We are three weeks into the brave, new world of not only having a road to a College Football Playoff, but having some degree of transparency on that road, and let me say that I've generally enjoyed the weekly release of rankings for the playoffs so far.
It's given our radio show some decent Wednesday content, it's helped better set up the next weekend's action in college football, and from purely a logic standpoint, I think the committee has actually done a decent job of ranking teams. (It's amazing what happens when you have voters that watch all the games and actually have logical discourse amongst each other about the games, as opposed to head coaches who have their SID's fill out the ballots blindly.)
The only truly bad thing the rankings have spawned is the inane segments of debate on ESPN over things like "Should Alabama or Arizona State be number 5?? DISCUSS!!!" There are so many contrived talking points on these shows that get trumped by mere math. Such as...where Alabama ranks right now is not really relevant since, if they win out, they're in, and if they lose again, they're (likely) out. Who cares if they're 4, 5, or 6 on November 11?
Television cares, I guess. Content is king. Even bad content, it would appear.
My promise to you: barring an egregious error by the committee, my College Football Playoff rankings-related content will have no nail biting or fretting over where a spot or two in the rankings based on what teams have done up until now. Any fretting will have to do with what remains on the schedule and the chances for that team to make a move up the charts.
So if you're a Crimson Tide fan looking for a set of sympathetic typing fingers because right now you're on the outside looking in, seek solace elsewhere. If you win out, you're in the playoff, no question. So chill.
Here are this week's rankings:
1. Mississippi State (9-0) 2. Oregon (9-1) 3. Florida State (9-0) 4. TCU (8-1) 5. Alabama (8-1) 6. Arizona State (8-1) 7. Baylor (8-1) 8. Ohio State (8-1) 9. Auburn (7-2) 10. Ole Miss (8-2) 11. UCLA (8-2) 12. Michigan State (7-2) 13. Kansas State (7-2) 14. Arizona (7-2) 15. Georgia (7-2) 16. Nebraska (8-1) 17. LSU (7-3) 18. Notre Dame (7-2) 19. Clemson (7-2) 20. Wisconsin (7-2) 21. Duke (8-1) 22. Georgia Tech (8-2) 23. Utah (6-3) 24. Texas A&M (7-3) 25. Minnesota (7-2)
And here are my thoughts:
1. One-loss Oregon is now number two over undefeated, third ranked Florida State. So? In the grand scheme of things, if the season were to end like this, literally the only thing relevant to these two teams being ranked in this order is jersey color in their semifinal game. Florida State would be the road team (and presumably wear white), Oregon would be the home team (and presumably wear something resembling a neon green, silver, and charcoal storm trooper outfit). But this order does give us a window into the committee's view of relative conference strength (which is something the committee says it doesn't specifically take into account, however, inherently you are taking conference strength into account if strength of schedule is part of the criteria and 67 to 75 percent of a team's schedule is in conference. HASHTAG, LOGIC.).
Basically, the committee sees the Pac-12 as the second best conference in America (likely) and the ACC as a bunch of chumps (probably). I mean, the ACC is basically Florida State and the Seminolettes. Clemson is decent, and then the other two top 25 teams (Duke, Georgia Tech) would definitely be neutral field double-digit underdogs to Arkansas, who is win-less in the SEC in the Bielema Era. The ACC blows. Good on the committee for recognizing it.
1a. Why is everyone thinking Miami is going to beat FSU this weekend? The line on this game opened at Florida State -2.5, which I thought was nuts. And it's actually gone down to -1! Am I missing something? Did Jameis Winston (allegedly) assault another female student, and the news is coming out on Friday? And by the way, would it matter if the news did come out? Jimbo Fisher would probably suspend Winston for a series, make him write "I WILL NOT RAPE ANY MORE STUDENTS" 100 times on the white board, and then tell us what a good kid he is. Here's the thing -- love him or hate him, Jameis Winston wins games. He's never lost a college football game, and I'll be damned if he's going to lose to a Miami team that hasn't won a big game in like a decade. Also, if FSU loses, the ACC gets NOBODY in the College Football Playoff. The refs know this. Mark it down, the Seminoles are getting EVERY debatable call this weekend. Trust me. Ask Notre Dame. By the way....
