Why Ohio State Jumped Up To No. 1 In The Playoff Rankings

Ohio State’s move to No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night was greeted with incredulity from exactly the people you would expect.

ESPN’s “Playoff Insider” Heather Dinich was mystified as to what could have possibly changed with Ohio State’s resume between last week and this.

Dinich got on the media conference call following the release of those rankings and asked for an explanation.

“What was the difference, though, this week about Ohio State that put them over LSU because you have said that they’ve been a complete team all season?” Dinich asked.

The results of recent football games seems like information an “insider” would be privy to, but Playoff Committee chairman Rob Mullens spelled it all out.

“They have, but they added their third win against a ranked opponent over Penn State, who we have ranked No. 10,” Mullens said.

Lest you think she was merely asking to get a quote instead of being genuinely confused, she then went out and got ratio’d into oblivion on Twitter.

In response to another question, Mullens mentioned Ohio State “competing consistently and really highly ranked on offense and defense, performing at a high level in both” as another point of separation between the Buckeyes and LSU.

Tuesday morning, former LSU offensive lineman and current Baton Rouge radio host T-Bob Hebert jumped on Twitter to contest the idea that Ohio State’s defense was, in fact, better than LSU’s.

To him, the only difference between LSU and OSU is the quality of the teams they’ve faced.

The real tone-setter here is “Penn State played 3/4 of the game with a backup quarterback” which seems like quite a rounding error for a game in which Sean Clifford played into the third quarter.

But people are dumb and wrong online all the time. The rest of the exchange is far more worthy of examination because it employs exactly the type of SEC-centric myth-making that has driven the national narrative around the Playoff since day one.

There are two possibilities here: 1) Hebert is merely ignorant. 2) Hebert is willfully obfuscating for the benefit of his partisan audience.

First of all, there is the issue of which metric Hebert is looking at. It appears to be total yardage per game, which is such an atrocious overall measure of an offense’s performance that it seems almost impossible to believe a former player would use it.

Raw total yardage doesn’t account for tempo or quality of opposition. For a guy whose entire argument is based on quality of opposition, this seems like a curious choice. Well… unless the sole point was to pick the only measure where LSU’s defense appears to stand up to the Buckeyes, in which case it makes perfect sense.

Going by another non-adjusted metric, Wisconsin (21st) and Penn State (22nd) both rank ahead of FAU in points per game. Only one LSU opponent (Alabama) ranks higher than either of those teams.

However, if you’re truly trying to get a sense for the quality of offenses a team has faced, a tempo-free and opponent-adjusted metric like SP+ is the way to go.

That cuts out the bias from teams going up-tempo or running a slow-down offense, and also accounts for whether the team you’re playing has actually been any good against anyone else.

Here’s a list of Ohio State and LSU’s three best offensive opponents in the measure, with their SP+ offensive ranking and number of points scored against the Buckeyes or Tigers.

Alabama: #3 in SP+ offense, 41 points vs. LSU
Wisconsin: #11 in SP+ offense, 7 points vs. OSU
Texas: #12 in SP+ offense, 38 points vs. LSU
Indiana: #15 in SP+ offense, 10 points vs. OSU
Penn State: #16 in SP+ offense, 17 points vs. OSU
Mississippi State: #39 in SP+ offense, 13 points vs. LSU

Mississippi State is something of an outlier, more than 20 spots below anyone else listed above.

The three top-20 offenses the Buckeyes have faced have scored an average of 11.3 points against Ohio State.

The two top-20 offense the Tigers have faced have scored an average of 39.5. Even if you include Mississippi State, LSU is still giving up 30.7 points per game, nearly three times as many as the Buckeyes.

Those numbers are borne out in the overall SP+ defensive rating for the two teams. Ohio State is No. 1 nationally. LSU is No. 29.

Oh, and teams with statistical profiles similar to OSU’s tend to do well in the Playoff, while those similar to LSU tend to get smoked.

So, no. LSU’s terrible defensive numbers are not a result of playing far better competition.

They’re a result of Ohio State having a far better defense.

But there’s a pretty good chance that both you and Hebert knew that already.

5 Responses

  1. Yaaaaaaawn! Just keep winning. Get a life people. Nothing to talk about!

    1. Physician, heal thyself- geesh.

  2. Having spent years on the CBS message board before they killed it this stuff is relatively tame compared to wha’s gone on in the past. The simple fact s, CBS sponsors the SEC. It’s like when a T.V station plugs a new show ” One of the best new shows this year.” You know it’s not but they have to hype it don’t they? Well CBS uses their influence to hype the SEC they get inflated rankings, because so many voters depend on them.

    It’s better now with the committee, but, the SEC still gets way too much respect. Right now Ohio State is 2-1 in the playoffs. That’s a 66% winning average. Alabama if 6-4. 60%. Clemson is 5-1. 83% winning percent, the best, never lost a first round game.

    But, Alabama having played in 4 championship games has only won twice. 50%. See what I’m saying it took Alabama 4 tries to win two championships. Looks to me like 50.50 proposition. IN such a scenario the team twitch the most chances wins the most championships.

    The SEC and CBS do everything they can to make sure their teams get the most chances. If they deserved it, they’d have better than a 50/50 record in championship games and a better winning percentage than Ohio State for the games they’ve played.

  3. Agree 100%. Although LSU will be far from a lay-down for Clemson, and the irony of it all seems to just be in the cards that it will come down to OSU and LSU for all the marbles. Won’t the media love that one!!!?

  4. I’m sure LSU/SEC fans are fuming over OSU being back on top again. But, remember, the committee had us ranked #1 in the first poll. And the reason they dropped OSU is because LSU had more quality wins. Now that the resumes have equalized, the committee feels like OSU is just the better team. Makes sense to me. Go Bucks! Beat Xichigan!

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