PSO: MSU, U of M, and the CFB Playoff Rankings


Death, taxes, and Michigan being inexplicably ranked higher than Michigan State.  These thing are just about certain in life. 

On Tuesday night the CFB Playoff Committee announced their rankings for the coming week.  With a win over Indiana, Michigan advanced one spot to the number six slot.  Meanwhile, the Michigan State Spartans fell four spots after an upset loss to Purdue, landing at number seven right behind Michigan.  This is an absurd decision by the committee, and one that has conflicted with their previous rankings.

First of all, the problem is not that Michigan State fell a few spots.  They lost to an unranked team in semi-dominant fashion.  The problem is that Michigan State beat Michigan less than two weeks ago in a head to head matchup, which almost always means that if those same two teams have the same record, the victorious team is ranked higher because they beat the other.  Not to do the same here is an abnormality at least. 

Committee member and Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta defended the decision on ESPN, stating that “it was discussed that Michigan might be the more complete team – offensively, defensively, every statistic Michigan’s ahead of Michigan State”.  The problem with that, Barta, is that you are ignoring the most important statistic, which is the wins and losses.  The two schools have the same record, Michigan lost to Michigan State, but somehow it was decided that Michigan is still the better team.

The inconsistency with considering the head to head matchups is that the committee respected Oregon’s win over Ohio State.  Ohio State and Oregon have the same record, but Oregon was ranked higher at number three than Ohio State was at four because Oregon beat the Buckeyes already all the way back in September.  So why would the committee look at a head to head matchup from over a month ago and decide that that is indeed still relevant, but Michigan State’s win over Michigan less than two weeks ago isn’t.

One has to wonder if this odd turn of event has anything to do with Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s constant whining and complaining about the officiating during Michigan’s game against Michigan State.  Harbaugh has made claims that the Big Ten admitted they were wrong on ruling MSU quarterback Payton Thorne down a play that should have resulted in a fumble returned for a touchdown.  It’s possible that the committee and the media, who have often given Michigan preferential treatment in the rankings and media coverage due to their status as a large brand name.

The rankings could, of course, change in the coming weeks before the playoffs.  But the recent show of favoritism to Michigan begs the question, what does Michigan State have to do to be viewed as the superior program.  Michigan State has beaten Michigan more times than Michigan has beaten them over the past twenty years, Michigan State has made the playoffs more recently, and won the Big Ten more recently.  Michigan State currently rosters one of the leading Heisman candidates in Kenneth Walker III, and a coach who has made a very strong case for coach of the year and is being rumored to be in consideration for the LSU head coaching job. 

What will it take for Michigan State to get the respect they have earned?