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Poll Problems: Week 9 (Playoff Edition)

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We take a look at the College Football Playoff poll each week to see what the committee got right and what it got terribly wrong.

Dak Prescott and Mississippi State sit atop the first College Football Playoff poll.
Dak Prescott and Mississippi State sit atop the first College Football Playoff poll.
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

We now begin our weekly breakdown of the poll put together by the College Football Playoff selection committee. Team-by-team analysis will be brief in this installment, as we have already discussed most of them in this week's Monday Poll Problems article. Some important things to take note of before we take a look at each team individually:

  • The committee firmly established its opinion that, all else being equal (in this instance, all teams in question having one loss), it believes the SEC — particularly the West — is the strongest conference and ranks teams as such. They have asserted that, as a whole, the trio of Auburn, Ole Miss and Alabama is better than Oregon, TCU, Michigan State, etc. In all likelihood, the SEC will sort itself out and not put three (or even two) teams in the playoff. But if at the end of the season these teams still have similar profiles (i.e., there are a bunch of two-loss teams vying for spots), the SEC will probably get the benefit of the doubt.
  • It seems that head-to-head only matters when comparing teams that are considered to have equal or near-equal overall resumes. Case in point: It's pretty obvious that Ole Miss received the nod over Alabama because the Rebels beat the Tide earlier this season. However, Arizona beat Oregon on the Ducks' home field but falls well short of Oregon in the poll despite both teams having just one loss. A similar scenario exists with Baylor and TCU.
  • The committee is apparently doing away with the time-honored AP/Coaches Poll tradition of punishing teams that have lost most recently by automatically dropping them a certain amount. If they were abiding by that policy, you would not see Ole Miss in the Final Four.
  • "Who have you beaten?" appears to be the question at the forefront of the committee's thinking, as they didn't rank teams like Notre Dame and Ohio State highly simply because of the logos on their helmets.
  • This appears to be quite the dry run for the committee as far as critical analysis goes. I really don't see many glaring issues with the poll, but it didn't take a lot of creativity to rank the two undefeated teams, followed by 15 straight one-loss teams, followed by five straight two-loss teams. I don't have to try very hard to make a case that Oklahoma, LSU or West Virginia is better than Nebraska, Ohio State or Utah. It would have been nice to see the committee at least entertain that notion. Although that admittedly doesn't mean much regarding the top four teams, which is what we are ultimately after here.

1. Mississippi State

Clear-cut No. 1 in my opinion. One of only two major-conference undefeated teams and has been more impressive than Florida State against a tougher schedule.

2. Florida State

While you can certainly make the argument that the Seminoles are far from a top-2 team if you're simply watching them play, as long as they remain undefeated, they deserve a spot in the playoff.

3. Auburn

No problem with Auburn here. Only loss is to No. 1 Mississippi State.

4. Ole Miss

My first issue with the poll comes here, and it is the most critical part — the "who's in, who's out?" area. I don't think Ole Miss has a leg to stand on as a top-4 team after its performance against LSU this past weekend.

5. Oregon

This is about right for Oregon, on the cusp with a chance to play your way in.

6. Alabama

Ditto for Bama.

7. TCU

This would be my fourth team right now. I like that the Frogs are getting more respect than they are in the AP poll. They are a botched fourth quarter against Baylor away from being undefeated, and while there's no such thing as a good loss, they are certainly playing as well as any team in the country right now.

8. Michigan State

The Spartans have a chance to play their way in, and I still have a hunch they might do so.

9. Kansas State

I can promise you this, if Kansas State wins out, it will be one of the four teams in the playoff. Brutal remaining schedule.

10. Notre Dame

I am surprised and impressed with this much more realistic ranking for Notre Dame than the one offered by the AP poll. This actually makes me second-guess my earlier statement that winning out would ensure the Irish a seat at the playoff table.

11. Georgia

The SEC East is getting nowhere near the same respect as the West (with good reason), and it looks like Georgia has some work to do.

12. Arizona

The Wildcats are milking that win over Oregon for all its worth. Numerous teams ranked below them are better.

13. Baylor

There are opportunities left for the Bears, and they have that win over TCU to hang their hats on. That said, another loss would eliminate them from contention.

14. Arizona State

With three games left against teams ranked in the top 17 and a potential Pac 12 Championship matchup with Oregon, Arizona State is not out of this thing. That 35-point home loss to UCLA still looms large though.

15. Nebraska

Absolutely no meat to this resume. It's like the Huskers are just being rewarded for making their game against Michigan State interesting.

16. Ohio State

Ohio State is basically Nebraska with a MUCH worse loss.

17. Utah

The Utes have a couple decent wins, but it's hard to take them seriously with a home loss to Washington State.

18. Oklahoma

I think the eye test puts Oklahoma ahead of several of the one-loss teams, but West Virginia is the Sooners' only quality win.

19. LSU

The win against Ole Miss looks good, but I would imagine that blowout loss to Auburn is still holding LSU back.

20. West Virginia

The Mountaineers could potentially be slotted a little higher, but they can earn it with an upset of TCU this weekend.

21. Clemson

If you look at the Tigers as a 6-2 team with two losses on the road to top-11 teams, you would probably be inclined to rank them higher, but it's obvious that Clemson's recent results against lesser competition are weighing heavy on the committee's minds. Get Deshaun Watson back and start winning games more convincingly? A rise in the rankings is certainly possible.

22. UCLA

That anomalous win over Arizona State is literally the only worthwhile thing the Bruins have accomplished.

23. East Carolina

In the battle between ECU and Marshall, it seems that strength of schedule wins out over an undefeated record.

24. Duke

I guess there are only so many one-loss teams to choose from.

25. Louisville

Look at the big, bad ACC getting four teams into the poll! I actually think the Cardinals are probably one of the 25 best teams in the country, but I admit I am surprised to see them here.