Monday, November 17, 2014

Seven Contenders Left Standing

With three weeks left on the season, there are just seven FBS teams with no more than one loss. It's possible for all seven to win out, but only six will be able to claim (or share) their respective conference championships.

The selection committee's most difficult task now is to determine which three teams to leave out of the four-team playoff field if each wins its remaining games. Keep in mind that because the members pledged to look at the teams based on their entire body of work, the rankings may shift each week even without any of the teams losing.

So chances are the Top 4 teams you see this week won't be exactly the same next week, or the week after that. But the bottom line is that the current Top 3 teams are in the playoff if avoid losing, and the rest will have to fight it out for the final spot.


The Playoff Teams

1. Oregon
The top spot is a toss-up between Oregon and Alabama, but we think the Ducks will get the edge because of their superior record against current Top 25 teams. They have beaten three ranked teams—UCLA, Michigan State and Utah—whereas the Tide have defeated just one, over Mississippi State on Saturday.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

2. Alabama
Their win over the Bulldogs put the Tide back in the driver's seat in the SEC West race, but their work is far from done. A loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl will keep them out of the SEC title game and almost certainly the inaugural playoff. As things stand now, Alabama can't afford a second loss.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

3. Florida State
The Seminoles will make the playoff if they win out, but they have no margin for error. FSU does not own a single victory over a ranked team so a first loss will prove fatal for its quest to repeat as the national champion. But with two home games plus the ACC title game—where they'll be double-digit favorites in all—the Noles have the easiest path to a playoff spot.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

4. TCU
The Horned Frogs probably will still hold on to this spot despite a lackluster win over Kansas. Keep in mind that since the committee isn't supposed to act like pollsters, weekly results shouldn't change the narrative too much as TCU has a better overall resume than Baylor and Ohio State. But by no means that the Frogs should feel comfortable as they've got nothing locked up even if they win out.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

The First Four Out

5. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs need help (i.e., an Auburn upset in the Iron Bowl) to win the SEC West. They need a lot more help to get into the playoff as an at-large team. Because of Miss State's weak nonconference schedule, there is little chance for it to be selected for the four-team field if there are enough one-loss conference champions available.
Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl

6. Baylor
The Bears were idle this week, but got some good news with TCU's struggles with Kansas and also Arizona State's loss. At the end of the season, the committee will compare TCU and Baylor's resume side-by-side with close scrutiny as they share 10 common opponents. The margin of victories will matter if both teams finish 11-1 and share the Big 12 title.
Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl

7. Ohio State
The Buckeyes remain on the outside looking in (don't let Kirk Herbstreit's bracket fool you). Their close win over Minnesota won't help their cause as TCU blew out the Gophers early in the season. And that the fact a two-loss Wisconsin (at best) will be the best game left on their schedule won't provide them much of a boost. Ohio State needs lots of things to break its way.
Projected bowl: Fiesta Bowl

A handful of two-loss teams are still clinging to hopes of crashing the playoff field, and out of this group UCLA might have the best shot. The Bruins control the tough Pac-12 South race and if they beat Oregon in a rematch in the conference title game, they might have a chance to steal a berth—but they'll need a ton of help.
Projected bowl: Fiesta Bowl

Other Fun Facts

* The group-of-five race likely is coming down to three teams and at this point you have to like Marshall's chances despite its less-than-rigorous schedule. Colorado State's path to the Mountain West championship is blocked by Boise State, which is also a contender but has two losses. Since seven of the committee's bottom 10 teams (Nos. 16-25) from last week lost, we expect to see at least one, if not two, non-power-five teams in the next rankings.

* There are 27 power-five teams with three or fewer losses and all but three or four of these teams will make the next rankings. The teams about certain to be excluded are Iowa, Minnesota and Louisville, with Oklahoma and Clemson expected to fight for the last one or two spots.

* The Orange Bowl picture—a berth is guaranteed to an ACC team even if Florida State makes the playoff—got a lot murkier after both Clemson and Duke lost on Saturday. The Blue Devils will repeat as the Coastal winner if they win their remaining two games. But there's a good chance that Georgia Tech might snag this bid even if it doesn't win its division but finishes the regular season with a victory in the Clean Old Fashioned Hate.


Nick said...

But it's not just Herbie taking the Buckeyes. SB Nation has a great write-up as to why Ohio State could jump both Big XII schools by the end of the year, and it's more than just the championship game argument:

The Guru said...

I just don't see it. Baylor will have a better win over K-State than tOSU over Wisconsin, and it has a much better win than anything tOSU has. Its loss also isn't as bad, either.