The importance with the College Football Playoff's selection committee rankings is in the movement from one week to the next. From last week's initial rankings to last night's reveal, there is an troubling indication that one of the bad patterns from the old polls is sticking around in the committee era.
That pattern is ranking teams first and foremost by number of losses. The committee didn't do that strictly, of course, and the old polls didn't either. But for the most part, the committee appears to be looking at losses more than anything else based on Ole Miss's big fall.
Ole Miss was ranked fourth last week and dropped seven spots to eleventh after losing. On basically the last real play. One yard from the end zone. To Auburn, who's ranked third. The Rebels' defeat was about as slim as a loss gets, yet they plummeted for it. That's a worrying sign.
Why should Ole Miss fall behind, for instance, Notre Dame? The Irish's best win is a four-point loss to Florida State. You'd figure that four-point loss to No. 2 and Ole Miss's four-point loss to No. 3 would cancel each other out. After that, the Rebels do have a three-point loss to No. 16 LSU but beat No. 5 Alabama. The next best thing Notre Dame has done is what, exactly? A three-point win over Stanford, I guess? Beating Navy by less than Ohio State did?
I realize that lining up wins and losses like this is delving into "most deserving" territory while the committee's instructions tell them to select the "best" teams. However, the committee uses the same kind of logic itself, so it's fair game. Just yesterday, Jeff Long was citing "body of work" (i.e. resume) rather than who is best or better at times.
The only reason Ole Miss is behind No. 10 Notre Dame is the 2 in the loss column. The only reason the Rebels are behind No. 9 Arizona State—whose best win is in overtime over No. 19 and who lost by five touchdowns to UCLA—is because of the 2 in the loss column. Same goes for No. 8 Michigan State, whose loss to No. 4 Oregon was far worse than the Rebels' loss to No. 3 and who doesn't have as good a win as Alabama. Only with No. 7 Kansas State is there a real case to be made for being above Ole Miss, but even then, it won't be all that strong until (and unless) KSU beats TCU this weekend.
The committee is supposed to be considering things like injuries, which are included specifically on the list of criteria for consideration:
Other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.
Maybe losing Laquon Treadwell for the season is worth four or more spots in the rankings. I doubt that's it, though, when Denzel Nkemdiche's season-ending injury didn't appear to affect the Rebels' rank last week. Treadwell is the better player of the two, but the elder Nkemdiche was a major piece of the defense. Ole Miss sorely missed him against Auburn.
To be clear, I have no allegiance to Ole Miss that I'm defending here. What I am concerned about is a bad ideology of the traditional polls carrying forward to the selection committee. The whole point of going to a committee format was to leave behind the old poll system.
Here is how the poll looks, color coded by losses. Blue means undefeated, black means one loss, red means two losses, and green means three losses:
That's what a ranking looks like when teams are more or less sorted in groups by number of losses.
Hopefully this just shows some midseason laziness. I used to vote in the old BlogPoll, and I can attest that putting out a weekly top 25 is a lot less fun and a lot more of a hassle than you'd think. Past the real national contenders, it's really not all that interesting. The best case scenario is that they're doing this for now and will really focus on the last ranking of the season.
That said, Long has said that the teams "on the margins"—meaning in the 9, 10, and 11 spots, which are the edge of who will get an at-large and who won't—will get extra attention. This week, at least, they didn't give that extra attention.
I want to be able to trust the committee, but it is sending mixed signals. Baylor is being punished for bad non-conference scheduling and Arizona State seems to be largely getting a mulligan for a 35-point loss, but Ole Miss is being punished for having a tough conference schedule and having two losses by a total of seven points. Mississippi State hasn't been affected by its recent iffy wins over Kentucky and especially Arkansas ("Long said there was not much consideration of flipping the top two spots."), but Alabama does get a boost for its in-game play ("at the end of the day we felt Alabama, at this point thus far in the season is a better team [than TCU]").
It's early still, and any given week can be a fluke. Still though, the committee is showing some worrying signs about its judgment.