Some old habits are hard to break, and as flawed as the old Bowl Championship Series (affectionately referred to and twisted into juvenile alternate acronyms as the "BCS") was, it still began to consume me right about this time every college football season.
The BCS got a lot of stuff wrong, but one thing that they did get right was that they didn't release their rankings until the week around October 15, as opposed to the other polls that came out before anyone had played a game yet. (Of course, a huge element of the BCS rankings was the coaches poll that started in the preseason, so even in the parts the BCS had right, it was still laced with flaws.)
So normally, this week would be the time where we would brace ourselves and see how exactly the Harris Poll voters and the computers would effect the BCS big picture.
Now, though, we live in a brave new college football world, a world with a four team playoff, creatively entitled the "College Football Playoff." (Side bar: I'd love to see the presentation by the marketing company that came up with that name. "After weeks of deliberation, here's what we've come up with....COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF..." Cut to Bill Hancock asking his secretary if they kept the receipt for the marketing firm's hourly charges.)
So at the halfway point of the season, it's time to examine just who's eliminated, who's still in, who's got the most work to do, and most importantly, what we should all be rooting for (independent of our own collegiate affiliations) in order make this thing bigger than just four teams (which is one consensus everyone seems to agree on...this playoff needs to be BIGGER. Eight teams, at least).
So let's take a look....
First, a couple things to know about this CFP selection process.
Number one, the plan is for the CFP entity to release its own set of rankings each Tuesday evening, beginning on October 28. The website for the CFP details the voting procedures and I'm fairly certain that there are amendments to the Bill of Rights that have been ratified in less time that it will take this group to assemble its rankings. The website is very clear about how much data the committee will have available to peruse, digest, and over analyze so that its rankings will be authentic and well thought out.
This brings me to my second thought -- I am slightly dubious about these rankings being anything more than a regurgitation of the AP and coaches polls, and that's because the thirteen people they've chosen to rank these teams, and ultimately select the four teams in the playoff, are not exactly college football "experts" who spend the majority of their working time watching college football.
(Hell, one of the committee members is Tyrone Willingham, who I still think barely watched his own teams when he was coaching them at Notre Dame and Washington! Any process in which Willingham is prominently involved is flawed by definition. This cannot be argued. Honestly, if he's in a warm weather climate, there's a decent chance Willingham is on a golf course and unaware the college football season's even started, but I digress.)
Now, this doesn't mean the committee won't get it right, after all, they only have to really agonize over one, maybe two spots in all of this. It just means, though, that there's a better chance of their thoughts on who the best 25 (and ultimately best four) teams are being shaped by prominent outside forces, the strongest of which are the big polls.
So let's take a look at who's left in the 2014 CFP race, and we will take a broader look at the big picture of where this is all going before we're done. First, we....
1. Clean out the dead wood There are 128 FBS schools who technically are eligible for the four team playoff from a level of play standpoint. In any given season, a few might be ineligible for the postseason for academic or NCAA violations, but 128 schools exist in FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision, or Division 1-A to those of you over the age of 25).
As we sit on October 14, we can eliminate all of the following teams:
1. Any school outside of the Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, PAC-12, SEC), not including Notre Dame. This may not be the case every year, as we've seen in recent years with Boise State and TCU (before TCU joined the Big XII) going undefeated during the regular season, but this year there is no proverbial "fly in the ointment." The closest teams we have to "fly" status are East Carolina (ranked 18th in the AP but with one loss, there's no way they get in) and Marshall (6-0 and just crept into the top 25 this week, and could win another 20 games in a row against their schedule and still wouldn't get in).
2. Any school in a Power Five conference with two losses or more, except for the SEC, where a two loss team could be reasonably discussed as one of the best four teams in the country by year's end.
That leaves us with 29 schools that are inside the circle -- ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, and PAC-12 conference teams with one or no losses, and SEC schools with two or fewer losses (and one school with three losses that gets its own paragraph later, stand by...). Let's examine and see how quickly this will all get whittled down over the next few weeks. (NOTE: The number next to the school names is its current ranking in the AP poll, extrapolated beyond the Top 25 when necessary.)
