During the last five or six years, through a combination of seismic realignment, shaky leadership, and disjointed geography, the Big XII has been the one Power Five conference with the most severe identity crisis. It's odd sense of self boiled to a head last December when the conference directly contravened its own "One True Champion" marketing slogan by naming Baylor and TCU co-champions, all in an effort to maximize the chances of getting one (or both) into the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Ultimately, the playoff committee deciding the four teams to participate in the playoff weren't buying anything the Big XII was selling and both TCU and Baylor wound up on the outside looking in, and each of the other four major conferences — the ACC, the SEC, the Big Ten, and the Pac-12 — were all represented by their conference champions.
On Tuesday evening, the first College Football Playoff rankings for 2015 were released, and if the early returns are any indicator, the Big XII has picked up right where it left off in the eyes of the committee, with the three undefeated Big XII teams — Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma State — ranked 6th, 8th, and 14th, respectively. In fact, currently, two one loss teams (Alabama and Notre Dame) rank ahead of 6th ranked Baylor.
Here are the complete rankings:
1 Clemson 8-0
2 LSU 7-0
3 Ohio State 8-0
4 Alabama 7-1
5 Notre Dame 7-1
6 Baylor 7-0
7 Michigan State 8-0
8 TCU 8-0
9 Iowa 8-0
10 Florida 7-1
11 Stanford 7-1
12 Utah 7-1
13 Memphis 8-0
14 Oklahoma State 8-0
15 Oklahoma 7-1
16 Florida State 7-1
17 Michigan 6-2
18 Ole Miss 7-2
19 Texas A&M 6-2
20 Mississippi State 6-2
21 Northwestern 6-2
22 Temple 7-1
23 UCLA 6-2
24 Toledo 7-0
25 Houston 8-0
And now a few thoughts on the rankings:
1. The committee is once again into sending messages to Baylor about its out of conference scheduling (SMU, Lamar, Rice), placing the clearly dominant Bears outside the top four, although given the Bears' schedule thus far ranking well into the 100's, it's fair to ask what the committee sees in them over Michigan State and TCU, who both have better wins so far than Baylor. (Actually, it's fair to ask what's so different about Baylor than Houston, who's also undefeated with a schedule ranked in the 100's. At least the Coogs beat Louisville on the road.) Actually, in some sense, it shouldn't be a shock the Big XII teams on the whole are a little down in the rankings with all of their tough in conference games with each other backloaded in November.
1a. Given the fact that they were snubbed in the first playoff last season, and given how they're showing in the first rankings this season, I think it's fair to wonder if the Big XII's style is aesthetically pleasing to the committee. Does a sea of games with over 100 points scored have a detrimental impact on the impressions those teams make on the 12 people deciding? We may never know, but I think just how "real" a brand of football the Big XII plays could be an issue.
2. The best losses by one-loss teams are, in order, Notre Dame's 2 point loss at Clemson, Alabama's 6 point loss against Ole MIss, and Stanford's opening week loss at Northwestern. Clearly, that factored into the order in which those teams are slotted, and the quality of loss may wind up being a huge differentiator if there is a sea of one loss teams at the end of the season.
3. The SEC got three of the top ten teams. This time last season, in the first set of rankings, they had three of the top four. Ironically, those three teams last season (Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn) are none of the three in this season's top ten. This season's Top 25 has just six SEC teams overall.
4. At fifth in this poll, Notre Dame would seem to be in great shape to make the playoff if they win out, with games remaining against Pitt, Wake Forest, Boston College, and a de facto elimination game Thanksgiving weekend against Stanford. While there are solid chances for the handful of undefeated teams behind the Irish to jump them in the next few weeks, there will be a ton of cannibalizing going on around the Irish. They have to be thrilled in how the committee views their resume so far.
5. Houston fans have to be slightly disappointed at a ranking of 25, considering they're hovering in the high teens in the AP and coaches polls. Right now, the November 14 game against 13th ranked Memphis is setting up like a play-in game for a New Year's Six Bowl bid. Again, I would ask, rather than pedigree, what's so different between the resumes of Baylor and Houston so far?
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6. According to RJ Bell of Pregame.com, Alabama would be favored by 1.5 points over Clemson, and Ohio State would be favored by 3 over LSU, so the higher ranked teams would be underdogs in both games, if they were played tomorrow on neutral site fields.
Here are this coming week's intriguing CFP rankings-effecting games:
#16 Florida State at #1 Clemson
#2 LSU at #4 Alabama
#8 TCU at #14 Oklahoma State
Navy at #13 Memphis
Cincinnati at #25 Houston
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.