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.


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.

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).


Clark said...

I don't think BYU getting a spot is that much of a long shot. An undefeated BYU team would need to convince the committee that they're in the top 10 or 11 in the country. (The top group of 5 team would likely be behind them, but guaranteed a spot, and I'm not entirely clear, so BYU at #12 doesn't get in. I'm not clear on all the details of the selection process beyond that which would work to BYUs dis-favor.)

Using the polls and BCS rankings a guide, we can look for "non-BCS" teams that went undefeated and would have failed to crack the top 10. It's true that the committee won't necessarily follow the same thought patterns as the poll voters and computers, but these groups are all attempting to do the same job of ranking the best teams.

We're all pretty familiar with the Utah, TCU, BSU and Hawaii teams that did bust the BCS with undefeated records. Additionally BSU was ranked #9 in 2006 and 2008 and #10 in 2004. Unless I've missed someone in there, in the last dozen years every undefeated team got at least a top 10 ranking by the end of the season. BYU doesn't have a terribly tough schedule, but compare it to the dumpster fire that was the 2007 Hawaii lineup. BYU should hopefully get credit for the fact that some of their tougher games are on the road (Texas, BSU, UCF, Cal?).

If this were still a system with only 8 or 10 BCS slots, I would agree that BYU had tough odds, but I think that with 12 spots available and undefeated BYU team doesn't get left out.

The Guru said...

@Clark - BYU is not guaranteed of anything because it's not in the Group of 5, which has a a guaranteed spot for the highest-rated champion from one of those conferences.

So if you take 4 teams from the playoff, at least 2 other teams from the SEC, and 1 more each from Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12, plus the Group of 5 slot, that leaves one. If Notre Dame is anywhere near the top 15, it'll get taken. That's why BYU's situation is tenuous.

Anonymous said...

The complete standings link still take me to the week 3 standings.

The Guru said...

Somehow it wasn't published correctly. It's been fixed. Thanks for noticing.