2. ACC For all of the other Power Five conferences, I felt the need to divide up the conversation into divisions, where applicable, so we could acknowledge the conference title game's existence as a possible turning point late in the season, or one more chance for a bubble team to show something (a one-loss Michigan State in the Big Ten comes to mind). But the ACC is so top heavy that I think its chances of getting a team in the four team playoff boil down to these two teams, who conveniently enough face off this weekend in Tallahassee:
2. FLORIDA STATE (6-0, 4-0) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs ND, 10/30 @ Lou, 11/8 vs UVA, 11/15 @ Mia, 11/22 vs BC, 11/29 vs Fla
5. NOTRE DAME (6-0) Remaining sched: 10/18 @ FSU, 11/1 @ Navy, 11/8 @ ASU, 11/15 vs NW, 11/22 vs Lou, 11/29 @ USC
In case you didn't know, Notre Dame became an ACC member last year in all sports other than football (and hockey, for sake of accuracy). However, in football, there is a scheduling agreement with the ACC where Notre Dame will play up to five ACC opponents each season (this season, it's four.), which is the genesis for this matchup. So I list the Irish here, because it's convenient.
ACC OUTLOOK: I think it's safe to say that, a) the winner of the ND-FSU game controls its own destiny for a CFP slot, b) the loser is essentially CFP-eliminated (between Jameis Winston's nonstop hijacking of the news cycle, and everyone pretty much hating Notre Dame just because they're Notre Dame, people have been waiting to shove the loser of this game off the CFP cliff), and c) Florida State is winning the ACC either way.
That said, so we can acknowledge they exist, here are the remaining ACC teams:
24. Clemson (4-2, 3-1) 28. Duke (5-1, 1-1) 33. Georgia Tech (5-1, 2-1) 35. Louisville (5-2, 3-2) 40. Virginia (4-2, 2-0) -- North Carolina (2-4, 0-2) -- Wake Forest (2-4, 0-2) -- North Carolina State (4-3, 0-3) -- Boston College (4-2, 1-1) -- Pitt (3-3, 1-1) -- Syracuse (2-4, 0-2) -- Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-1)
See? Aren't they neat? Ok, moving on....
3. PAC-12 The PAC-12 has begun a steady process of consuming itself over the last few weeks -- USC beats Stanford, Arizona beats Oregon, Oregon beats UCLA, UCLA beats Arizona State, USC beats Arizona, Washington State upsets Utah -- to where it's 50/50 whether or not they even get a team into the playoff. Here are the schedules for the PAC-12 contenders:
NORTH 9. OREGON (5-1, 2-1) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs Wash, 10/24 @ Cal, 11/1 vs Stan, 11/8 @ Utah, 11/22 vs Col, 11/29 @ Ore St 32. WASHINGTON (5-1, 1-1) Remaining sched: 10/18 @ Ore, 10/25 vs ASU, 11/1 @ Col, 11/8 vs UCLA, 11/15 @ Ariz, 11/22 vs Ore St, 11/29 @ WSU -- OREGON STATE (4-1, 1-1) Remaining sched: 10/16 vs Utah, 10/25 @ Stan, 11/1 vs Cal, 11/8 vs WSU, 11/15 vs ASU, 11/22 @ Wash, 11/29 vs Ore 23. Stanford (4-2, 2-1) -- Cal (4-2, 2-2) -- Washington State (2-5, 1-3)
SOUTH 16. ARIZONA (5-1, 2-1) Remaining sched: 10/25 @ WSU, 11/1 @ UCLA, 11/8 vs Col, 11/15 vs Wash, 11/22 @ Utah, 11/28 vs ASU 17. ARIZONA STATE (4-1, 2-1) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs Stan, 10/25 @ Wash, 11/1 vs Utah, 11/8 vs ND, 11/15 @ Ore St, 11/22 vs WSU, 11/28 @ Ariz 20. UTAH (4-1, 1-1) Remaining sched: 10/16 @ Ore St, 10/25 vs USC, 11/1 @ ASU, 11/8 vs Ore, 11/15 @ Stan, 11/22 vs Ariz, 11/29 @ Col 22. USC (4-2, 3-1) 26. UCLA (4-2, 1-2) -- Colorado (2-4, 0-3)
PAC-12 OUTLOOK: It's hard to even identify potential elimination games because the outlook could shuffle week to week, depending on outcomes. For example, take Oregon and Washington this weekend. The winner's games all still matter greatly for CFP reasons. The loser is playing for a better bowl bid and maybe a conference title, that's it. One thing is certain, the best chance for the PAC-12 to get a CFP team is to have Oregon win out and beat a strong South Division foe for the conference title, especially considering the Ducks hold a head-to-head win over possible Big Ten champ Michigan State.
