Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Committee's First Rankings Are RIght On Target

The College Football Playoff selection committee unveiled its first rankings Tuesday night, and they are, in fact, spot on.

Based on these rankings, we can easily deduce that strength of schedule is of paramount importance to the committee, and head-to-head results are fastidiously considered. Their rankings are more logical and consistent than the two polls, particularly the coaches poll, which should now be thoroughly discredited.

The committee's rankings also vary slightly from what the BCS standings would've looked like. The reason for that is rather obvious: The influence of the polls. In the BCS standings used from 2004-2013, the polls accounted for two-thirds of rankings. That element has been completely suppressed as the committee's rankings bear much more of a resemblance to computer rankings.

Here's the committee's list of its Top 25 teams, as compared to a facsimile of the old BCS standings, our CFP mock standings and the two major polls:

Playoff Committee Rankings Comparison
CFP RankTeamBCSB/R MockAPCoaches
1Miss State1111
2Florida State2422
3Auburn4343
4Ole Miss6579
5Oregon5656
6Alabama3234
7TCU1191010
8Michigan State91085
9Kansas State10111111
10Notre Dame7867
11Georgia8798
12Arizona17181415
13Baylor15131212
14Arizona State13171514
15Nebraska16141716
16Ohio State14161313
17Utah18211818
18Oklahoma19151920
19LSU12121617
20West Virginia21202022
21Clemson20192221
22UCLA24222525
23East Carolina*22242119
24Duke25302424
25LouisvilleNR293034
NRMarshall23232323
*Top group-of-five team

Explanations of Rankings

BCS rankings are a simulation of the BCS formula used from 2004-13 with two exceptions: 1) The AP Poll is used in place of the Harris Poll; 2) Sagarin and Massey rankings are their native systems instead of the non-MOV version used for the BCS.

CFP mock rankings are published weekly at Bleacher Report, with components including polls, computers, strength of schedule and conference championships. The full rankings are here.


A few highlights and thoughts from the committee's first rankings:

Committee's rankings don't behave like polls

That is a good thing, a very good thing. The biggest problem with the BCS in its latter years was that the polls were weighted disproportionately. One of major beneficiaries of this has been Alabama, which always seems to get more support in the polls than it deserves. The Tide, ranked No. 3 in both polls as well as the would-be BCS standings, are much more accurately placed by the committee at No. 6.

Strength of schedule matters, a lot

The Big Ten is being punished as a weak conference, as Michigan State might not be able to play its way into the playoff even if it wins out. Ohio State, at No. 16, virtually has no chance. The committee also is making an example out of Baylor, which is several spots behind its Big 12 rivals with identical records, because of its pathetic nonconference slate.

Where's Marshall?

The only team that's in the Top 25 in both polls and would-be BCS standings but omitted by the committee is Marshall, the only other undefeated team besides the Top 2 in its rankings. The Thundering Herd have won their eight games by an average of nearly 30 points, but their weak schedule clearly has been a huge detriment. As of now, East Carolina is the only team from the group-of-five conferences in the rankings.

The tournament starts now

Don't be fooled by the bracket that's being put out on TV (and everywhere else). Though there are four SEC West teams in the Top 6, there are four guaranteed losses among those teams as they still have to face each multiple times. Essentially, eight of the top nine teams—except Michigan State—all have a chance to play its way into the playoff, which leaves us with the one real surprise ...

No luck of the Irish

Despite three members with ties to the school (and are not covered under the recusal policy)—Condi Rice, Ty Willingham and Pat Haden—Notre Dame did not get much love from the committee. At No. 10, the Irish need some help to get into the playoff field even if they finish 11-1. It's a clear indication that the committee isn't fond of horse shoes or hand grenades: Notre Dame's close loss at Florida State doesn't count for much.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How Good/Bad Will Committee's Rankings Be?

The selection committee will unveil its first-ever College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night. With that, all other polls and rankings will be rendered meaningless.

Unlike the BCS standings, where a combination of polls and computer rankings are used, the committee's rankings are not mathematically projectable. Unless you can get inside the cranium (or the trash cans) of the 12 committee members, you will not know how they arrive at their respective rankings. In fact, since it's done by secret ballot, even their fellow committee members won't know how they voted.

