As the season has progressed, we’ve received more and more requests from the community at Reddit CFB to focus our MaxDiff rankings on the top teams who have a legitimate chance at making The Playoff, as opposed to ranking all Top 32 teams. Now that the regular season is in the history books, we thought this would be the ideal time to make that shift. As a result, this week we changed things up a bit. In contrast to previous weeks, this week we only ranked the top 12 teams from the AP, which luckily includes every team with even a slight chance of making The Playoff. Instead of viewing sets of four teams, respondents viewed 18 pairs of teams. In each pair, they chose the team they felt would be most likely to win if the two were to play on a neutral field. A benefit of this change is that it revealed quite a bit more information about how fans feel particular head to head matchups would shake out.
If you are new to this poll or would like a more full explanation of the MaxDiff Market Research technique that we use for this poll, please see our explanation of the MaxDiff technique.
Let’s get to some of the more interesting results.
Fans to The Playoff Committee: Oklahoma, not Clemson, is the best team in the country right now.
As has been the case in the previous two weeks’ MaxDiff Polls, Oklahoma is the number one team in the minds of fans. The head to head nature of this week’s poll helps to bear that out. A majority of fans selected Oklahoma as being likely to beat every other team in the AP Top 12 on a neutral field. Fans feel Oklahoma would match up especially well against Clemson, the CFP Committee’s current number one team. Approximately three out of five fans (61%) chose Oklahoma as being the likely winner in a head to head matchup versus Clemson. Fans were less certain of the Sooners’ chances against Auburn, but 54% still chose Oklahoma as the likely winner in a head to head matchup.
Auburn and Clemson demonstrate that College Football Rankings are Like Rock Paper Scissors
Because of how teams matchup against one another, it is totally valid to think that Team A (Rock) would beat Team B (Scissors), who would beat Team C (Paper), who in turn would beat Team A (Rock). In other words, just because a team is ranked higher than another team doesn’t mean respondents think the higher ranked team would win in a head to head matchup. Fans’ opinions of Auburn and Clemson help to illustrate this point. A very slight majority (51%) chose Clemson as being likely to beat Auburn head to head on a neutral field. So why is Auburn ranked higher than Clemson in this week’s MaxDiff Poll? The answer is simple: fans feel that Auburn would be more likely than Clemson to beat almost every other team in this week’s poll.
Fans, The CFP Committee, and Experts Agree on Tier I
Regardless of who fans believe would win in head to head matchups, this week’s MaxDiff poll definitively shows that fans view Oklahoma, Clemson, and Auburn as being on a higher level than the remaining teams. This view lines up with that of the CFP Committee and FiveThirtyEight, who rates Oklahoma, Clemson, and Auburn as the only three teams in the nation with a better than 50% chance of making The Playoff.
Fans Still Have No Love for Wisconsin
As has been a running theme this year, Wisconsin once again was ranked lower by fans than the AP and CFP. Fans have demonstrated week after week that Wisconsin will not earn their respect until they beat Ohio State in this week’s Big 10 Championship Game. Ironically, fans give Wisconsin a better chance of beating Ohio State this weekend than the “experts.” Over half of our respondents (55%) chose Wisconsin as the likely winner in a head to head matchup versus Ohio State on a neutral field. By comparison, FiveThirtyEight gives the edge to Ohio State, with Wisconsin having only a 44% chance of coming out on top. Furthermore, as of this writing, Vegas currently favors Ohio State by a little less than a touchdown. So while fans have had a lesser view of Wisconsin than the establishment all year, they actually have a more positive view of Wisconsin than the establishment when it comes to the Badgers’ particular matchup versus the Buckeyes.