4. BIG TEN It's funny, just a month ago, the Big Ten was a punch line for everything wrong with football north of the Mason-Dixon Line (cold weather, slow players, heavy women, pasty skin, bad cuisine, everything), and to an extent, they still are. However, the thought that all of the Big Ten teams' having at least one loss eliminated the conference from the CFP talk was flawed. As it turns out, college football is really, really stupid crazy. A month ago, the Big Ten had a death weekend that saw it go 2-11 against the spread. Now a week ago, we see over half the top 25 lose a game on the same weekend, and VOILA! Michigan State and Ohio State are right back in the mix....
EAST 8. MICHIGAN STATE (5-1, 2-0) Remaining sched: 10/18 @ Ind, 10/25 vs Mich, 11/8 vs Oh St, 11/15 @ Mary, 11/22 vs Rutg, 11/29 @ Penn St 13. OHIO STATE (4-1, 1-0) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs Rutg, 10/25 @ Penn St, 11/1 vs Ill, 11/8 @ Mich St, 11/15 @ Minn, 11/22 vs Ind, 11/29 vs Mich 35. RUTGERS (5-1, 1-1) Remaining sched: 10/18 @ Oh St, 10/25 @ Neb, 11/1 vs Wisc, 11/15 vs Ind, 11/22 @ Mich St, 11/29 @ Mary -- Maryland (4-2, 1-1) -- Michigan (3-4, 1-2) -- Penn State (4-2, 1-2) -- Indiana (3-3, 0-2)
WEST 19. NEBRASKA (5-1, 1-1) Remaining sched: 10/18 @ NW, 10/25 vs Rutg, 11/1 vs Pur, 11/15 @ Wisc, 11/22 vs Minn, 11/28 @ Iowa 29. MINNESOTA (5-1, 2-0) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs Pur, 10/25 @ Ill, 11/8 vs Iowa, 11/15 vs Oh St, 11/22 @ Neb, 11/29 @ Wisc 37. IOWA (5-1, 2-0) Remaining sched: 10/18 @ Mary, 11/1 vs NW, 11/8 @ Minn, 11/15 @ Ill, 11/22 vs Wisc, 11/28 vs Neb 40. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) -- Northwestern (3-3, 2-1) -- Purdue (3-4, 1-2) -- Illinois (3-4, 0-3)
BIG TEN OUTLOOK: They have a bunch of one-loss teams right now, but that's because those schools, for the most part, played a bunch of shit teams outside the conference, and eventually most of them will face each other. In other words, simple math will clean up a lot of the Big Ten sludge. This whole conference boils down to November 8 -- Ohio State and Michigan State in East Lansing. The winner off that game likely runs the table, destroys a West division foe by four touchdowns in the Big Ten Title Game, and then waits it out to see if the committee believes they still play good football north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
5. BIG XII The thought all along had been that all Big XII roads lead to Norman, OK on November 8 for a de facto playoff game between Baylor and Oklahoma. We should've known better. The Big XII, for postseason purposes, always likes to consume its own. (Go ahead, Stillwater, you can agree with me.) Take a look....
4. BAYLOR (6-0, 3-0) Remaining sched: 10/18 @ WVU, 11/1 vs KU, 11/8 @ OU, 11/22 vs OSU, 11/29 vs TTU *, 12/6 vs KSU 11. OKLAHOMA (5-1, 2-1) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs KSU, 11/1 @ Iowa St, 11/8 vs Bay, 11/15 @ TTU, 11/22 vs KU, 12/6 vs OSU 12. TCU (4-1, 1-1) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs OSU, 10/25 vs TTU, 11/1 @ WVU, 11/8 vs KSU, 11/15 @ KU, 11/27 @ UT, 12/6 vs Iowa St 14. KANSAS STATE (4-1, 2-0) Remaining sched: 10/18 @ OU, 10/25 vs UT, 11/1 vs OSU, 11/8 @ TCU, 11/20 @ WVU, 11/29 vs KU, 12/6 @ Bay 15. OKLAHOMA STATE (5-1, 3-0) Remaining sched: 10/18 @ TCU, 10/25 vs WVU, 11/1 @ KSU, 11/15 vs UT, 11/22 @ Bay, 12/6 @ OU -- 31. West Virginia (4-2, 2-1) -- Texas (2-4, 1-2) -- Texas Tech (2-4, 0-3) -- Iowa State (2-4, 0-3) -- Kansas (2-4, 0-3)
BIG XII OUTLOOK: Oh, the November 8 game is still important. However, that's a full three weeks of football away. With TCU having beaten Oklahoma and almost beaten Baylor, we're reminded nobody's safe. Baylor will probably be all right, with just West Virginia and Kansas until then. Oklahoma, though, has Kansas State this weekend, a Wildcat team that is an out of conference loss to Auburn from being undefeated right now! TCU and Oklahoma State play an elimination game this weekend in Fort Worth, as well.
