Imagine a nonsense world in which only two teams qualify for the tournament to crown a national champion in college football. A silly place for sure, but The Power Rank still has an opinon on these matters.
Oregon stays at number one in the rankings this week. After getting a scare in the game at California, the Ducks stormed back this week with a solid win at home over a good Arizona team. Oregon has over a 7 point lead over all other teams, which means they should be at least a touchdown point favorite against any other team on a neutral site. The Ducks easily qualify for our hypothetical tournament of two.
The remaining team to qualify is more nebulous, as TCU, Stanford and Boise State form a tight pack in the 2 through 4 slots. TCU finished a perfect 12-0 season with a big win over a woeful New Mexico. They looked particularly good a few weeks ago after beating highly ranked Utah, but Utah went on to lose to Notre Dame the following week. Stanford trails TCU by less than half a point, so a game between these two teams would be a dead heat destined for overtime. While Stanford lost to top ranked Oregon, their body of work keeps them close to TCU.
The third contender for the second playoff slot is Boise State, a team that lost to rival Nevada in the most dramatic fashion on Friday. The entire fourth quarter was a storyline that you just can’t make up. In the end, Boise State’s kicker missed two short field goals that allowed Nevada to win the game in overtime by 3. But Boise State was only a 6 point favorite in the game according to our system, and a 9 point deviation is quite common. Boise State ends up fourth this week, barely behind Stanford. There’s no shame in a road loss to a good Nevada team that jumps to 10th in the rankings.
Three teams, one slot. It’s a cruel world. Moreover, The Power Rank doesn’t assign a team’s value with absolute certainty. A vast range of elements affect the outcome of games, from a lucky bounce off the turf to pulling the starters in the middle of the third quarter. Just like it’s impossible to measure the position and velocity of an atom precisely, there is an error in a team’s value. In an ideal world, The Power Rank would quantify this error. For now, it’s reasonable to assume TCU, Stanford, and Boise State are all equally worthy competitors to Oregon.
If a hypothetical media ran its mouth in this nonsense world, there might be chatter about two other teams: Auburn and Wisconsin. Auburn squeaked out a one point win over Alabama this weekend. Some may view Auburn’s inability to win decisively as a failure. However, both our system and the Vegas line had Auburn as a 4 point underdog in this game, so the Tigers actually overachieved. Still, Auburn doesn’t qualify for the 2 team tourney as they trail Boise State by more than 3 points.
Finally, Wisconsin put up another big number on a Big Ten opponent, scoring 70 points on Northwestern in a 47 point win. A few weeks ago, they beat Indiana by 63 points only to move up one place in The Power Rank. This week, they actually dropped one place, as Nevada passed them with their win over Boise State. This clearly demonstrates the diminishing returns in The Power Rank for running up the score. We’re all in favor of piling on the points, but it’s not necessarily going to help your rank. Wisconsin comes in at 12th in the latest rankings.