The Tide escaped Baton Rouge with a win and its playoff goals in sight.
The playoff picture is beginning to emerge. With most teams having just three games left in the college football regular season, we get a sense of the task ahead for the college football playoff committee. And, unfortunately, it feels as though the committee is going to use some variation of the following logic:
Step 1: Rank teams in ascending order by losses
Step 2: Rank teams by some combination of eye test and recency of last loss
There are still three undefeated teams: Mississippi State, Florida State, and Marshall. MSU and FSU seem likely to take the top 2 spots, and there does not appear to be much thought given to the process other than that. Marshall is not in the conversation, and for good reason: they have a bottom three strength of schedule according to the SRS (you can sort by SOS in the table below).
Mississippi State still ranks just 7th in the SRS, but remember, that’s a predictive ranking. I would put the Bulldogs atop my mythical rankings for playoff purposes, too. But Florida State? FSU has three notable wins on its resume, and none of them were in convincing fashion. Those wins came against Clemson (#25), Notre Dame (#31), and Louisville (#32), and one would think that the 2nd best team in the country would defeat those teams more convincingly. Regardless, as defending champions and riding a 25-game winning streak, nobody will argue against the Seminoles.
But the next two spots? That’s where the debate begins. Ignoring 9-1 Colorado State (very soft strength of schedule), 8-1 Duke (same), and 8-1 Nebraska (only one win — against SRS #23 Miami — against an SRS top-65 team), there are 6 teams with one loss that seem likely to take the #3 through #8 spots in the next edition of the playoff rankings. A best guess as to where those teams land on Tuesday:
- #3 Oregon – the Ducks ranked 4th last week, and won in convincing fashion at Utah in week 11, while #3 Auburn slipped at home against Texas A&M.
- #4 Alabama – a chance the Tide move ahead of Oregon because of a “big win” against a high-profile opponent in LSU. Will the committee penalize Alabama for needing overtime to beat LSU, or praise Alabama because by virtue of the game going to overtime it means LSU is a really good team (This, of course, is known as SEC country logic)?
- #5 TCU – the Horned Frogs were 6th last week, and handled Kansas State, which ranked 7th in the rankings last week. Could TCU jump Alabama or Oregon? After all, #6 beating #7 should count more than beating #16 (LSU in last week’s rankings) or #17 (Utah), but don’t hold your breath for a team like TCU getting a wave of momentum. In fact, we might even see the Horned Frogs drop, because…
- #6 Baylor – the Bears demolished Oklahoma in Norman in week 11. And Baylor defeated TCU back in week seven. The committee is supposed to value head-to-head, but does that mean Baylor should be ranked ahead of TCU? That argument would hold more weight, at least to me, if Baylor hadn’t lost by 14 points to West Virginia, a team that TCU happened to beat. If West Virginia had just one conference loss, Baylor, TCU, and West Virginia would all be tied and be 1-1 in the three-team round robin; instead, crediting Baylor for West Virginia losing other conference games somehow makes that Baylor loss… better? I don’t follow that logic, but who knows what the committee will do. Frankly, choosing between the top two Big 12 teams is an exercise in hair splitting. Will the recency of Baylor’s loss be held against the Bears vis-a-vis TCU? That sounds silly, but Baylor dropped below TCU after losing to West Virginia, and perhaps the Bears will never rise above them again.
- #7 Arizona State – the Sun Devils crushed Notre Dame, and were ranked ahead of Baylor last week. Perhaps ASU will remain in the 6 spot, but frankly, the committee can punt on this question. If Arizona State and Oregon both win out, the Pac-12 championship game will turn into a de facto play-in game for the college football playoffs. Arizona State lost by 25 points to UCLA — will that weigh on the committee’s mind in choosing among the 1-loss teams? ASU’s best wins are against USC, Utah, Notre Dame, and Stanford, which still leaves a bit to be desired.
- #8 Ohio State – just a guess, but the assumption here is the committee puts OSU in the 8 slot this week. Ohio State convincingly defeated Michigan State this week, easily the most impressive performance by the Buckeyes this year. But a home loss to Virginia Tech looks terrible in retrospect, and OSU’s second best win was against… Maryland? Penn State? Cincinnati? If Ohio State is ranked in the top 8 this week, it’s a sign that the committee is basically operating on 4th grade level. First, rank the team by losses, then….
When we go to the 2-loss teams, Auburn and Ole Miss stand out. The Tigers in particular deserve to be ahead of both Ohio State and Arizona State, in my opinion, and Auburn’s resume would only get stronger with road wins against Georgia and Alabama. Auburn has defeated Ole Miss, LSU, and Kansas State, wit two of those games coming on the road. If going 3-2 in five games that are @Ole Miss, vs. LSU, @KSU, @Mississippi State, and vs. Texas A&M supposed to be less impressive than going 4-1 @Michigan State, vs. Virginia Tech, @Maryland, @Penn State, and vs. Cincinnati? I am not buying that logic at all, and that still ignores Auburn’s wins against Arkansas, Louisiana Tech, and South Carolina, teams that all rate as tougher than Penn State and Cincinnati.
As for Ole Miss, the Rebels went 3-2 vs. Alabama, @Auburn, @LSU, vs. Texas A&M, and vs. Tennessee. Is it clear that such a record is worse than going 4-1 vs. UCLA, @Southern Cal, vs. Utah, vs. Notre Dame, and vs. Stanford? And Ole Miss still has a chance to pad its resume with a win on the road against Mississippi State.
If the committee is using strength of schedule solely as a tiebreaker after sorting teams by losses,, then shame on the committee. The table below shows the week 11 college football SRS ratings, with Alabama now moving into the top spot. As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. Some more playoff thoughts about the jump: [click to continue…]