Why Alabama should be No. 1 in the College Football Playoff

— -- The Clemson Tigers are the only undefeated FBS team. They came into this past weekend ranked first in the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings and notched a 45-37 victory over North Carolina in the ACC championship game.

So they should be ranked first in the CFP seedings as well, correct?


The CFP committee has made it clear that win-loss records are not as important as how well the team is playing at that particular moment.

Using that factor as a barometer, the Alabama Crimson Tide should be ranked first in the CFP seedings.

Here's why:

Better conference

The SEC lived up to its reputation as the best conference in college football by posting a 45-10 mark against nonconference foes (81.8 percent win rate). That total ranked first among Power 5 conferences.

This was not just a case of beating lower-tier competition, as the SEC also ranked tied for first in nonconference win percentage against Power 5 teams (63-62, 50.4 percent win rate).

The ACC lived it to its reputation as one of the weakest conferences in college football by posting a 37-19 mark in nonconference games. That 66.1 percent win rate ranked last among Power 5 conferences.

This was also not a case of the ACC losing a disproportionate share of games against Power 5 foes, as the conference's 64-71 mark (47.4 percent) against nonconference Power 5 opponents ranked last among Power 5 conferences.

These win-loss marks give Alabama a significant edge in ESPN Stats & Information's schedule strength metric and accounts for ranking second in this category (69.2) versus Clemson's No. 24 ranking (61.1).

Football Power Index

The conference and schedule strength rankings are very important because they are a big part of why Alabama rates in front of Clemson in a wide variety of long-view metrics.

The Football Power Index falls into this category. It is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season. It represents how many points above or below average a team is.

Alabama has a 25.5 mark in this category after the Week 14 games, a total that ranks second in this category. Clemson's 21.3 mark is quite strong, ranked sixth overall, but it is more than four points short of Alabama's total.

The FPI measurements are also helpful in highlighting just how tough these team's relative schedules have been. The Crimson Tide had only two games against an opponent with a current FPI ranking of lower than 32nd nationally.

Clemson's schedule has been almost exactly the opposite of this, as the Tigers had only four games against a team that has an FPI ranking of 36th or higher.

Game score

Alabama isn't just facing tougher foes than Clemson. It is also played at a much higher level against those opponents over the last two months of the season.

Since October, Alabama has posted a game score of 90 or higher in every game the Crimson Tide have played against an FBS opponent. Game score is a measure of game performance that includes how well the team controlled the game along with the final result, accounting for site and opponent strength. It is measured on a 1 to 100 scale, where 100 is best, so these 90 or higher rankings are in elite territory here.

By contrast, Clemson has posted a game score of 90 or higher in only six of their nine contests against FBS teams in that time frame. This has been a downward trend area for the Tigers, as they have posted a game score of less than 90 in three of their past four games.

Maybe the most notable among these was the game score Clemson posted against archrival South Carolina. The Gamecocks' season went so bad that their legendary head coach (Steve Spurrier) retired midway through the schedule slate, and the interim coach was replaced at season's end. Despite facing a foe that had fallen apart, Clemson managed to post a relatively low 84 game score that was its ninth lowest of the year.

Bottom line

Alabama has played at a higher level over the course of the season and has done so against a much tougher schedule. Combine that with Clemson trending downward toward the end of the season, and it means that the Crimson Tide should be ranked above the Tigers at the top of the College Football Playoff rankings.