CFP Rankings Remain Calm Before the Storm
Tuesday marked the release of the second College Football Playoff Rankings this season, and with no teams in last week’s top eight falling on the sword, there was zero movement at the top of the pile.
Oklahoma State’s 27-24 victory over then-No. 9 Oklahoma provided the biggest shake-up of the week, sinking the Sooners well outside of the top 10 and dashing their playoff dreams.
Only 11 teams from power conferences have one or fewer losses to their name. Barring something silly, four of those 11 will participate in the next edition of the College Football Playoff.
There are only four more of these rankings releases left. In less than a month, Selection Day will be here, and the quadruple qualified to fight for the national title will be known, and our Bowl Pick X Format that gained popularity on RunYourPool is coming to Splash. The sprint is on, and you could make some cash at the finish line.
But that’s weeks away. Stay tuned for further details, but for right now, we’re focused on the right now.
Texas Is Primed
At No. 7 for the second week running, Texas is in an excellent spot to see itself in the CFP for the first time in program history.
To give themselves overwhelming odds to get in, the Longhorns need to take care of TCU and Iowa State on the road, Texas Tech at home, then whomever challenges them in the Big 12 Championship Game. That’s easier said than done, especially the last part, but it’s well within Texas’s reach.
With only one championship for the Pac-12 to offer and a direct rematch if neither side trips up beforehand, at least one of No. 5 Washington and No. 6 Oregon will take itself out of the equation between now and Selection Day. No. 4 Florida State and No. 11 Louisville can’t both win the ACC, and a Big 12-winning Longhorns would probably have priority over an ACC-winning Cardinals anyway. The biggest trick comes from the possibility of the Big Ten and SEC champions both being undefeated and their one-loss non-champions looking good enough to the committee, even devoid of titles.
That’s not anything Texas can control, though, and with three wins over currently ranked teams – No. 25 Kansas State, No. 16 Kansas, and at No. 8 Alabama – with more on the way if it runs the table, the Longhorns would have one of the best resumes in the country if they’re to finish 12-1.
Could the SEC or Big Ten Get Two?
As is the answer every year: yes, of course. For it to happen for either conference, some breaks would have to fall their way. The Pac-12 has to cannibalize itself, eliminating Washington and Oregon from contention. The Big 12 needs to do the same, which is even less of an ask given that Texas is the last one-loss team the league has. If both Louisville and Florida State could find some Ls by the end of the month, that would make matters simpler, too.
With No. 1 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan, and No. 10 Penn State all still in the mix and two meetings between the trio still left to be played, there are so many scenarios that could give the Big Ten two in the playoff. Those possibilities will narrow depending on the result of the Penn State-Michigan matchup this Saturday, but the league’s hopes for doubling up will remain high regardless of the outcome. The CFP Committee has shown that so long as enough of the other league’s champions aren’t undefeated, then a one-loss, non-champion from the Big Ten can fall into an invite.
It’s more straightforward for the SEC. Alabama holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over No. 9 Ole Miss for the SEC West prize, so it will be in Atlanta if it wins out at Kentucky, versus Chattanooga, and at Auburn. If the Crimson Tide slip up and the Rebels don’t, then Ole Miss will be the one to battle No. 2 Georgia for the league title. Assuming the Bulldogs are undefeated prior to kick off but find their first defeat at the hands of the one-loss SEC West champion, then we’re liable to see an SEC duo in the playoff for the second time in three years.
The last two College Football Playoffs have featured two teams from the same conference. It wouldn’t be a shock if it happened for a third time in a row.
Louisville Is Alive
Sitting at 8-1 overall and in sole possession of second place in the ACC, Louisville is alive to make the CFP. Of course, the Cardinals need to win out – left on the schedule are Virginia, at Miami, and Kentucky, which is a navigable route to 11-1 and a date with Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. A victory in Charlotte would be another requirement, but if Louisville can get to 12-1 with the ACC crown on its head, it will be right in there among the elite.
More help would be needed, though. Ideally, no Pac-12 team will have fewer than one loss by the end of this thing. Texas losing in the Big 12 Championship would kick it out of the way. Preferably there are no upsets in the SEC, and Georgia puts down Ole Miss this Saturday and exterminates Alabama in Atlanta. Avoiding a three-way tie of one-loss teams atop the Big Ten East would also make Louisville’s bid more likely.
According to ESPN’s Playoff Predictor, the Cardinals currently have a 20 percent chance of making the CFP if they win the rest of their games and the ACC championship. Those aren’t great odds, but all Louisville can do is win the games in front of it and hope. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll be good enough.
Tennessee Too High
The Vols are No. 13 in this week’s rankings, moving up four spots after dismantling UConn, 59-3, over the weekend to improve to 7-2 on the season.
That’s all well and dandy. Four teams ahead of Tennessee a week ago lost, so inertia naturally pulled the team forward. But four spots? That’s a step too far to me.
When you compare the wins that No. 14 Missouri and No. 15 Oklahoma State have compared to Tennessee, it’s not even close. The Volunteers’ best win thus far came at 6-3 Kentucky, a solid success but not better than Missouri’s own victory at Kroger Field. The Tigers also outdid Kansas State in the non-conference as their best triumph to date. The Cowboys have at least three wins more impressive than Tennessee’s best already under their belt.
The committee enjoys ranking teams by their losses, an exercise that frustrates me to no end. The “quality” of losses provides important context that should not go ignored, but do the Volunteers deserve a higher ranking than Oklahoma State because they were good enough to blow a lead in Tuscaloosa? Sure, dropping a home game to South Alabama isn’t great, but that was months ago, and Tennessee is yet to accomplish anything on the level that Oklahoma State already has. The same goes for Missouri.
The Vols have two of their toughest tests all year in the next two weeks, so they will earn their high ranking if they truly deserve it. Until those pairings are played, though, I wish the committee would put more stake in games won than games lost.
Finally, the Wildcats are in the CFP Top 25. It only took three-straight wins over ranked opponents for Arizona to get national recognition, but Jedd Fisch’s team is here. Arizona spent a long time in the darkness, but now it’s dancing in the light. It’s the first time the program is in the CFP Rankings since 2017, and this postseason will mark the team’s first bowl game appearance since the same year.
Not only have the Wildcats sliced through three ranked teams in a row, they were within two of USC and seven of Washington in the two weeks preceding this run. They’ve come a long way from losing at below-.500 Mississippi State in September.
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