Tramel: College football rankings should have Louisiana-Lafayette No. 1
College football rankings are dicey in the best of times. Not enough interconference matchups. Too many illegitimate games.
And now the pandemic season of 2020 is here, which means fewer interconference showdowns. No OU-Tennessee. No Texas-LSU. No Alabama-Southern Cal. No Ohio State-Oregon. No Washington-Michigan.
So now someone like me has to rank teams, and the College Football Playoff committee might have to select teams, without much cross-referencing information.
Comparing Big 12 teams with ACC teams, with limited non-conference games, is like comparing Southern comfort food with Asian fusion. Where do you start?
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The SEC is playing no non-conference games this season. The Big 12 is allowing one non-conference game, and it must be at home. The ACC is allowing one non-conference game, and it must be played in-state. With the Pac-12 and Big Ten (for now) sitting out, there are no crossover games within the Power 5 Conferences.
All of which means the rankings are going to be murkier than ever, which of course plays into the SEC’s hand. If you have to rely on assumptions based on history, the SEC rules.
I rank teams based solely on what they’ve done this season. Who did you play? Where did you play? How did you do?
I don’t project. I don’t predict. I try to not base anything on previous season results.
But still, some history slides into the soup. If OU wins at Ohio State in September, or Ohio State wins at OU, I consider that an excellent victory. Why? Because of history. Not because OU routed Texas-El Paso the week before it went to Columbus in 2017. Not because Ohio State whacked Bowling Green and Tulsa before landing in Norman. But because we assume that OU and Ohio State are high-level teams.
Over the weeks, into October and absolutely by November, we know who is good and who isn’t. By then, we know with absolute evidence what constitutes a quality victory. But in September, we’re just guessing.
And this September, we’re guessing even more, because of the lack of Power 5 interconference games.
This season, games matching Power 5 vs. quality teams from Conference USA, the Sun Belt (which went 3-0 vs. the Big 12 on Saturday) or the American Conference have to pass as precious. They are our only conduits among conferences.
In the Big 12, three teams -- OU, West Virginia, Texas Tech -- scheduled Division I-AA opponents. In the ACC, four teams did so -- Pitt, Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State.
That means a maximum of 18 interconference games matching a Power 5 team vs. a mid-major. With cancellations, that number declines.
So be prepared for lots of rankings based on supposition.
I use as little supposition as possible. As best I can, I’ll be ranking teams based on what they’ve done. So get ready:
1. Louisiana-Lafayette 1-0: Why the Ragin’ Cajuns No. 1? We’re basically one week and change into the season, and ULL has the best win, 31-14 at Iowa State. I don’t know if that will hold up as a great win. If the Cyclones drop off a 3-6 in the Big 12, excitement lessens. But if Iowa State goes 6-3 in the Big 12, the Cajuns’ pride can soar.
2. Georgia Tech 1-0: Winning at Florida State isn’t like beating a Bobby Bowden team or even a vintage Jimbo Fisher team. But in 2020, you take what you can get.
3. Memphis 1-0: Here’s a perfect example of reacting to what happens instead of reacting to what you assume. The Tigers beat Arkansas State in Memphis on September 5. Good win against a good mid-major. Then Arkansas State went to Kansas State and won, and whoa! Memphis’ résumé gets a big boost.
4. Brigham Young 1-0: No team has dominated against a supposedly-decent opponent as much as BYU did at Navy, winning 55-3 on Labor Day night. Still to be determined if BYU is that good or if Navy is that bad.
5. Clemson 1-0: Conference road win for the Tigers. And not a bad one. Wake Forest is 14-18 in ACC play the previous four years.
6. Arkansas State 1-1: Winning a road game against a Power 5 opponent remains difficult, so props to the Red Wolves. But again, that speaks to the kookiness of 2020. We don’t yet know if road wins are as impressive as usual, with limited or no fans in the stands.
7. Notre Dame 1-0: A conference home win, over Duke, for the Fighting Irish. That still takes some getting used to.
8. Coastal Carolina 1-0: Another Sun Belt team that won on the road against a Big 12 team. But winning at Kansas isn’t all that impressive, unless the Jayhawks shock us.
9. North Carolina 1-0: Tar Heels won an ACC home game, against Syracuse. UNC will need to do more to stay on this list.
10. Army 2-0: Two home victories by rout over what we assume are mediocre mid-majors, Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Monroe. At this point in the season, you take what you can get.