But we'll press on with our own rankings and come Tuesday night we'll see how close they resemble what's put out by the committee. While the committee won't be projecting the New Year's Six bowl bids, we'll do that anyway as a public service.

COMPLETE CFP STANDINGS


The Playoff Teams

1. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs should be the undisputed top-ranked team, as one of only three undefeated teams with by far the best resume of the trio. But Mississippi State is in no position to relax, as its toughest two remaining games—against Alabama and Ole Miss—are both on the road.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

4. Florida State
While FSU might be behind three SEC West teams in the standings, it's best positioned to run the table and snag a playoff berth. There's no question the defending national champs will have a chance to continue their repeat quest as long as they run through the soft underbelly of the ACC unscathed.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

6. Oregon
The Ducks have had their mulligan, but probably won't get a second one. Plenty of work still lies ahead, including next week's game against Stanford, which denied Oregon the Pac-12 North title the past two seasons. But the strength of the Pac-12 will work in the Ducks' favor and put them in the playoff if they manage to win the conference.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

8. Notre Dame
For the time being, the Irish are just a hair ahead of the other contenders for the final playoff spot. They still have high-profile games against Arizona State and USC remaining, but they're susceptible to be bumped by another one-loss conference champion no matter how they finish.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl


The First Four Out

2,3,5,7. Other SEC Teams
The SEC is angling to get a second team into the four-team playoff field. The path is open, but it's far from a foregone conclusion simply because all these teams still must face each other multiple times. The most likely scenario to produce a second SEC berth is for Georgia to win out and then upset an unbeaten or one-loss SEC West champion in the conference title game.
Projected bowls: Cotton, Fiesta and Orange

9. TCU
For now, TCU is mere percentage points behind Notre Dame in our standings for the final playoff spot. The Horned Frogs actually should be able to leapfrog the Irish should they remain unbeaten the rest of the way. If they can get through the next two weeks without a loss—at West Virginia and home to Kansas State—they will be heavily favored to claim at least a piece of the Big 12 title.
Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl

10. Michigan State
The Spartans' beatdown of their cross-state rivals might've generated a lot of headlines, but that did little to improve their playoff prospects. MSU remains on the outside of the four-team field primarily because of its early-season loss at Oregon and the weakness of the Big Ten.
Projected bowl: Fiesta Bowl

11/13. Kansas State/Baylor
The Big 12's lack of a signature win over a nonconference opponent will leave its champion scratching for a playoff spot. These two teams have an outside chance to steal a berth if the winner in their season finale ends up claiming the conference title in the event of a TCU stumble.
Projected bowl: Peach Bowl


Other Fun Facts

* Marshall, by virtue of being the only unbeaten non-power-five team, has seized the inside track to the group-of-five berth. East Carolina's strength-of-schedule advantage has been largely nullified at this point because of its power-five opponents' recent struggles. The only other teams in the mix are one-loss Colorado State and two-loss Boise State and Central Florida.

* The ACC might end up with more berths in the New Year's Six bowls than the Pac-12, Big Ten and/or Big 12 thanks to its tie-in with the Orange Bowl. Should Florida State earn a playoff berth as projected, a second ACC team will be taken despite the fact that no other conference team is ranked in the Top 15. Clemson is still favored for this bid, just ahead of Coastal Division leader Duke.

* With Ole Miss' loss at LSU, the dreaded circular three-way tie in the SEC West might've been avoided. Now, should there be a tie of three one-loss teams, head-to-head results likely will be enough to resolve the matter instead of having to dive deep into these procedures.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Messy Playoff Picture Ready to Greet Committee

We're one week from the selection committee's first-ever rankings. The 12 members will not have an easy time of it in this inaugural season of the College Football Playoff. In fact, they might be looking at a scenario as messy as it was in 2007.

Remember that year, when a two-loss LSU team made it to the BCS title game? Well, the chaos this year actually started much earlier as we'll have no more than two major conference unbeaten teams at the end of the regular season—and we're not even out of October yet! It's already guaranteed that half of the four-team playoff field will be filled with teams with losses, maybe even two losses.

