Congratulations to the Ohio St Buckeyes, the 2014 National Champions. Following outstanding performances over their last three games, I cannot think of a more deserving champ. As much as I hate to say it about a university that arrogantly prides itself on emphasizing the “The” in their name, Ohio St looked completely dominant in the Big Ten Championship game and their two playoff games. The team played with an athletic superiority that college football fans have become accustomed to seeing only in the frontrunners of the SEC. Ezekiel Elliott ran circles around everyone he faced, the line improved as the season progressed, and the receivers made sure the offense remained balanced no matter who played quarterback. The defense impressively shut down a typically explosive Oregon offense in the National Championship Game. These Buckeyes looked nothing like the team the Virginia Tech Hokies – my alma mater – crushed in the Horseshoe this September. No team improved more than Ohio St this season.
The four-team playoff also proved an unqualified success. I certainly criticized the playoff prior to its inception. I created this website as a way to vent that frustration. However, this season did nothing to support my fears. I worried that a playoff would create a situation like the NFL playoff where a 12-7 team can defeat a 18-0 team in the final game and claim it had the best season. I worried that a team could win the playoff and still not have a better season than the VPR champion. As long as the playoff remains at four teams, that remains an impossibility. College football still only allows 3% of its teams into its playoff, a number I like far more than the NFL’s 38% (and rising). That means that any of the four teams, after beating two more double-digit win teams, will have more than enough Victory Points to claim a championship no matter what seed they earn. This would likely hold true even if the playoff expanded. This season, the champion deserved it and the regular season remained as exciting as ever.
My larger worry lay in the possibility of an undeserving team getting hot at the end of the season, making the playoff with three or more losses, and claiming an undeserved championship. This happens regularly in the NFL, but I must again look at those playoff percentages. Since 2010, when I first started this website, no three loss team has finished higher than #8 after the conference championship games. The playoff could easily expand to six without quality issues and could even consider eight without letting a three loss team in more than once or twice a decade. I hate to concede these points, but I must remain objective about such a successful college football season. Even at a gaudy sixteen playoff teams, a number I still cannot fathom supporting, college football would only include 13% of its teams in the playoff. That still keeps the flash-in-the-pan teams from just getting hot at the right time.
As mentioned above, #1 Ohio St earned the National Championship following their 42-20 statement win against Oregon.
The Ducks didn’t drop too far though. On the strength of a Pac 12 championship and a blowout Rose Bowl victory over Florida St, Oregon finished at #2.
Following the Rose Bowl drubbing, the defending national champion Seminoles fell from the top spot to #3. One loss does not ruin an otherwise successful season.
#4 Boise St won the Fiesta Bowl… again. This time they won a hard fought struggle, vanquishing #14 Arizona 38-30. The Broncos jumped out to a 21-point lead, but needed a sack on the last play of the game with Arizona knocking on the Broncos goal line to seal the victory. Boise St more than validated their status as the VPR’s first team out from the college football playoff.
The VPR did not like Alabama as much as the opinion polls, definitely not a first with their typically soft non-conference schedules, and the Crimson Tide did nothing to dispel that ranking after a 42-35 loss to #1 Ohio St in the Sugar Bowl. The SEC Champions still had a better season than most of college football, but they did not have a vintage SEC season the likes of which we have become accustomed to.
Rather than looking at great bowl wins, I want to celebrate the teams that improved more than fifty spots in the final rankings over the 2013 VPR. The Mountain West led the way with three Cinderellas. #4 Boise St and #22 Colorado St both came from mediocrity to score double digit wins. #21 Air Force paced all of FBS with a 97 spot improvement, making the turn-around from 2-10 to 10-3.
The other Group of Five conferences all had one surprise of their own. Memphis shocked all of college football by winning the AAC, landing head coach Justin Fuente in the middle of a number of coaching searches at Power Five schools. Lousiana Tech bounced back to win the C-USA West Division. Western Michigan emerged from the dregs of the Bottom Ten to earn eight wins and a bowl berth. Georgia Southern won the Sun Belt Conference after playing at the FCS level last year! Unfortunately, due to a quirk in NCAA rules, the Eagles could not participate in a bowl game.
Four teams in the Power Five also made the jump despite the increased degree of difficulty. Arkansas achieved a winning season and a bowl victory for the first time in three seasons and scored a late season victory over #13 Mississippi. NC State bounced back from an off season to return to their typical home in a mediocre bowl. #9 Georgia Tech made a trip to the ACC Championship game, a familiar home over the last decade, and won the Orange Bowl. #8 TCU finally got the hang of the Big XII, won the Peach Bowl in dominating fashion, and caught the attention of the college football playoff committee after finishing 4-8 in 2013.
