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Poll Problems: Week 11

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.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Iowa
Iowa’s last-second win over Michigan capped a day full of stunning upsets that only increased the top-4 debates.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Every year we live in denial of chaos, although deep down we know it will always rear its ugly head. This week was the most chaotic in recent memory, as five of the top 10 teams in the poll lost, including numbers 2, 3 and 4. The shuffling at the top was relatively minimal, though, given the depth of the carnage. Here we go.

1. Alabama

If there was any lingering doubt as to who was the best team in the country (There wasn’t...), it was dispelled when Alabama rolled over Mississippi State as the rest of the undefeateds crashed and burned on the same day.

2. Ohio State

Two top-10 road wins, a “good loss”, and back-to-back 62-3 wins since that loss were enough to allow the Buckeyes to rise to the top of the one-loss pack after last week’s chaos. No argument here. The problem for the Buckeyes is that they don’t control their own destiny to make the Big Ten title game, which could put them in a very unenviable position on the day of the final poll as a one-loss non-conference champion potentially battling it out with several teams with varying credentials and arguments for their inclusion.

3. Michigan

On the other hand, Michigan (despite its surprising loss at Iowa) still very much controls its Playoff destiny, as wins over Ohio State and whoever comes out of the West would lock them into a spot. But with the injury to quarterback Wilton Speight, nobody knows how capable this team is of completing that mission - in fact, most are already assuming a loss to Ohio State. You could argue that Clemson (Strength of record: No. 2) and even Louisville (No. 5) should be ranked ahead of Michigan (No. 7), but the committee clearly values the Wolverines’ three top-10 wins, despite them all being at home.

4. Clemson

Clemson’s loss to Pitt was truly frustrating, if for no other reason than the Tigers had several chances to put the game away and failed every single one. We knew Clemson could afford a loss (even without all the others upsets that occurred Saturday), but actually incurring it means its margin for error is now gone. You can find frustrated pundits pining for Louisville inclusion in the top 4 at this point, but it certainly shouldn’t be at Clemson’s expense, and the committee at least recognizes that.

5. Louisville

Louisville is right where it should be, in my opinion, despite everything that happened Saturday. Recency bias could have you crying foul about the committee keeping the Cardinals on the outside looking in, but we will continue to assert that there just isn’t much to lean on regarding Louisville other than “they look really good in some games” and “their quarterback will win the Heisman.” We still believe it’s an uphill battle for the Cards, although Saturday certainly couldn’t have hurt their chances.

6. Washington

I don’t know if “exposed” is the word I would choose to describe Washington after Saturday, because USC is playing as well as any team in the country right now. But there’s no question the Huskies got knocked down a peg, and they are in a pretty precarious position now. Simply winning out (which is far from a guarantee in itself, with red-hot Washington State and presumably another quality opponent if they beat the Cougars) may not be enough to get the job done. They need a single clear choice to emerge from the Big Ten (pretty much Michigan) and to pull against any and all Big XII teams, at minimum, to feel at all comfortable about making the field.

7. Wisconsin

Again, Sconny is in about as good a shape as you can be in for a two-loss team, as they control their own destiny to become the Big Ten champ - which is a team that many think the committee won’t leave out of the four-team field. Watching how things play out in that conference in the final weeks will be truly fascinating, and this group of teams could potentially put the committee in an extremely tough position it hasn’t yet encountered in the Playoff’s infancy.

8. Penn State

The Nittany Lions aren’t in quite as ideal a spot as two-loss brethren Wisconsin, but they aren’t far behind. All they need to happen to nab the other slot in the Big Ten championship game is for red-hot Ohio State to beat a Michigan team that is missing its quarterback on the final week of the regular season. If that game goes as most expect it will (with the Buckeyes winning), we could then be in line to witness a true nightmare scenario for the committee - regardless of who emerges from the title game.

9. Oklahoma

Still can’t rule the Sooners out, but a lot needs to happen for them to crash the party. They have what amounts to an elimination game with West Virginia this weekend.

10. Colorado

The Buffs are slowly creeping up, and the potential for quality wins still remains. Similar spot to Oklahoma, however, as a potential two-loss champion from what is perceived to be a weak conference.

11. Oklahoma State

This still makes so little sense that I refuse to even address it.

12. Utah

See: Colorado

13. USC

USC is playing as well as anybody in the country after knocking off Washington by two scores on the road, but the Trojans’ three losses are too much to overcome as far as the Playoff is concerned.

14. West Virginia

Still too low honestly, but a win over Oklahoma would likely send the Mountaineers shooting into the top 10. They’re not out of it until they lose again.

15. Auburn

I don’t think anyone saw that loss to Georgia coming, and now the SEC is officially a one-team conference. Not that we didn’t already know that...

16. LSU

Impressive four-touchdown road win at Arkansas. #HireCoachO

17. Florida State

Still potentially working toward a New Year’s Six bowl.

18. Nebraska

Actually notched a decent win over Minnesota this week. The Huskers are still in position to pounce on a Big Ten championship game slot should Wisconsin falter down the stretch.

19. Tennessee

Not sure why a 13-point home win over Kentucky warrants a jump from unranked to No. 19.

20. Boise State

I take serious issue with Boise State jumping Western Michigan after beating a terrible Hawaii team. If you think Boise is better than Western, that’s fine, but you should have had it that way last week if that were the case. Flip-flopping the teams after neither did anything of consequence is ridiculous. They basically teased Western Michigan with a possible New Year’s Six spot then yanked it away with no justification.

21. Western Michigan

See above.

22. Washington State

It’s a shame the Cougars have that loss to FBS Eastern Washington on the resume because the committee is clearly holding that against them to a very high degree. But this is a dangerous team right now that could easily win the Pac 12.

23. Florida

Thank you for putting an end to South Carolina’s delusional hopes of winning the SEC East.

24. Stanford

The Cardinal have bounced back from a rough patch and won three games in a row.

25. Texas A&M

I love how committee barely punished A&M for losing to Mississippi State and then dropped them like a rock for losing to an arguably better team in Ole Miss.