Monday, November 24, 2014

Conference Call on Playoff Field

With just two weeks left in the regular season, the field of contenders for the four playoff spots is shrinking fast. After Saturday, there are only 16 teams still mathematically alive for their respective conference championships. And of those 16, maybe half of them have a legitimate shot of being part of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

While winning the conference championship is not necessarily a prerequisite of qualifying for the playoff, the committee did list that as a major factor in its selection process. Of all the remaining contenders, maybe just one - Mississippi State - has a shot at making the playoff without winning its conference.

There probably will not be significant changes in the committee's rankings this week other than that No. 8 Ole Miss will be tumbling down after a 30-0 wipeout loss to Arkansas. So we'll take a good look at those final 16 teams and dissect their prospects:

Teams with no chance
Wisconsin (Big Ten), Minnesota (Big Ten), Georgia Tech (ACC): The Minnesota-Wisconsin winner as well as Georgia Tech are guaranteed a place in their respective championship games. But they're too far down the standings and have weak resumes with killer losses (Wisconsin to Northwestern, Minnesota to Illinois, Georgia Tech to North Carolina) to have any shot.

Teams with slim chance
Kansas State (Big 12), Arizona (Pac-12), Arizona State (Pac-12): These three two-loss teams are hovering around the low-teens but all have significant obstacles to overcome. K-State can share the Big 12 title if it wins out, but having lost to TCU and with an extra nonconference loss, it's unlikely to leapfrog the Frogs in the rankings. The Territorial Cup winner can only claim the Pac-12 South with a UCLA loss to Stanford, but even if that team beats Oregon in the Pac-12 title game it needs lots of teams in front of it to suffer unexpected losses to get into the top four.

Teams need a lot of help
Georgia (SEC), Missouri (SEC): Mizzou wins the SEC East with a victory over resurgent Arkansas, otherwise, the division title goes to Georgia. But Besides having to knock off a heavily-favored SEC West winner (Alabama or Mississippi State), they both already have two losses including a very bad one each (Georgia to Florida, Mizzou to Indiana). A win by the East winner in the conference title game may very well cost the SEC a spot in the playoff.

Teams need some help
Baylor (Big 12), TCU (Big 12), Ohio State (Big Ten), UCLA (Pac-12): All of those teams can win at least a share (in the cases of TCU and Baylor) of their respective conference titles on their own, but they don't control their own fate when it comes to the playoff. Only one of those teams will make it to the Final Four if the top three teams win out. Despite last week's No. 7 ranking, Baylor might have the best shot as it's likely to jump both TCU and Ohio State with a final game victory over Kansas State to finish 11-1.

Team needs Auburn's help
Mississippi State (SEC): An Auburn upset of Alabama in the Iron Bowl puts the Bulldogs back in the SEC title game—if they defeat slumping Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. Without a division (and conference) title, they probably will end up 11-1 with nowhere (in the playoff) to go. While it's currently ranked No. 4, Miss State is certain to lose ground in the final two weeks of the season to a one-loss champion from another conference since its resume is not good enough to trump that purportedly important consideration.

Teams need no help
Alabama (SEC), Oregon (Pac-12), Florida State (ACC): Win out, and they're in the playoff, simple as that. Never mind the committee's seeming hostility, the Seminoles will get a chance to defend their title if they beat Florida and Georgia Tech in the next two games.

Other Fun Facts

 * Is this the week the committee finally puts a group-of-five team (or two) in the rankings after having snubbed them the past three weeks? There are just 24 power-five teams with three or fewer losses and Duke is certainly not going to be ranked. That means either Marshall and/or Colorado State will break through or up to a pair of four-loss teams will be ranked.

* Georgia Tech should be a lock for the Orange Bowl if it beats Georgia in the Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. Other than playoff-bound FSU, there are no other ACC teams with fewer than three losses. Of course, the Jackets are guaranteed an Orange Bowl berth if they upset the 'Noles in the ACC title game.

* Notre Dame and BYU are both 7-4 and neither has a prayer of getting into a New Year's Six bowl. But even if their respective seasons had gone much better, access to the playoff and the best bowls still will be difficult for them under the new regime. With Navy set to join the American next season, we finally could be witnessing the death of independents at the FBS level.

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