Let’s make one thing clear right out of the gate, Clemson and Oklahoma are really good football programs.
As good as those teams have been the better part of a decade under Dabo Swinney and Lincoln Riley, their road to the College Football Playoff isn’t exactly the hardest one to travel on.
Granted, Oklahoma plays top 25 teams such as Texas (8) and Oklahoma State (15) while Clemson has Notre Dame (7), Miami (12), Pitt (21), and Virginia Tech (20). However, the top 25 rankings aren’t all that telling until the Big Ten and Pac-12 start to get included in them.
Matchups like the ones listed above represent worthy opponents, but their schedules also feature teams that aren’t even on the same planet as them in terms of talent. Cupcake opponents. This past weekend Clemson played The Citadel, a glorified scrimmage, a great way for backups to get practice reps. Trevor Lawrence went 8-for-9 for 163 yards and 3 touchdowns before calling it a day as Clemson routed The Citadel 49-0. Oklahoma faced Missouri State the week prior and had similar results, winning 48-0.
The ACC will be playing an 11-game schedule, with one non-conference opponent (like The Citadel), while the Big 12 has a 10 game schedule with one non-conference tilt. Why does this matter? Well, it matters this year especially during a pandemic-laden season where the SEC and Big Ten have conference only schedules and threw those cupcake games in the trash.
To the outside observer not in tune with what teams are good and what teams are bad, seeing a final score like 49-0 and being told one team is playing in eleven games and another is playing in only 8 (Big Ten) could lead some to think the team with eleven games under their belt is more deserving of a high ranked spot in the College Football Playoff rankings. It’s not that simple, though.
There’s no doubt that 11-0 and 10-0 will look better than 8-0. But when part of that 11 and 10 was The Citadel, Missouri State, UTEP, and so on, an extra cheap win should not be something that propels a team that’s undefeated with 10 or 11 wins over the team sitting undefeated after an 8-game season (make it 9 with the conference championship).
I’ve long felt this way about really good teams playing really bad ones, often giving the cupcake team millions of dollars to kick the snot kicked out of them. It’s a bad construct, it isn’t entertaining when the result is known right when the schedule is released. What makes it different this season is the climate the pandemic has created, where the amount of games teams are playing vary from conference to conference. The College Football Playoff selection committee is in unprecedented territory now and they’ll be faced with how to view an undefeated 9-0 team vs. a 11 or 12 win undefeated team after their conference championship games. Selections have been subjective in the past, with the methodology in their determination being abstract at best, which leads one to question how the committee will handle things in bizarro world 2020.
Conventional wisdom would say that Clemson and Oklahoma will wind up where they should be when the four College Football Playoff teams are announced in mid-December, but nothing has really been conventional this year and we’ve been surprised by decisions at each and every turn. That trend may not change and infiltrate how teams the committee determines who the top four are. All I’m suggesting is that if Clemson winds up 12-0 and Oklahoma ends up at 11-0, don’t even factor in their wins against The Citadel and Missouri State. Those are weak and I hope someday those types of matchups are done away with entirely. So they played more games than the Big Ten, to that I say.. so what.