That will make the committee's job all the more difficult. Furthermore, with all five power conferences—plus Notre Dame—still very much in play to vie for the four playoff spots, somebody is going to be bitterly left out.

Here's how things stand at the halfway point of the season:

COMPLETE CFP STANDINGS



The Playoff Teams

1-2. Ole Miss/Mississippi State

These two teams are in a statistical dead heat in our standings and that's about right. It appears this year's Egg Bowl will be the biggest in history, with the winner in all likelihood getting a berth in the playoff. Of course, both teams still have challenging contests remaining before all that, so neither should be counting its chickens.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

5. Florida State

Thanks to a late (but legit) offensive pass interference call, the defending national champs lived to fight another day as a loss to Notre Dame would've almost assuredly knocked them out of the playoffs. The Seminoles' remaining schedule will be much more manageable than any of their potential playoff foes but they must stay vigilant because they have no margin for error.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

6. Oregon

Thanks to the flurry of upsets over the last two weeks, the Ducks are back in the playoff picture. Oregon has righted its own ship since its own upset loss to Arizona and now it is the Pac-12's best hope of landing a playoff spot. But since the Pac-12 is probably the best conference from top to bottom this season, the Ducks can't afford to look past anybody.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

8. TCU

One week after a dispiriting loss at Baylor, the Horned Frogs suddenly found themselves back on top of the Big 12 once again. Ironically, TCU isn't one of the teams that controls its own destiny in terms of winning the conference title. It also still faces many more major tests, including Kansas State's visit on Nov. 8.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl


The First Four Out

3-4, 7. Auburn/Alabama, Georgia

The SEC is still very much hoping for multiple berths in the inaugural year of the playoff, but the odds are not in its favor simply because these conference teams must still beat each other up for another month. The Iron Bowl is shaping up to be a consolation game to determine not a spot in the playoff but maybe a New Years' Six bowl slot. Georgia will pin all of its hopes on running through the East unblemished and then pulling off a major upset in the SEC championship game.
Projected bowl: Multiple New Years' Six bowls

9. Notre Dame

As we noted in the immediate aftermath of their heartbreaking loss to FSU, the Irish are far from dead in terms of landing in the playoff. They'll need some help, but their resume stacks up favorably against most other one-loss teams. The lack of a conference championship game, or even a game on the final weekend of the season, might prove to be a major detriment to Notre Dame, though.
Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl

10/13. Michigan State/Ohio State

The winner of the MSU/OSU game in two weeks in East Lansing is looking increasingly like the Big Ten's best hope for landing a playoff spot. But without question, the conference needs help, as it is at the moment the odd-man out among the power-five conferences. It's imperative for the winner of that game to finish 12-1 and then it must hope that the Big 12 or Pac-12 champ, and probably Notre Dame, incur at least a second loss.
Projected bowl: Fiesta Bowl

11-12. Kansas State/Baylor
While TCU looks to have the inside track for the moment, these two teams actually control their own destiny in terms of winning the Big 12. And they'll meet on the last day of the regular season in Waco to perhaps decide exactly that, assuming they both go through the rest of the schedule unbeaten.
Projected bowl: Peach Bowl

Other Fun Facts

* Marshall, by being one of only four FBS unbeaten teams, is moving up with the hopes of seizing the automatic entry to a New Years' Six bowl granted to the top group-of-five champion. While East Carolina still has the best resume, its lone loss to South Carolina is losing its luster fast. Colorado State is another main contender, but it does not control its own fate in winning its division. Other teams now also finding themselves in the mix include two-loss Central Florida (American) and Boise State (Mountain West).

* It's probable that the SEC may land as many as four teams in the 12 New Years' Six bowl slots (including the playoff bowls), while two power-five conferences will be left with just single entries. It's nearly a given that the Big Ten will claim just one spot, but the Pac-12 might also be looking at just a playoff berth and no more. The Pac-12 South is ranked by Jeff Sagarin as the second-toughest division this year, yet it's not getting nearly as much respect in the polls.