For what was supposed to be a top heavy conference, the Big XII has actually been a pleasant surprise. The top five teams are all in the top 15 and the only out of conference losses by those five teams are OSU losing to Florida State by six and the aforementioned KSU loss to Auburn by six (in a game that KSU missed three field goals and turned the ball over in the Auburn end zone). Baylor controls its own destiny, and that's it. Honestly, of the other teams, the ones with the best chance to get in if they win out are probably Kansas State and Oklahoma State, considering that would mean a) an undefeated season inside the Big XII conference and b) one really good loss to a top notch out of conference team (Auburn/Florida State).
(SIDE BAR: If the committee wants to live up to its mantra of rewarding tough scheduling, schools like Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Michigan State have to be rewarded if their only loss is a competitive out of conference loss to a top ten team like Auburn, FSU, or Oregon, respectively.)
And finally, the beast....
6. SEC Just eyeball the SEC standings and two things become immediately apparent --
* You could probably stock the four team College Football Playoff with four teams from the SEC and not have to apologize for it. Honestly, would Florida State, Baylor, or Notre Dame (the other three Power Five undefeated teams outside of Mississippi) be favored on a neutral field with the two Mississippi schools, Alabama, or Auburn? I say no.
* The SEC could honestly do a Premier League soccer-style relegation if they wanted to. Between the West and the East, it's truly the A League and the B League. We will find out just how stark the contrast is between the two divisions this weekend as the bottom two teams in the West host the top two teams in the East (Arkansas hosting Georgia and LSU hosting Kentucky).
Here's what lies ahead the rest of the way for all involved...
SEC WEST 1. MISSISSIPPI STATE (6-0, 3-0) Remaining sched: 10/25 @ KY, 11/1 vs Ark, 11/8 vs UT-Martin, 11/15 @ Bama, 11/22 vs Vand, 11/29 @ Ole Miss 3. OLE MISS (6-0, 3-0) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs Tenn, 10/25 @ LSU, 11/1 vs Aub, 11/8 vs Presbyterian, 11/22 @ Ark, 11/29 vs Miss St 6. AUBURN (5-1, 2-1) Remaining sched: 10/25 vs S.Car, 11/1 @ Ole Miss, 11/8 vs A&M, 11/15 @ UGA, 11/22 vs Samford, 11/29 @ Bama 7. ALABAMA (5-1, 2-1) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs A&M, 10/25 @ Tenn, 11/8 @ LSU, 11/15 vs Miss St, 11/22 vs Western Carolina, 11/29 vs Aub 21. TEXAS A&M (5-2, 2-2) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs Bama, 11/1 vs ULM, 11/8 @ Aub, 11/15 vs Mizzou, 11/27 vs LSU 27. LSU (5-2, 1-2) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs KY, 10/25 vs Ole Miss, 11/8 vs Bama, 11/15 @ Ark, 11/27 @ A&M 34. ARKANSAS (3-3, 0-3) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs UGA, 10/25 vs UAB, 11/1 @ Miss St, 11/15 vs LSU, 11/22 vs Ole Miss, 11/28 @ Mizzou
SEC EAST 10. GEORGIA (5-1, 3-1) Remaining sched: 10/18 @ Ark, 11/1 vs Fla *, 11/8 @ KY, 11/15 vs Aub, 11/22 vs Charleston Southern, 11/29 vs Ga Tech 30. KENTUCKY (5-1, 2-1) Remaining sched: 10/18 @ LSU, 10/25 vs Miss St, 11/1 @ Mizzou, 11/8 vs UGA, 11/15 @ Tenn 40. SOUTH CAROLINA (3-3, 2-3) Remaining sched: 10/18 vs Furm, 10/25 @ Aub, 11/1 vs Tenn, 11/15 @ Fla, 11/22 vs S. Alabama, 11/29 @ Clem -- Florida (3-2, 2-2) -- Missouri (4-2, 1-1) -- Tennessee (3-3, 0-2) -- Vanderbilt (2-5, 0-4)
SEC OUTLOOK: I should just insert an emoji here with eyes and mouth wide open as if to say "HOLY SHIT." There's not one team on here that doesn't have just a mine field full of treacherous Saturdays remaining. First, though, one quick thought:
SIDE BAR (or "BLOCKQUOTE BAR"): I do enjoy very much the SEC's penchant to stick an FCS or non-Power Five slug in the middle of the November schedule, almost like a controlled scrimmage to get ready for big rivalry games. Check this out....
