Monday, November 3, 2014

Will SEC Get 2 Playoff Teams or None?

We're in the first week of November and we're nowhere nearing clarity in terms of the inaugural playoff picture. We might easily have two SEC teams in the four-team playoff, or we might have none.

The selection committee will have five more weeks to sort all this out after unveiling its first-ever rankings last week. But this Tuesday's rankings are more revealing and relevant: We will finally get an idea about how its evaluation process works.

Do the 12 committee members act like pollsters, where they simply slide teams up and down each week based on wins and losses? Or do they shred last week's rankings and evaluate each team freshly based on the data that became available only after Saturday? We will pick up tons of clues Tuesday night.

But until then, here are our projected College Football Playoff rankings for this week, based on what we learned last week:


The Playoff Teams

1. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs escaped against Arkansas and will remain No. 1, but they have no margin for error. A loss at Alabama could end their bid for the SEC West title and possibly a playoff spot.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

2. Florida State
The Seminoles survived a Thursday night ambush by rallying in the second half. They're clearly not as good as they were last year but with a forgiving schedule they are able to do just enough to hang on. As long as FSU wins out, it'll be no worse than the No. 2 seed in the playoff.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

4. Oregon
The Ducks are back on a roll as they're healthy again and Marcus Mariota is staking his claim for the Heisman Trophy. They finally solved Stanford and are primed to take care of business the rest of the way.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

5. TCU
A dramatic last-second win at Morgantown kept the Horned Frogs' hopes for a playoff berth alive and they'll be playing another elimination game Saturday against Kansas State with possibly the Big 12 title on the line.
Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

The First Four Out

3. Auburn
If both Auburn and Mississippi State win out, it'll produce the most likely scenario for two SEC teams to crash the playoff party. The Tigers' remaining schedule isn't a cakewalk, but most of their work is already done, save for the Iron Bowl.
Projected bowl: Orange Bowl

6. Alabama
Thanks to Ole Miss' gut-wrenching loss to Auburn, the Tide now can win the SEC West by running the table without any other help. But unlike Auburn, their work is just getting started. Alabama must get by LSU (at Death Valley, at night) and Mississippi State back-to-back before facing Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl

7. Kansas State
The Wildcats can play their way into the playoff, but they have to get it done away from Manhattan. They must beat TCU, West Virginia and Baylor—all on the road.
Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl

8. Michigan State
The Spartans must get by Ohio State this weekend and if they should prevail, they'd be able to coast home to a Big Ten title. But even that guarantees nothing in terms of a playoff berth as Michigan State is very much on the outside at the point.
Projected bowl: Fiesta Bowl

Other Fun Facts

* The Group-of-Five picture underwent a major shakeup on Saturday as both East Carolina and Central Florida lost, thus eliminating the American Athletic Conference. We'll find out if the committee will continue to hold the weak schedule against Marshall even though it's one of just three unbeaten teams left. And we'll see if Colorado State breaks into the rankings as well.

* The ACC's guaranteed Orange Bowl berth now appears to be a two-team race. Clemson might have the edge but Duke certainly is making its own case. If the Blue Devils can win the Coastal without incurring another loss, they might get the nod over the Tigers if they keep it close against Florida State in the ACC title game.

* Notre Dame's too-close-for-comfort win over Navy didn't help its cause this week, but it did get some assistance Saturday night as Arizona State squeaked out another close win. The Sun Devils are now leading the tough Pac-12 South and as such, give the Irish a huge opportunity to impress in their showdown Saturday.

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