* The selection committee will be releasing its first-ever rankings on Oct. 28, but that won't be nearly as interesting as its second ranking the following Tuesday. That's where we actually pick up clues as to whether the 12 members treat each week individually and not be swayed by their own confirmation bias or they've been infected by the same disease that's afflicted AP and coaches poll voters for years.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ohio State Remains Top Priced Team in Nation

By Jesse Lawrence

Week 7 of the college football season will begin this Thursday and Ohio State continues to own the most expensive home average on the secondary ticket market. Following the Buckeyes and their top-priced tickets are Georgia and Notre Dame, who have trailed as the second and third highest-priced teams for several weeks. 

After posting a major upset against Alabama over the weekend, Mississippi has experienced a major boost in ticket price at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The win has catapulted the Rebels into the TiqIQ Top 25, which tracks the most expensive secondary market averages in college football, for the first time this season. The biggest drop in both rank and average price happened to Oregon this week after losing to Arizona on Saturday. UCLA has also dropped significantly in season average.

Ohio State remains firm as the top-priced school after posting their third straight win over the eeekend against Maryland. According to TiqIQ, the average price for Ohio State football tickets at home for their remaining games is $249. The Buckeyes will play their most expensive home game against Michigan on November 29, with an average price currently listed at $467.40. Though that game will be one of the most expensive games in college football this season, the get-in price starts at just $5. Ohio State will host Rutgers this weekend and will have its second most expensive game on its remaining schedule. The average secondary price for Ohio State vs Rutgers tickets is $224.49 with a get-in price starts at $64.

UGA football tickets had a slight increase in season average this week after the Bulldogs posted their third consecutive win against Vanderbilt last weekend. The season average for Georgia tickets is now $229, up 1% from last week’s average. The Bulldogs have trailed Ohio State as the top-priced school for several weeks, though each team holds an identical 4-1 record. Their most expensive game will be held on November 15 against Auburn, with the average secondary market price currently listed at $386.37 with a get-in price of $152.

Retaining the third highest average in college football this week is Notre Dame, with an average price of $216 on the secondary market. The Fighting Irish have experienced a 2% increase in price since last week, though the average still considerably trails in price to the Buckeyes and Bulldogs. They enter Week 7 with a 5-0 record and will host North Carolina at home. The most expensive home game on the remaining

Notre Dame football schedule will be on November 15 against Northwestern, with an average secondary price at $201.52 and a get-in price of $85. Undoubtedly the biggest mover this week is Ole Miss, who has jumped 14 spots into the No. 17 priciest school with a win against Alabama over the weekend. The average secondary price for Ole Miss football tickets is now $138, which is up 35% from last week. The Rebels will host top tier schools in Tennessee and Auburn over its next two home games, which also serve as the most expensive home games on the Ole Miss football schedule. An October 18 meeting with Tennessee currently has a secondary average of $261.09 while Auburn heads to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 1 for a game with an average price of $253.48.

Experiencing the biggest drop in both placement and price rank is Oregon, who dropped four spots to No. 19 and 5% in season average. The average price for Oregon football tickets is $136. Such a drop is largely due to the Ducks losing to Arizona over the weekend and picking up their first loss of the season. The most expensive game on the Oregon football schedule will be played against Stanford on November 1, with the average secondary price currently $216.27.

Monday, October 6, 2014

SEC On Target to Swipe 2 Playoff Bids

The SEC haters will not like to hear this, but in the inaugural College Football Playoff, there just might be two SEC teams in the four-team field.

A slew of upsets last weekend shook up the playoff outlook, but it did little damage to the SEC's chances. Instead of traditional powers like Alabama and LSU, you now have the ascendant Mississippi schools at the top of the polls. There is a chance that, at the end of the season, more will be riding on the line at the Egg Bowl than the Iron Bowl.

The Big Ten, without a single undefeated team after the first weekend of October, already is on the outside looking in as far as the playoff is concerned. It is now joined on the sidelines by the Pac-12, which does a better job than any other conference to self-immolate. After Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and USC all lost in dramatic fashion last week, there's not a single Pac-12 team in the Top 10 of the standings, either.

