Commentary: UH won’t make the College Football Playoffs this year
The Cougars now sit at 10-0, after their win over the University of Memphis Tigers. They’re one of five undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the only undefeated team in Texas…and still ranked just 19 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Some fans are confused as to how one of only five undefeated teams in the entire nation could be ranked so low.
To understand that, you have to understand the College Football Playoff committee, the 12-person board which decides the CFP Rankings, and, eventually, who gets spots in the playoffs.
Now, I won’t begin to pretend that I understand all the inner workings and criteria the committee uses to rank the teams. That knowledge is something beyond comprehension. It may sometimes be beyond the comprehension of the voting members of the committee, but I digress.
We do know there are a few key factors that the committee uses to determine their rankings, but first, we need a little background on the voting board themselves.
The committee is composed of 12 members. Most members have an expansive and intimate knowledge of the game of college football, such as Barry Alvarez, Director of Athletics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, and Tom Osborne, former head coach and director of athletics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who can claim three national championships and thirteen conference titles from his time with the Cornhuskers.
It’s safe to say that the committee knows what it’s talking about.
As far as the principles for selection, the College Football Playoffs website outlines five key principles for consideration in the rankings. Those principles include: “Conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes of common opponents…and other relevant factors, such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or…will affect its postseason performance.”
Most of these principles have to do with the end-of-year rankings and bids for bowl games, but the same or similar criteria is used in relation to the week-to-week rankings the committee begins to distribute after week nine of the college football season.
Why does all this matter to UH? Because the Cougars are extremely unlikely to make it into the playoffs under the current model, and one criteria is the biggest obstacle to them: strength of schedule.
Looking at the team’s schedule this season, the Cougars had some good wins against Memphis and the University of Cincinnati in recent weeks, but the overall strength of the conference schedule hurts the Cougars.
If you look at the AAC and discount the top four teams — Houston, Memphis, Temple University and the United States Naval Academy — the remaining teams have a combined record of 30-50, with one win-less team and one team with one win.
If you apply the same standard to the Power 5 conferences, discounting the top four teams and looking at overall record, the American Athletic Conference has the second-worst overall winning percentage of the six conferences, ahead of only the Big 12 Conference, whose teams also suffer in the rankings from strength of schedule problems.
With a weaker strength of schedule against conference teams, the Cougars have to make up that lost ground by scheduling out-of-conference games against quality opponents.
This year, the Cougars’ out-of-conference schedule was highlighted by two games against Power-5 foes, against the University of Louisville of the Atlantic Coast Conference and Vanderbilt University of the Southeastern Conference.
But despite those games coming against Power-5 competition, rough years for both programs have led to the degradation of the quality of those wins. Pair that with the Cougars playing an FCS team and a team from the Sun Belt Conference and the strength of schedule takes a hit.
However, the Athletics department is working to remedy that problem. After next season, the Cougars have no FCS teams scheduled for out-of-conference games, but more importantly, they’re consistently scheduling tougher opponents from P5 conferences.
The 2016-2017 out-of-conference schedule features an opening game against the University of Oklahoma as well as a game against Louisville.
The following year, the Cougars are scheduled to travel to play the University of Arizona and play host to Texas Tech University as they work to continue improving their schedules.
While the strength of schedule is a big reason why the Cougars will get left out of consideration for one of the four playoff spots this year, a concerted effort to schedule better opponents will benefit them in the coming years, given the product on the field stays at a high level.
But all of that hinges on the Cougars continuing to turn in conference-winning performances and keeping head coach Tom Herman.