2. Good to see Notre Dame is being treated like an ACC team. As you probably know, before last season, the Irish struck up an agreement with the ACC where all their teams would join the conference, except football, who will have a loose scheduling arrangement of five games each season with ACC foes. When the rankings came out, Notre Dame was toward the bottom of the one-loss teams (10th), and after their loss to Arizona State, they're the ninth two-loss team (including three-loss LSU right in front of them). I'm not even saying 18th is unfair, but clearly this year's Notre Dame team had no margin for error with their schedule. Welcome to the (sort of) ACC, Irish!
3. Alabama has nothing to fear but fear itself. I'll admit, I was a little surprised when I saw TCU at four and Alabama at five. But hey, Alabama was probably lucky to beat LSU on Saturday, and beat a still-win-less-in-the-SEC Arkansas by a single point a month or so ago. But you know what? Who cares. Alabama still has the first, ninth, and (presumably) fifteenth ranked teams in the country left on the schedule. They win, they're in. Now, is Saban using this as fuel for the game on Saturday against Mississippi State? HELL YES. Of course, he won't tell his team that they're actually nine point favorites in Vegas over the Bulldogs, and right now they're the odds-on favorites (even outside of the playoffs looking in, for now) to win the championship this season. Yes, you heard me...
4. The fifth ranked team in the country is still the favorite, so chill, Bama.... Here are the latest odds, courtesy of [a site that I use for this sort of thing]:
Alabama +350 Oregon +400 Florida State +500 Mississippi State +600 TCU +600 Baylor +1000 Arizona State +2000 Ole Miss +2000 Georgia +2500 Auburn +4000 Nebraska +4000
Of all the teams listed above, I'd say the best value is Arizona State, only because I think they are the biggest payout on a team that controls its own destiny. I think if ASU wins out, and beats Oregon in the Pac-12 title game (they kind of need Oregon there for SOS purposes, so maybe not full control of destiny for ASU, but virtual control), they'll be in the four team playoff. Oddly enough, I feel less confident in TCU or Baylor controlling their destiny to get into the four team mix than I do Arizona State. (That said, TCU and Baylor are better teams than ASU, I just think the committee could screw either one of them. Or both of them. I don't think they can screw ASU if they win the second best conference in the country.)
Also, for +10000 odds, you can say you have a lottery ticket on Arizona, Clemson, Kansas State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and UCLA. I'd say it's throwing away money, but sitting at number 11 with USC, Stanford, and a potential rematch with Oregon in a Pac-12 title game (also, need Arizona to beat ASU) on the schedule makes UCLA slightly frisky at 100/1. (I know, it ain't happening', but a HUNDRED to one? Just sayin'.)
5. All of a sudden, Minnesota is looming as a difference maker in the playoff race. Yeah, the Gophers are sitting there at 25, and most of you are probably like "Wow, Minnesota still has football?" (To be fair to Minnesota, you could Mad Lib half the Big Ten into that sentence.) Yes, Minnesota is actually not a horrible team this year. So why do they figure into the playoff mix? Well, you can trace their relevance, strangely enough, to TCU and Baylor. If TCU and Baylor both win out, they will be virtual equals as one-loss candidates from the Big 12. in fact, the committee has said they would view both teams as the conference champion, since there's no title game in the Big 12.
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For every in-conference argument in favor of TCU (they beat West Virginia on the road, they steamrolled Kansas State), there's one in favor of Baylor (they obliterated Oklahoma in Norman, they beat TCU head to head by three). Strangely enough, as close as the committee looks at the out of conference schedule (and let's face it, Baylor actually beat TCU and is three spots behind them, so non-conference clearly matters greatly), TCU's win over now-25th-ranked Minnesota by 23 early in the season may end up tipping the scales in the Horned Frogs' favor. If the committee wants to send the message that "intent to schedule" matters, they almost have to take TCU in this scenario. (Of course, "intent" is a nebulous phrase. TCU probably thought Minnesota would be a cupcake, and now inadvertently they scheduled themselves a quality win. The College Football Playoff selection process, where stepping in shit happens.)
6. God, the committee HATES Nebraska. There was a time that a one-loss Nebraska team would get the respect of a traditional power house. Kids, you may not remember this, but in the mid-90's Nebraska was basically what Alabama is now. Now, even with a likely Heisman finalist at running back in Ameer Abdullah, they probably still get left out behind any number of two-loss SEC teams. I'm sure Bo Pelini will take it all in stride, though....