Of course, the season is only about a third of the way done and we're still three weeks away from the selection committee's first rankings. But make no mistake, the prospects of the SEC (more specifically, the SEC West) landing two playoff teams are becoming very real.

COMPLETE CFP STANDINGS


The Playoff Teams

1. Auburn
If the playoff were to start today, the Tigers would be the undisputed top seed, even if they're not No. 1 in the polls. But the playoff does not start today, and the Tigers still have to deal with the toughest schedule in college football this season (or in quite some time) so it's certain that Gus Malzhan isn't spending one second thinking about any of this stuff. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl)

2. Ole Miss
Remember in 2007 when South Florida and Boston College each spent time at No. 2 in the BCS standings? While it's just as shocking to see the Rebels in this spot, they're far more legitimate than those two pretenders, which both finished the season outside of the Top 10. The way things are playing out, the second-place SEC West team is in a prime spot to swipe a playoff berth, provided the division winner takes the SEC title. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl)

3. Florida State
The Seminoles will make the playoffs if they run the table, but, in spite of their top ranking in the polls currently, they probably won't be the top seed unless there are no other Power 5 unbeatens. FSU simply will not be challenged much this season, with most of its toughest games already out of the way. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl)

6. Baylor
The Bears have played absolutely nobody, as evidenced by its low SoS ranking. But their season starts now, beginning with the upcoming showdown against TCU. With the Big 12 playing a true round-robin and without a conference title game, Baylor likely will have to win every game to offset the weakness of its nonconference schedule. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl)


First Four Out

4. Mississippi State
With wins over LSU and Texas A&M, the Bulldogs have the bona fides to make a case for the playoff spot. There's work ahead as they haven't even gone through half of the test that is the SEC West. The good news is that they don't play any of their divisional foes in back-to-back weeks after this weekend. The bad news is that Auburn is coming up this weekend. (Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl)

5. Alabama
As predicted, Alabama loses but doesn't fall very far. But the Tide now have the work cut out for them, as another loss could end their quest for a spot in the playoff field. The reason for that is 'Bama's toughest remaining games will come in November, at which time a second loss will prove fatal. (Projected bowl: Orange Bowl)

7 Oklahoma
The Sooners still have a decent chance of playing their way back into the playoff field, but there is now no margin for error. OU will need to win all of its remaining games and hope TCU is beaten twice along the way for it to claim the Big 12 title. Humanely destroying the Longhorns in Dallas is a must. (Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl)

8. Notre Dame
The Irish have set themselves up pretty nicely for a playoff run, but they face a must-win game in two weeks at Florida State. A victory over the defending champs will put Notre Dame in the playoff field provided that it wins the rest of its games. And a one-loss (or maybe even two-loss) Irish team should be good enough to snatch a New Year's Six bowl bid. (Projected bowl: Peach Bowl)


Other Fun Facts

* The Pac-12 suddenly finds itself outside of the playoff field and there isn't a sure way to play itself back in. Arizona is now the conference's only unbeaten team and as much as that's a feel-good story, Rich Rodriguez's Wildcats are unlikely to win their division, let alone the conference. Without a dominant team emerging—and being the only Power 5 to play nine conference games plus a title game—the Pac-12's national championship drought (since 2004) likely will continue.

* The Big Ten has an even longer national title drought, dating back to 2002, and at the moment it has maybe one team with an outside chance of crashing the playoff party. Michigan State will need lots of breaks to go its way, namely having other conferences produce two-loss champions, to have any shot of returning to the top of the rankings. Otherwise, it'll be a Big Ten-Pac-12 rendezvous in the Fiesta Bowl as a mere consolation prize.

* The Group of 5 bid likely has been whittled down to these six contenders, and in this order: 1. East Carolina (American), 2. Memphis (American), Colorado State (Mountain West), 4. Air Force (Mountain West), 5. Marshall (Conference USA), 6. Northern Illinois (MAC). Marshall is the only unbeaten team; Memphis has two losses while the others have one each. Strength of schedule will play a major role in the committee's decision to award this bid.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Preseason Over, Now It Gets Real

While there are 17 teams still unbeaten in FBS, only about a dozen or so realistically remain in the hunt for a spot in the four-team playoff field. The SEC West, with six of its seven teams ranked in the top 15, takes up almost half of the list of the contenders.