MISS ST: 11/8 vs UT-Martin OLE MISS: 11/8 vs Presbyterian AUBURN: 11/22 vs Samford ALABAMA: 11/22 vs Western Carolina TEXAS A&M: 11/1 vs ULM ARKANSAS: 10/25 vs UAB GEORGIA: 11/22 vs Charleston Southern S. CAROLINA: 11/22 vs S. Alabama
Of course, the schools on the other end of these beatings happily cash the checks, without which their athletics departments would be swimming in even deeper red ink.
Ok, now back to the matter at hand, and this is important. Pay attention, because I know many of you want an EIGHT team playoff. So do I. Understand that the college football bower brokers move at glacial speeds. It took decades to arrive at the BCS, and then another decade and a half to go from two teams in a title game to a four team playoff. To go from four to eight teams, we need the right people to be unhappy with four teams. (And even then, it'll still take five years too long, but hang with me here...)
The SEC is undoubtedly the best conference in the land, and the most powerful. The SEC, if the right combination of things happen, though, could also be flush with two-loss teams. Hell, we only have two undefeated SEC teams still remaining, and it's not even Week 8 (and one of them WILL lose to the other when they play). While math will fix the flood of undeserving one-loss teams in the Big Ten, math could also create a glut of really good two-loss teams in the SEC! I won't list all the possibilities here, but what if the best teams in the SEC West are a couple of two loss teams? Or what if a one-loss team loses in the SEC Title Game to a team with two or more losses?
Bottom line, what if there are no one-loss SEC teams?
Look at those remaining schedules up there. That could happen. And what if the other conferences all have undefeated or one-loss teams? What if Florida State (13-0), Baylor (12-0), Michigan State (12-1), and Oregon (12-1) all win their conferences and are ranked one through four in all the polls?
Going back the inherent flaws of the polls, where many voters mindlessly move teams x-amount of notches up or down based on mere winning and losing, and not really judging who the best teams actually are.
Do you trust this committee to see past the numerical order of flawed rankings, and/or rank these teams correctly in their own rankings to where they would pass over a one-loss power conference team for a two-loss SEC team? I mean, we all know Alabama, even if they had four losses, would be favored by Vegas over a one loss Michigan State by a touchdown easily.
But does Tyrone Willingham know that? Does Condoleeza Rice know that? Does Tom Osborne know that?
That's the question. And that's the doomsday scenario that would accelerate the growth from four teams to eight teams in the CFP (five conference champs and three at-large teams, in case you're wondering how I'd structure it).
To that end, keep an eye on....
7. Arkansas is potentially Pac-Man in all this, gobbling up the SEC Is there a better 3-3 team in the country than Arkansas? They're 0-3 in the SEC right now (respectable loss to Auburn in the season opener, followed by an OT loss to A&M, and a one point loss to Alabama) and they would probably be favored against at least half the top 25, if not more. Bret Bielema's system is taking roots in Fayetteville, and it's a little scary for anyone left on the Razorbacks' schedule.
Oh, and that schedule? Well, it includes three teams in the top ten currently, including the only two remaining undefeated teams in the conference. In other words, this 0-3 team at the bottom of the SEC West standings has the potential to alter the look of the SEC and, in turn, the College Football Playoff, big time.
More importantly, they're actually capable of pulling it off. So if you like chaos, and you want an eight team playoff, then say it with me...
WOO PIG SOOIE!!