The weekly college football playoff rankings are considered “water cooler” discussion points. Up until the committee actually names the official top four following the conclusion of the regular season, the rankings mean nothing. Many fans eagerly wait to see where their team’s triumphs or tragedies from the previous Saturday have placed them in the rankings, yet this week’s rankings have kicked open a Pandora’s box for the committee going forward.
The biggest surprise from this past week was that Oregon, a team with a single defeat at home to Arizona, moved ahead of an undefeated Florida State to No. 2 in the ranking. The idea sounded preposterous at first – how could an undefeated Power Five member be jumped by a one loss team – and the explanation only managed to cause more controversy.
Jeff Long, chairman of the College Football Playoff committee, gave multiple reasons for pushing the Ducks ahead of the Seminoles including strength of schedule and body of work that all make some sense, but then he promptly blew the lid off of Pandora’s box by saying that the committee noted that Arizona was now ranked fourteenth (they were unranked when they played Oregon), and that Oregon had multiple injuries which contributed to their loss.
While it is important to note that injuries are a part of the CFP committee protocol, this particular use sticks out as its first true test. It is precedent setting. That’s the Pandora’s box.
What the committee essentially decided was “Oregon had extenuating injury circumstances, they have looked better than FSU otherwise, therefore we will forgive the loss and move them ahead.” The question now becomes what qualifies as an “extenuating injury circumstance”?
Alabama’s Kenyan Drake had an injury bad enough that Ole Miss players were running away from the scene during the game in abject horror. The Tide also had a starter on the offensive line go down in the game. Why doesn’t that qualify as “extenuating injury circumstances?”
The point of this column isn’t to push Alabama forward. If Alabama wins out, they are in. It is instead to point out that the committee has painted themselves into a corner. “Extenuating injury circumstances” is a nebulous term that can’t be defined with anything resembling consistency.
The worst part of kicking open this Pandora’s box? Fans and teams may be unfairly penalized by the concept. It is an inauspicious start for the inaugural College Football Playoff, and one that needs a serious examination in the offseason.