But that does not mean multiple teams from that division will get into the playoff. The possibility does exist, though it's a longshot. The SEC West will begin in earnest its own elimination process this weekend as three divisional showdowns take place as Alabama visits Ole Miss, Auburn hosts LSU and Mississippi State welcomes Texas A&M.

None of the other conferences are likely to land more than one team in the playoff field and they will now go through their own internecine battles. So here's a look at where everyone stands at the end of the "preseason" phase:

COMPLETE CFP STANDINGS


The Playoff Teams

1. Oklahoma
The Sooners remain on top of the standings but will now enter the most challenging portion of their schedule, beginning with a visit to unbeaten TCU. OU's solid strength of schedule will keep it in the playoff field as long as it keeps winning. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl)

2. Auburn
The Tigers will enter the most brutal six-game stretch of 2014 beginning with the LSU game. After that, they'll play five more teams currently ranked in our top 25, including road games at both Mississippi schools and Georgia. And if they get through all of that unscathed, they still have to visit Tuscaloosa for the Iron Bowl at the end of the regular season. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl)

3. Florida State
A second consecutive narrow escape doesn't affect FSU's place in the playoff but it might influence its seeding. Because they're the defending national champions, the 'Noles will make the playoff field as long as they win the ACC undefeated, or perhaps even with one loss. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl)

4. Alabama
Even though they're also in the SEC West, the Tide somehow have an easier schedule than most of their divisional foes. They avoid the better teams in the SEC East and have likely their toughest two games (Texas A&M and Auburn) at home. (Projected bowl: Orange Bowl)


First Four Out

5. Oregon
Don't let the heading fool you: The Ducks are in the playoff field if they win out, no ifs and buts. Even with one loss, Oregon likely will have a shot to get into the playoff as long as it wins the conference title. It will help their chances as the Ducks host Stanford this year. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl)

6. Texas A&M
The Aggies can still play their way into the playoff field, thanks to last week's overtime escape against Arkansas. But for them, it's likely one (loss) and done because of their atrocious nonconference schedule. (Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl)

7. UCLA
The Bruins did themselves a huge favor with an emphatic win at Arizona State last Thursday. That was enough to wipe away a rather unimpressive nonconference portion of the season in which they barely beat three middling teams in Virginia, Memphis and Texas. But things are just getting started for UCLA, as it must navigate through perhaps the top-ranked schedule in FBS this year. (Projected bowl: Fiesta Bowl)

8. Ole Miss
The Rebels might not be in this spot for long after getting by September against subpar competition, struggling against Memphis for three quarters in their last game. The upcoming game against visiting Alabama arguably will be the most important in program history in at least a quarter century, or more. (Projected bowl: Non CFP bowl)


Other Fun Facts

* At the moment, there does not appear to be a spot for BYU in the six CFP bowls. The Cougars' independent status is not helping their cause as there is no guarantee of any sorts for them. Complicating things is that the ACC has a guaranteed second spot in the Orange Bowl should Florida State qualify for the playoff, and right now that belongs to Clemson (ranked at No. 26).

* The other independent, Notre Dame, likely will not be squeezed out as long as it either wins out or finishes the season with just one loss. The Irish can play their way into the playoff field if they can knock off Florida State and essentially grab the ACC's place for themselves.

* East Carolina remains in the driver's seat for the "Group of 5" guaranteed bowl slot. It's likely that the Mountain West, MAC and Sun Belt are already eliminated, leaving just Marshall from Conference USA and the winner of the East Carolina-Cincinnati game (if it wins the American title) as the only contenders for that bowl slot.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Oklahoma New No. 1; Oregon Out

Several top-ranked teams had close calls this past weekend, but every one of them managed to survive with the exception of LSU. Nevertheless, there was still a bit of a shakeup at the top of the new mock College Football Playoff standings from last week.

