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:


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.

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