There are a lot of very smart people in the college football world who have devised a lot of different systems to figure out who really is the best team out there.
This week, every single one of them is wrong, because even those who claim to go strictly by résumé don’t.
On Saturday, in the first game of the season for both teams, the Saint John’s (MN) Johnnies obliterated the Saints of Saint Scholastica 98-0. It was 63-0 by halftime, at which point the starters had already been forcibly helmetless for about 8 minutes.
That result means that for now, this week, the Johnnies should be the top team in any ranking system which claims to be a résumé system.
Obviously, this makes no sense to basically any of you reading this, right? There’s no way Saint John’s could even stay on the field with Alabama for a quarter. How can anyone take a system seriously which claims they’re #1?
That, however, is the very principle of résumé ranking. What you intuitively know is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what happens on the field, and that applies not only to what has actually transpired but to what hasn’t.
We can reasonably presume that the Johnnies are probably not even the best team in Division III, although they might be. We can reasonably presume that they’d stand no chance against any FCS school, much less an FBS squad or a Power Five outfit or an AP Top 25 team. But we don’t know. There is no evidence which has been presented on the field to validate that presumption, because all we know about Saint John’s (and Saint Scholastica) is that one team was 98 points better than the other.
A true résumé system will always look bizarre in the early weeks of the season. Indeed, there is a system out there right now which has Alabama ranked 12th while Colorado is third; that same system has K-State ranked 60th, so God only knows what logic they’re using. There’s another which has Colorado second.
The fact that some teams did play games on the final weekend of August allows for some connections to be made which inform the relative strengths of teams using nothing but game results. Once every team has made a connection to the wider pool, there is at least some semblance of order which can be reached. Next week, Saint Scholastica plays Greenville (who themselves lost to Millikin last week 76-3); that in and of itself will absolutely destroy the Saint John’s résumé, no matter who wins. The Johnnies themselves play Presentation, and NAIA school which beat Lawrence 40-10 last week; Lawrence plays Finlandia (42-6 losers to Concordia-Wisconsin last week), which means even if Lawrence wins that game they still devalue Presentation, which in turn devalues Saint John’s even if they flatten Presentation on Saturday.
But right now, all we know about Saint Scholastica is that they’re a football team. Maybe they’re even the second-best football team in the country!* Mathematically, going strictly on résumé, it’s possible.
(* - Ron Howard narrator voice: they’re not.)
The purpose of this, of course, is to shine a spotlight on the claim that any system is based solely on the results which take place on the field. There aren’t many systems which dare to rank every team which plays college football, but not one of them actually has Saint John’s ranked atop the list.
And therefore, you can’t trust any of them, because they’re obviously applying values to teams which are based on external factors: their performance last year, their reputation, the level at which they play, expectations based on returning players, whatever.
But nobody in the nation, playing their first game of the year, beat another team playing their first game of the year as badly as the Johnnies beat the Saints. And because of that, any true résumé system has to rank the Johnnies number one... until next week.
Yes, it’s absurd. No, Saint John’s wouldn’t even be in the top 150 next week.
But results are results.