Monday, November 10, 2014

TCU or Baylor, That's the Question

TCU or Baylor?

With the playoff picture clearing up after last Saturday's quasi-elimination games, this question looms large for the selection committee. After next week's Alabama-Mississippi State game, we should have an undisputed Top 3 teams with the final spot up for grabs between the two Big 12 contenders.

By any reasonable measurement, TCU is ahead of Baylor. The Horned Frogs even outplayed the Bears for better than 80 percent of their head-to-head matchup. But the problem is, Baylor did have those amazing last 12 minutes in which they scored 24 points to win 61-58.

For now, it's fine for the committee to put TCU ahead of Baylor—and it's expected to do so this week. But what if both teams finish 11-1, with Baylor beating Kansas State on the last day of the season. Will the committee finally flip the teams, then? Or does it keep TCU ahead because head-to-head is merely one of the many considerations, as chairman Jeff Long stated last week?

Both teams will be favored to win their respective remaining three games. And if they both come through, this likely will be the committee's most difficult decision come Selection Sunday.


The Playoff Teams

1. Mississippi State
While a loss at Alabama on Saturday won't mathematically eliminate the Bulldogs from playoff contention, it likely would end their dream season. With its weak nonconference schedule, it's highly doubtful that MSU would get into the playoff field without winning the SEC West. So yes, it's pretty much a do-or-die game.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

2. Florida State
The Seminoles continue to cruise along despite a weak schedule and very low computer rankings. But none of that matters as long as they win out. In fact, should Mississippi State lose next week, FSU will ascend to the No. 1 spot and be poised to grab the top seed in the playoff.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

3. Oregon
The Ducks survived another brutal Pac-12 under-the-lights drama, thanks in part to a terribly bone-headed play by Utah early in the game. But mounting injury problems will cause them to limp toward the finish line. Oregon has about four weeks to get healthy before its next real challenge in the Pac-12 title game.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

5. TCU
The Frogs have the final playoff spot now but by no means do they control their own fate. They may win their final three games impressively only to be turned out by the committee because of their loss to Baylor. All TCU can do is win and wait.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

The First Four Out

4. Alabama
After having survived Death Valley, the Tide face another must-win game as they host No. 1 Mississippi State. The path is clear for them, though—win out and they're in the playoff. And having all three of their remaining games at home should help.
Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl

6. Arizona State
The Sun Devils scored their most impressive win of the season by knocking Notre Dame out of the playoff chase, but that win does not help them in the Pac-12 South race. A loss in the Territorial Cup likely will hand the division title to arch rival Arizona, or the UCLA-USC winner, depending how the tough division shakes out in the next three weeks.
Projected bowl: Fiesta Bowl

7. Baylor
There's not much the Bears can do about their weak nonconference schedule, but they can see a path to the playoff field if they score a ton of style points the rest of the way. For Baylor, it may all come down to the season finale against Kansas State and also just how much the committee values head-to-head results.
Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl

8. Ohio State
The Buckeyes' resounding win at East Lansing puts them in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title, which might ultimately be the consolation prize. The weakness of the league, in addition to Ohio State's awful loss to Virginia Tech—by far the worst one among all one-loss teams—might be just too much to overcome.
Projected bowl: Fiesta Bowl

Other Fun Facts

* Realistically, there are just 12 teams still in contention for a playoff spot, and three of those are two-loss teams (Auburn, Ole Miss and UCLA) who all need help just to win their respective divisions. Nebraska can win out and claim the Big Ten title, but like Ohio State, its path to the playoff field is very much blocked by teams from the other four power conferences.

* Will the committee continue to keep Marshall, or other group-of-five teams, out of the rankings? It'll likely have to tip its hand at some point as we'll see several three-loss teams in this week's rankings. Colorado State might have the best resume so far among group-of-five contenders, but it can't win the Mountain West without Boise State losing at least another game.

* Notre Dame's loss to Arizona State eliminated the Irish from playoff contention, and perhaps also a spot in a New Year's Six bowl as well. Unlike in the bowl era and the BCS era where the Irish often received preferential treatment from individual bowls, in the CFP the committee decides on all 12 participants for the major bowls. Based on merit Notre Dame for now is headed to a minor bowl game.

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