing at Temple, and Utah State is still in the running for the Mountain West Conference, although few are talking about that as a possibility. The Aggies need to win out and have Colorado State lose a game to play for the conference championship. Right now, I like Boise State’s chances to win the MWC, and if all goes well for the Broncos we could see Boise State rise up in the McGuire Metric as a result. Even if things fall into place for Utah State in the MWC, would a three-loss MWC champ have a stronger argument than an undefeated Marshall or two-loss AAC champion? What about a two-loss MAC champion?

Don’t look now either, but Northern Illinois is not exactly out of the mix either. How the selection committee evaluates all of these options is a bit of a mystery and a question to answer moving forward. I feel Marshall would get the nod with a 13-0 record, but there could be legitimate cases to pass them over for another option at the end of the season as well.

And then there is Georgia Southern. The Eagles continue to roll through the Sun Belt Conference with ease it seems and already have bowl eligibility wrapped up, sort of. Because this is year one playing at the FBS level, Georgia Southern is ineligible for postseason play unless a waiver is approved by the NCAA. If bowl spots need to be filled, the chances a waiver is approved skyrocket, although there is no guarantee.

Closing Thoughts

There are still a few more weeks to play in the college football season, and much is expected to change. I still project Alabama into the College Football Playoff, and a win this weekend against Mississippi State would move them up the McGuire Metric ranking in a hurry to make that case. Ohio State will have a few more shots to make some noise, but they still need some help along the way. The ACC also has a chance to finish strong with a decent showing against the SEC in a handful of rivalry games. It is also a chance for the SEC to move up the rankings a little bit. Despite what we think of the SEC, the overall body of work is slightly behind the Pac-12.

Also remember that this is purely experimental and I have no real reason to suggest these numbers should be taken too seriously at this point. This season is a simple trial run to see how things turn out. Adjustments will come in time. FOr now, just sit back and watch the games and let’s see how this all plays out.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts, criticisms or questions about these numbers.

About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.


  1. […] of Five, although it is unknown if they would be the favorite or not for the lucrative bowl spot. Boise State, Colorado State and Utah State in the Mountain West Conference could have decent arguments, and Northern Illinois is still lurking […]