Each week, it seems, as the College Football Playoff picture clears, the process by which the teams are selected does not. In a surprising turn, LSU, ranked no. 1 since its week 11 win over Alabama and coming off a 36-point win against Arkansas, was jumped by Ohio State for the top spot in Tuesday night’s College Football Playoff rankings. This is the most drastic movement amongst the top four in the rankings since week 11 and the first time any team in the top four has moved since. While both Ohio State and LSU are 11-0 and have a legitimate case for holding the top spot, LSU’s claim to the top spot seemed to be cemented given its three top-ten wins so far this season.
The selection committee, however, values more than just quality wins, it appears. According to committee chairman Rob Mullens, Ohio State’s defense has made it the most well-rounded team in college football.
“That’s the key piece,” Mullens said. “They’re a balanced team. Strong on offense and defense. Obviously LSU has a very strong offense, but to date, their defense isn’t as strong as Ohio State’s.”
This certainly is the case. The offenses are remarkably similar. While LSU’s offense outgains Ohio State’s by nearly 31 yards per game, Ohio State scores 49.4 points per game to LSU’s 48.5. LSU has the most efficient offense in college football according to ESPN, but Ohio State sits just behind at no. 2. Football Outsider’s FEI ratings—which represents an offense’s per-possession scoring advantage on a neutral field against an average defense—ranks LSU slightly above Ohio State. That said, the Tigers put up at least 42 in three of their wins against the top four teams. Ohio State hasn’t scored more than 40 against a ranked opponent. But, generally speaking, the two offenses are fairly similar statistically.
The defenses are a different story. The Ohio State defense allows just 10.5 points per game; LSU allows 23.5. Ohio State is ranked second in efficiency; LSU is ranked 19th. To be fair, LSU has played stronger offensive opponents—including football’s third-most efficient offense in Alabama—but Ohio State has far outplayed the Tigers on that side of the ball.
But is that really enough for the committee to justify Ohio State’s no. 1 ranking? Statistically, Ohio State has been a more complete team than LSU since the initial rankings came out, but by the committee’s own admission, “nuanced mathematical formulas ignore some teams who ‘deserve’ to be selected.” LSU beat no. 3 Alabama and jumped Ohio State. LSU’s narrative has been consistently stronger than Ohio State’s, and it seemed as if LSU’s quality wins over four top-ten teams cemented their claim to the top spot before this week. Read More