College football playoff rankings reflect favoritism

Boh Suh, Staff Writer

The highlight of the College Football playoffs this year is that Cincinnati, as a Group of Five team, was included.  

Now the Bearcats will face No. 1 Alabama in one of the semifinal games. One loss Georgia will face Big Ten champion Michigan in the other semifinal. 

This is a huge accomplishment for Cincinnati as the first team from Group of Five Conferences to ever make it to the playoffs.  

Teams from those conferences have been ignored due to the strength of schedule, and often undervalued even though they had a great season.  

University of Central Florida had two perfect regular seasons (12-0), but were not even close to top four in both seasons (eighth and twelfth). Again, the excuse for the low rankings by the CFP was the strength of schedule.  

What is strength of schedule?  

It is basically how many tough opponents that a team faces during the season. However, how do we know if a team is strong? There are a limited number of games per season. Therefore, it is impossible to make a decision based on a small sample size in college football, unlike college basketball where teams play 30 or more games.  

This makes every game of college football very impactful on the ranking of the team.  

However, there is a little flaw here. What makes certain teams high in preseason ranking? If we look at the Top 25 preseason rankings in the past five years or so, the teams look familiar.  

There are a few teams that may appear here and there, but most of the teams are the same but in a different order. From 2018 to 2021, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia all appeared as top five teams, with Oklahoma (three times) and Wisconsin (one time) joining them. 

If a team is in one of Power 5 conferences, there are plenty of opportunities to play against high ranked teams to boost their resume.  

For example, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams could have one loss (or even two losses) to consider to be top 4. For example, Auburn in 2017 had a 10-2 record, but they were ranked No. 2 after beating No. 1 Alabama the week before the SEC championship game.  

Can you imagine Cincinnati had two losses or let alone one loss? They may be lucky to even ranked in the top 15. Even with the perfect record after beating Notre Dame on the road, Cincinnati was not included in top four in the CFP ranking this year until the last week when Oklahoma State lost against Baylor.  

To be quite honest, if Oklahoma State became the Big 12 champion, the CFP would have put Oklahoma State over Cincinnati even after a 13-0 record based on “strength of schedule.” 

The biggest bias in current CFP ranking system is how much some big named teams in Power 5 conferences are favored.  

For example, there are between three and four top 10 SEC teams in preseason ranking in the past four years. This makes the SEC teams have better strength of schedule and a higher chance of getting ranked because there are plenty of opportunities to beat high ranked teams.  

But again, this strength is also determined by preseason ranking which is based on various factors that are likely from recruitment, the number of returning players from the previous year and so on. I believe that the experts who are making the rankings do their best to decide which team in each ranking.  

However, the preseason ranking is such a big influence in ranking that makes it unfair for many teams that are not considered a good team by the experts. 

One fun example (there are actually many examples) is No. 3 Georgia. On paper, they beat No. 3 Clemson, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 18 Auburn and No. 11 Kentucky. The one loss came from No. 3 Alabama. These rankings are based on the rankings when the opponents were ranked at the time.  

However, what are the current rankings of the teams that Georgia beat? Clemson is No. 19 and Arkansas is No. 21. The rest of the teams are not even ranked. Their resume is basically beating two top 25 teams and loss against No. 1 Alabama. Now, it does not look as impressive, right? 

Let’s look at another example, Notre Dame. On paper, they beat No. 18 Wisconsin and lost against No. 7 Cincinnati. At the end, they have no top 25 wins, and the best game is basically the loss against No. 4 Cincinnati. Notre Dame ended up being No. 5 in the CFP ranking. Again, not as impressive right? 

Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to make preseason ranking more objective.  

I know one thing that should happen in college football. Increase the number of games between power five conferences and decrease the number of games against non-power five or even division two schools. Recently, Alabama played against New Mexico State, and apparently, the computer could not even figure out the odds for the game because it was just lopsided.  

Why do power five teams need to play three easy games, because those teams win 99% of the time? Have one game against “weak” opponents and two games against power five conference teams to evaluate each other. I believe that this can help reduce bias against certain conferences.