Texas A&M QB Trevor Knight
Tuesday night, your fingers got a workout.
You saw the College Football Playoff rankings, became outraged when one-loss Texas A&M sat fourth ahead of undefeated Washington and got #MadOnline—a November tradition since the selection committee began releasing midseason rankings two years ago.
The football gods heard you and fixed the glitch the committee created by taking Texas A&M—the primary surprise from the initial rankings—out of the mix Saturday afternoon.
The Aggies suffered their second loss of the season at the hands of home-standing Mississippi State, 35-28, in a contest that saw head coach Kevin Sumlin’s crew lose starting quarterback Trevor Knight to an arm injury, star defensive end Myles Garrett to an ankle injury and its hold on a spot in the prestigious four-team playoff.
Sumlin doesn’t think A&M’s surprising ranking had an impact on his team’s mindset heading into the game, per TexAgs.com, though:
Sumlin on whether CFP ranking had any bearing on game: I don't know. People are going to say that. I didn't see that. I don't think so.
— TexAgs (@TexAgs) November 5, 2016
But the loss reaffirms how great the College Football Playoff setup is.
The only rankings that matter are the ones that come out on Selection Sunday, which falls on Dec. 4.
Until then, consider them a programming tool. A script. A guide to what you should care about on any given week, something that helps with unanswered questions for the sport’s top teams.
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All eyes were on A&M on Saturday afternoon, and we saw it wasn’t as complete of a team as it seemed.
Sure, the running game looked great early in the campaign behind true freshman Trayveon Williams, and the defense was more consistent with Garrett healthy and coordinator John Chavis in his second season.
But that rushing attack managed just 117 yards and 3.7 yards per carry against a Mississippi State defense that came in giving up 154.75 yards per game. The Aggies defense gave up 574 yards to an offense that was averaging just 351.5 yards per game versus conference opponents prior to the contest, according to CFBStats.com.
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Simply put, Texas A&M doesn’t have the depth to withstand major injuries to its stars, and it doesn’t have the ability to adapt mid-game or during practice—which it could have done while Garrett battled that ankle injury for the last month.
That’s not the most shocking thing in the world.
Most teams that lose their trigger man—Knight—and one of the best players in the game—Garrett, who’ll be a surefire first-round draft pick whenever he comes out—won’t have success. But the game’s elite do.
I’m talking about Ohio State, when third-string quarterback Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to the national title two seasons ago. I’m talking about Alabama, a team that saw Florida State castaway Jacob Coker—who couldn’t beat out former running back Blake Sims for the starting quarterback job in 2014—win a national title one year later.
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The committee members will never say it publicly and likely won’t discuss it privately. But Tuesday’s rankings served their purpose.
Whether the rankings put pressure on Texas A&M to win or that urgency was media-driven, it created the appearance of pressure. That appearance drove the college football world to the SEC Network for a noon game between the nation’s No. 4 team’s road matchup against a squad that entered the day with a 3-5 record.
It created chaos and cleaned up the mess the committee made Tuesday night by ranking Texas A&M ahead of Washington.
That’s not only perfect for the committee—since it cleans up its mistake—but it shifts the focus to fifth-ranked Washington in the late-night showcase at 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday night against a potent Cal offense in Berkeley.
Yeah, Alabama-LSU wrapped up its 10-0 win over LSU shortly after the Huskies and Bears kick off, and Ohio State polished off Nebraska too. But everybody instantly to #Pac12AfterDark when they finished up, simply to check out how the Huskies handle the newfound pressure.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Sumlin is probably right about the players’ not paying much attention to the rankings. But the sport wins regardless.
By creating chaos—either real or fictional—via the CFP rankings, the committee creates storylines from coast to coast. It can tear up the sheets and start over every week through the end of the season.
In the process, the sport will accept the public backlash, anger, angst, profane Twitter mentions and legendary talk-radio callers for who they are: the folks who drive the sport. They have the passion, and passion is what makes college football great.
Even if it gets masked as internet rage every Tuesday in November after a television show on ESPN.
A&M’s loss made the committee’s job a little bit easier next week, which gives it more time to concoct another mess that will undoubtedly cause all sorts of drama heading into Week 11.
Isn’t this sport great?
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information is courtesy of Scout. Odds provided by Odds Shark.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter: @BarrettSallee.