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The McGuire Metric vs. the College Football Playoff

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This season I started keeping track of overall body of work based on the strength of schedule at the time games are played. Knowing some of the flaws in this method going in, I was interested to hear College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Jeff Long suggest within the last couple of weeks of the season that rankings based on the time games were played was a factor in the committee’s weekly rankings. In a sense, this gave my experimental system a¬†backbone. The method is still far from a perfect system — I understand that — but I felt Long’s comments did help to support the principle of this method.

Now that the playoff field is set, I was curious to see how the playoff looks compared to the top performers in the McGuire Metric. Did overall body of work really matter as much as it was supposed to? As it turns out, yeah, it probably did and a conference championship game may be the ultimate deciding factor.

The College Football Playoff vs. McGuire Metric Top Four

TCU tied for the top spot in the McGuire Ranking in 2014, but...

TCU tied for the top spot in the McGuire Ranking in 2014, but…

The number one seed in the College Football Playoff is Alabama. As it turns out, the McGuire Metric agrees with that decision. Alabama was tied for the most cumulative points in the first season of this experimental metric, with 56.0 points following the SEC Championship Game victory. However, the team tied with Alabama atop the McGuire Metric was left out of the playoff. So was the third, fourth and fifth team.

TCU was tied with Alabama for most points this season using the McGuire Metric. Keep in mind TCU played one fewer game than Alabama, so TCU missed out on an opportunity to take over the top spot without a conference championship game. Of course, if TCU had scheduled another FBS team instead of Samford in week one, points could have been added there as well. No points in the McGuire Metric are awarded for victories over FCS schools. TCU, having finished tied for the most points, clearly finished ahead of Baylor as well, which is interesting to note. Baylor was the fifth-highest ranked in the McGuire Metric this season, highlighted by the home victory over TCU in the middle of the season. TCU and Baylor were named co-champions of the Big 12, but both were locked out of the playoff.

The McGuire Metric did agree with Oregon, sort of. Technically speaking, Oregon was No. 2 in the McGuire Metric this season behind Alabama and TCU. With the Ducks pulling in 54 points, Oregon at number two in the playoff is fine by me. The two schools after Oregon failed to play for a conference championship. Mississippi State (53 points) and Ole Miss (51 points) may have had very good seasons, but without a conference championship opportunity, they easily fell shy of the playoff.

Florida State finished sixth in the McGuire Metric this season and is the fifth highest-rated power conference champion, if we include both Baylor and TCU as co-champions of the Big 12. The Seminoles finished ahead of Pac-12 runner-up Arizona (47.0 points). Big Ten champion Ohio State pushed into the top eight of the McGuire Metric ranking following a win over Wisconsin. The Buckeyes ended up being the lowest-ranked power conference champion this season, but may be one of the hottest teams after Alabama. A schedule that ended up being more back-loaded than expected helped Ohio State move up the ranks with road wins against Michigan State and Minnesota (both top 25 teams at the time) and a neutral site win against a surging Wisconsin.

If going strictly by the raw numbers and not giving consideration to number of losses or whether or not a team won a conference championship, the McGuire Metric playoff would have been:

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State

Rose Bowl: No. 2 TCU vs. No. 3 Oregon

If only including conference champions in the playoff field, the top four would have been:

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Baylor

Rose Bowl: No. 2 TCU vs. No. 3 Oregon

If we modify that to only include conference champions that won a conference championship game, the McGuire Metric playoff table would be:

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

That looks familiar, doesn’t it? Maybe this is all a coincidence, or maybe the emphasis on winning a conference championship game really does have some merit in the end.

Why rankings at time games are played is a problem

There was a point in 2014 when Texas A&M was a top 10 team. Really.

There was a point in 2014 when Texas A&M was a top 10 team. Really.

The story of a season can never be truly defined by a performance of one or two weeks out of the entire season. Players get injured. Coaches make different decisions. Upsets happen. This season alone gave us plenty of reasons to skeptical of early season rankings, if not just preseason rankings. Preseason rankings and their issues have been discussed at length time and time again, but September rankings should also be put on the examination table, because they can be as misleading as preseason rankings. Of course, September rankings are based heavily off the tone set by the preseason rankings, so the two are tied together.

This season we saw two particular cases of preseason and September rankings being a problem. First in the SEC West, Texas A&M stunned South Carolina in a Thursday night opener in Columbia in week one. The Gamecocks started the season ranked No. 9 in the AP poll, the Aggies No. 21. After one week Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill was the Heisman frontrunner and the Aggies were a top-10 team, swapping places in the AP poll with the Gamecocks. Texas A&M even picked up a pair of first-place votes in the AP poll in Week 2. Texas A&M followed up the South Carolina win with three straight wins against Lamar, Rice and SMU before edging Arkansas in overtime in the final weekend of September. The Aggies climbed as high as No. 6 in the AP poll. Then reality settled in.

Texas A&M was “upset” by No. 12 Mississippi State. Mississippi State vaulted to No. 3 with two first-place votes as a result of the win. Texas A&M then lost to Ole Miss and Alabama and fell out of the top 25 entirely. South Carolina had already fallen out of the AP top 25 as well, thus helping to show why preseason rankings and early season rankings can be incredibly misleading. In the McGuire Metric,

Another example is how East Carolina was pumped up early on as a leading contender for the Group of Five access bowl spot on the strength of a victory over Virginia Tech. The Hokies debuted in the AP top 25 at No. 17 after topping Ohio State in Columbus. As it turned out, Ohio State proved to be very good as the season played out with J.T. Barrett growing each week. Virginia Tech caught Ohio State at the best possible time and took advantage of it. But the Hokies turned out to be nothing more than a .500 team. At the time, Virginia Tech scored a major win for the ACC, but the thrill was quickly gone the following week when East Carolina upset the Hokies the following week. Just as quickly as Virginia Tech was in the AP top 25, they were eliminated from the poll. East Carolina had to wait one more week before cracking the top 25 poll due to a loss (to South Carolina, of course), but the Pirates were there because they had defeated Virginia Tech more than anything else. Ironically, ECU debuted at No. 23 in week five of the AP poll just behind Ohio State. ECU stumbled down the stretch, being upset on the road at Temple and losing twice more to Cincinnati and UCF for a record of 8-4.

In defense of the selection committee, Long suggested the only rankings considered during the weekly ranking process were the selection committee’s rankings, which started at the end of October.

You can see the final McGuire Metric ranking here, and take a look at the most valuable wins of the season here.

About the Author

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