NORMAN — The College Football Playoff selection committee had one last opportunity to show that these non-ultimate rankings actually mean something.
Instead, with the final rankings — the ones that actually matter — coming out Sunday, the committee took its weekly ESPN dog-and-pony show to another level on Tuesday night, keeping Utah one spot ahead of Oklahoma for the No. 5 spot in this week’s rankings and underscoring how utterly meaningless and hollow this whole exercise is ahead of Sunday.
Oklahoma goes on the road in miserable conditions in a rivalry game against a ranked opponent and wins convincingly?
Utah plays at home against a team with a losing record and wins convincingly?
“We spent considerable time on it,” selection committee chairman Rob Mullens said Tuesday night, “more time than anywhere else on the board. There was plenty of debate.
“Obviously when you look at Oklahoma’s résumé, they have the win against the No. 7 team (Baylor) on the road, without a key wide receiver (CeeDee Lamb). They also beat (No. 25) Oklahoma State.
“When we look at Utah, we see a season-long balance of very consistent play on both sides of the ball. Very dominant wins. Their only loss is on a Friday night on the road at a No. 22 ranked team (USC) when a key player on offense (running back Zack Moss) missed the majority of the game.”
Asked what the committee’s thinking was in choosing between Utah or Oklahoma at No. 5, Mullens instead listed each team’s merits. Given a chance to expound on why Utah was deemed one spot ahead of OU, Mullens declined, but retreated to the bullet points.
“That’s exactly the discussion,” Mullens said. “Those are the factors. You just line them up, then we put a vote on what members see, how they feel those teams line up.”
In reality, these weekly rankings are but an exercise in showmanship and television ratings. We’re told they matter, but we know better. Yet we watch anyway, and we strain and fuss and opine about how the committee got this or that wrong.
But if college football’s championship weekend follows the chalk line — if No. 5 Utah takes down No. 13 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game (Friday night), if No. 5 Oklahoma eliminates No. 7 Baylor in the Big 12 title game (Saturday morning kickoff) and if No. 2 LSU clears out No. 4 Georgia in the SEC title game (Saturday afternoon) — then all the consternation over regular-season rankings will be proven once again to be little more than a silly snipe hunt.
If the favorites win and the CFP’s fourth spot comes down to Oklahoma or Utah, the committee will elevate the Sooners and OU will be back in the playoff for the fourth time in five years.
That’s just the business of college football. No explanation needed — not that we’ll get one.
Mullens said during the committee’s vote on Monday, “considerable time” was spent deciding on Utah-Oklahoma, and their ranking was “revisited again today.”
But, he said, to the best of his recollection, no one on the committee actually asked for a revote, or if they did, the motion was not seconded. With Alabama’s loss, Utah moved from No. 6 to No. 5, and Oklahoma moved from No. 7 to No. 6.
End of discussion, apparently. At least until Sunday.
Of course, none of this discussion matters if Utah loses Friday, or if Georgia wins Saturday. Baylor, of course, will have its own arguments if the Bears take down OU.
With OU handling Oklahoma State in Stillwater and Utah dispatching Colorado on Saturday night, this would have been the week to show that these regular-season rankings have even a tiny bit of merit. Jumping the Sooners over the Utes could have been a direct byproduct of those actual results.
(Also, the committee could have avoided next week’s storm of controversy by switching OU and Utah this week, then letting the process play out next week.)
But now, when the committee makes the switch on Sunday — and it will be made, sorry Utes fans — Mullens will be asked questions he doesn’t want to answer about helmet logos and brands and establishment outsiders, and the committee will be accused of underhanded maneuvering and pandering to college football bluebloods.
“But Utah beat a ranked team to win a conference championship and you actually dropped them a spot?”
It’s a legit question.
Of course, it can’t be asked until Sunday.
Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.