We saw far fewer teams take precipitous drops than those scaling the mountain. I would have to look at the numbers from year to year to see if its an actual trend, but perhaps a single transcendent player or coach can take a team to the heights, while losing a single player or coach cannot disrupt the inertia of a quality program as often. North Texas had the largest drop – 81 spots from a 9-4 record and a bowl win in 2013 to 4-8 in 2014 – but probably also the least interesting. Fresno St couldn’t get a handle on their “Anyone. Anytime. Anywhere.” motto this season. Despite a 5-3 conference record and a berth in the MWC Championship Game, the Bulldogs still finished 6-8. They went 0-3 against the Power Five to start the season, lost to #4 Boise St twice, and faltered in the Hawaii Bowl against Rice. Fresno St may not have played any worse than many of their other seasons, but the results did not match their typical expectations.
Two teams fell off the pace in the hyper-competitve SEC. For no obvious reason, South Carolina plummeted from a Top Ten finish in 2013 and 2014 National Championship aspirations to utter mediocrity. The rapid decline has many questioning whether 69-year-old Head Coach Steve Spurrier has lost a step and if the Gamecocks’ Golden Age has finally ended. Of course, Vanderbilt would love to have back the kind of season that USC just had. The Commodores became accustomed to poor football over their decades in the SEC, but after three consecutive bowl appearances and back-to-back 9-4 seasons under Head Coach James Franklin, the Vanderbilt faithful began to believe they could grab something more. Unfortunately, Franklin left to coach Penn St last offseason and apparently took the magic with him. In 2014, Vanderbilt crashed to 3-9 and had middle-aged fans throwing their Commodore shirts onto the field and storming out of the stadium in topless disgust.
(Scroll to the bottom for conference rankings)
|84.||San Diego St||7-6||-11|
|115.||San Jose St||3-9||-45|
|128.||New Mexico St||2-10||-63|
I thought that despite a strong regular season showing from the SEC West, the SEC as a whole might prove vulnerable. Maybe this year, the Pac 12 could break the SEC’s run of eight consecutive years as the best conference in football. We sorely overestimated the demise of the SEC. The conference took top honors by more than a hundred points. The second best conference landed closer to the #4 ACC than the SEC.
As for the Pac 12, they couldn’t even overcome a surprisingly strong Big Ten. Ohio St certainly helped the conference reach such heights, but even if you eliminate the advantage that Ohio St had over Oregon, the clear elite of each organization, the Big Ten still edges by the Pac 12. More than just the home of a National Champion, the Big Ten and its ten bowl teams looked impressive from top to bottom.
A clear divide emerged this year between the Big XII and the rest of the Power Five with the Big XII 119 points behind the tight pack of the Big Ten, Pac 12, and ACC. It makes it that much clearer why #8 TCU and #15 Baylor got left out of the playoff. They both started with mediocre to poor non-conference schedules and lacked the quality opponents to catch up in conference play.
The MWC once again represents for college football’s middle class. If you drop UNLV from the conference, the Mountain West jumps into positive victory points, passing the typical dividing line between the power conferences and the mid-majors. This year C-USA joined them in the middle class, thanks in large part to the impressive showing by #6 Marshall.
At the bottom of the barrel, the AAC, MAC, and Sun Belt can make no excuses for their performances. Each conference landed three teams in the bottom ten of the standings, with the Sun Belt, this years winner (or loser) for worst conference, claiming the three worst teams in the country: #126 Idaho, #127 Georgia St (2013’s worst team in the country), and #128 New Mexico St.
The VPR and Bowl Game Predictions
I have never claimed any predictive quality in the VPR and I never will. I intend only to measure which teams have had the most impressive and deserving seasons to date. However, this year, I decided to try a little experiment. I entered the VPR into the confidence rankings for ESPN.com Capital One Bowl Mania. I selected the team with more victory points heading into bowl season to win and I assigned a confidence rating depending on the distance between the two totals.
The results exceeded my wildest expectations. Of the thousands and thousands of entries, the VPR finished #762, in the top 99.8%. I entered the Solid Verbal podcast pool and finished in second, behind by a mere two points among hundreds of diehard college football fans. Strangely enough, I could have performed even better if I had gone against the VPR and selected my Alma Mater to win. The VPR marked a larger separation between favored Cincinnati and underdog Virginia Tech than any other game this season. When my inconsistent alma mater pulled off the upset, it cost the VPR 39 points in the confidence pool. I certainly enjoyed the experiment, but I might want to test the VPR on a few more seasons before I start wagering money on it.