With most of the early-season cupcake fest out of the way, the playoff picture will begin to take shape in earnest with conference games, which essentially serve as elimination games in the coming weeks as pretenders are weeded out.

There are only 25 unbeaten teams in FBS (out of 128) through the first four weeks of the season, including two independents (Notre Dame and BYU) and just two from the non-power five conferences (Cincinnati and Marshall). The race for not just the four playoff spots but also for the New Year's Six bowl berths should be extremely fascinating and closely contested.

COMPLETE CFP STANDINGS

The Playoff Teams

1. Oklahoma
The Sooners used a big second half to finally overcome a pesky West Virginia team that also gave Alabama fits in the season opener. With the Big 12 being the only power five conference without a championship game, OU must now navigate a treacherous schedule realizing that one loss might be enough to knock it out of the playoff race.

2. Auburn
The Tigers managed to escape Manhattan thanks to three K-State turnovers and three missed field goals. And now comes the hard part. After next week's game against Louisiana Tech, Auburn will play six consecutive ranked opponents. This could be the most difficult stretch of games in college football history.

3. Alabama
The Tide labored somewhat before finally pulling away from Florida to win their SEC opener. But unlike Auburn, Alabama's schedule is much more user-friendly and manageable. The Tide once again avoid all the SEC East heavyweights and even their games against SEC West foes are conveniently spaced out. Alabama will be tested this way though: Four of its next five games are on the road.

4. Florida State
The selection committee breathed a sigh of relief after Florida State survived Clemson in overtime. Why? Because had FSU lost without Jameis Winston and then gone on to win the rest of their games, the committee would have to weigh such a mitigating circumstance. But now that the 'Noles have won, the rest of their schedule shouldn't pose much of a challenge.

First Four Out

5. Oregon
With Florida State struggling, Oregon had a chance to seize the top ranking in the polls. Instead, the Ducks unexpectedly struggled against Washington State, whose QB Connor Halliday gashed them with 436 passing yards. Things won't get any easier from here, as the Pac-12 leads all conferences with seven unbeaten teams, including Oregon's next three opponents.

6. Texas A&M
If the Pac-12 is the toughest conference, then the SEC West is the toughest division, with five teams still unbeaten. Texas A&M had an easy go of it early in the season after a resounding opening win at South Carolina. Now the Aggies will be tested by four consecutive division foes in as many weeks.

7. Ole Miss
Whereas their in-state rivals grabbed the headlines with an upset win over LSU in Death Valley, Ole Miss is still the highest-ranked team in Mississippi. Of the five unbeaten SEC West teams, the Rebels are the least tested so far, but they don't figure to be exposed quite yet with a game against Memphis this week.

8. UCLA
Memphis, of course, gave UCLA fits at the Rose Bowl, losing by seven on a late touchdown. The Bruins have looked highly unimpressive so far, also barely squeaking by Virginia and Texas. Yet, thanks to lofty expectations from the preseason, they're still ranked highly in the polls. This Thursday's Pac-12 opener against Arizona State will reveal whether they're overrated.

Other Fun Facts

* East Carolina made a quantum leap in the polls, thanks to back-to-back wins over ACC opponents, including Saturday's 70-41 thrashing of North Carolina. The Pirates have the looks of a New Year's Six bowl contender, especially with their high-octane offense. Look for the Nov. 13 matchup at Cincinnati to potentially decide not only the American Athletic title, but also the "Group of Five" bowl berth.

* Does the Big Ten's rebound this week help Michigan State? After going 12-1 - 4-1 against the power five conferences - the conference somewhat repaired its reputation, though it might come a little too late. The Spartans are still only 16th in the mock standings and with few conference foes currently ranked, it's hard to see how they can make it all the way into the top four.

* Whereas most other teams are beginning their conference schedules in earnest, independent BYU will be playing four Mountain West opponents in its next six games. With the MWC considerably weaker than in the past, it won't help improve the Cougars' prospects of either landing a playoff spot (highly improbable) or a New Year's Six bowl bid (somewhat of a longshot).

Google