How to fix the problems the College Football Playoff rankings reveal show creates

Another week, another breathless unveiling – followed by more crystallizing perceptions about the College Football Playoff race, never mind that the season is only now headed into its fourth quarter.

That’s the takeaway from Tuesday night’s updated CFP Top 25. It’s Alabama (we knew), followed by Clemson (yes), then Notre Dame (OK) and Michigan (makes sense). Georgia, Oklahoma and then – wait, what? – somehow LSU, with Washington State, West Virginia and Ohio State rounding out the top 10.

So there you have ‘em, the latest rankings put out by the selection committee that, not quite a month from now, will get together for the only set that matters. Or at least, that’s the theory.

Playoff officials like to say – well, let selection committee chairman Rob Mullens say it:

“As we do every week, we start with a clean sheet of paper,” he said Tuesday night, “reviewing every team’s play from the first game to the most recent.”

The idea is to rank teams as though they had not ranked them the week before. There’s no reason to disbelieve him. It’s certainly the goal; the committee does its best to do exactly that. But is it reality?

(Does anyone believe LSU would rank No. 7, with a 29-point shutout loss at home to No. 1 Alabama and a loss to a mediocre Florida team that just got drilled by Missouri, if LSU had not been ranked No. 3 last week? Aside: Even knowing last week’s ranking, can anyone figure out why the Tigers are ranked No. 7?)

Human nature makes it very hard to forget where teams were slotted the week before, no? And if not the committee members, it’s certainly difficult for the rest of college football, which treats these rankings each week as though they matter.

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Perhaps as important is the perception that’s formed after each week’s fresh Top 25 – and almost as important, after whatever the committee chairman said about how that ranking was derived. And all of this is despite the fact that teams routinely grow through the season – though sometimes it’s not easily evident from week to week, but only in stepping back to look at the bigger picture. Weekly rankings are not conducive to those kinds of evaluations, regardless of intent.

Mullens, whose day job is as Oregon’s athletic director, is the latest to step into the role as the committee’s chairman, which is high profile and thankless at the same time. And to be clear: Especially after the in-season rankings, the reasons Mullens gives and the opinions he expresses might or might not be the actual reasons a team was ranked high or low, or the actual consensus opinion of the committee.

The problem: Like Jeff Long and Kirby Hocutt before him, what Mullens says each week becomes part of the crystallizing perception of the playoff race.

Team A is a complete team? We’re concerned about Team B’s defense? It’s one thing when the talking heads do it – everybody’s got an opinion – but another when the committee chairman does.

Mullens’ words carry weight, and often set the narrative for the next week in the college football universe – on TV and radio talk-fests, in opinion columns, on game broadcasts and so much more – and then a week later, we get another incremental update.

In that atmosphere, perceptions about teams take shape and harden, even while there are multiple games left to play – this week, 25 percent of the season still remains.

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