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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: Notre Dame at Miami
Miami blasted Notre Dame and finally earned a spot in the top 4.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

We suspected we would get clarity from the results of last’s week game slate, and while we certainly got some, the top of the poll may have not come together as we might have thought. The bizarre Big Ten blowouts continued. We can officially rule out the Pac 12. And while Miami and Oklahoma notched convincing wins against signature opponents, the committee still believes neither has done enough to usurp Clemson. I ain’t arguing... You never know what the committee will value most in a given year, or a given week for that matter, and that is what makes this interesting, if maddening. We are down to just a handful of teams who can realistically say they control their own destiny for a Playoff shot, and they will be receiving the bulk of our attention.

*** “SOR” denotes strength of record
*** “SOS” denotes strength of schedule

1. Alabama (10-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 38)

No surprise to see the Tide slide to the No. 1 spot with Georgia’s loss, but it took a late-game drive to seal the deal on the road against a Mississippi State team that was blown out of the water in games against fellow Playoff hopefuls Auburn and Georgia. While Alabama is rightfully atop the rankings, they look about as vulnerable as they have in the CFP era.

2. Clemson (9-1; SOR: 4; SOS: 2)

Maybe I’m a pessimist, but I just didn’t see this coming. After hearing the committee’s justifications for ranking the Tigers ahead of Miami and Oklahoma, I guess I get it, even if I don’t totally get it. The Auburn win absolutely gained some added credibility, and NC State’s inclusion in the top 20 gives the Tigers a high-quality road win in addition to a couple more good ones. The “wins over teams with a winning record” thing seems a bit arbitrary at times, but it is what it is, and Clemson excels in that department. I wasn’t sure what the committee would do with Miami, but I really thought Oklahoma would be ahead of the Tigers. It seems as though they are treating the Syracuse game sans Kelly Bryant as something less than a loss - almost like they view Clemson’s record as more like 9.5-0.5 than 9-1. Is that fair? Maybe not, but it’s pretty clearly what the committee feels.

3. Miami (9-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 21)

Miami crushed Notre Dame in a fashion I don’t think anyone saw coming, and they were rewarded with a four-spot jump in the rankings. The remaining knock against Miami - and it is a fair one - is its lack of anything even beginning to resemble a quality road win. The Hurricanes, however, control their own destiny for a Playoff spot.

4. Oklahoma (9-1; SOR: 3; SOS: 13)

After Oklahoma rolled over TCU in a 5-vs.-6 matchup this week to give it three top-15 wins (two on the road), I figured the committee would move the Sooners up more than one spot. The strength of schedule and record numbers are there, and there is simply nobody else with that kind of collection of wins. I’m genuinely surprised with this ranking. The hangup (specifically in comparison to Clemson) appears to be that the Sooners’ loss to Iowa State (which has now fallen to 6-4) had no extenuating circumstance à la Kelly Bryant’s injury in Clemson’s loss. Again, whether that factor is being weighed too heavily is subjective, but it’s currently working against the Sooners and in favor of the Tigers when it comes to the committee.

5. Wisconsin (10-0; SOR: 6; SOS: 67)

Wisconsin makes a sizable jump on the heels of a dominating win against an Iowa team that destroyed Ohio State just one week ago. While the committee isn’t supposed to pay significant attention to margin of victory, there is an “eye test” element that can’t be ignored there. As Kirby Hocutt so un-eloquently put it, “We do not incent margin of victory, but we know what the scores of the games are.” So yeah, good luck trying to figure out what these guys are thinking. Anyway, at this point, the committee would have to select two teams from another conference (which is yet to happen in the CFP) for a 13-0 Wisconsin to not make the field, so the Badgers have to be feeling pretty good about their chances if they can win out.

6. Auburn (8-2; SOR: 7; SOS: 19)

We noted last week that Auburn was in position to make a charge toward being the first two-loss team to make the Playoff field, and they took the first step in resounding fashion. The Tigers beat Georgia so badly, in fact, that the Bulldogs plummeted six spots and are now positioned behind Auburn. We didn’t see that coming.

7. Georgia (9-1; SOR: 5; SOS: 22)

Despite the troubling blowout loss to Auburn and subsequent drop in the rankings, Georgia isn’t in a decidedly different position when it comes to making the Playoff field. Winning out would have gotten them in, and it still will. Gone are the what-ifs about losing to Alabama and still sneaking in at 12-1, but that would have been a tenuous circumstance anyway.

8. Notre Dame (8-2; SOR: 8; SOS: 6)

The Irish were blown out by Miami, and with no ability to add a conference championship to their two-loss resume, they are effectively done.

9. Ohio State (8-2; SOR: 15; SOS: 35)

Credit where it’s due for Ohio State bouncing back and manhandling Michigan State. The Buckeyes are still in a position where they could put pressure on the committee by running the table and knocking off Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. So while this doesn’t feel like a Playoff team right now, we can’t rule it out of contention.

10. Penn State (8-2; SOR: 14; SOS: 45)

Overrated, and no realistic shot to qualify for the Playoff.

11. USC (8-2; SOR: 9; SOS: 14)

It’s just incredibly hard to put together a path for a Pac 12 team to make the field at this point.

12. TCU (8-2; SOR: 11; SOS: 29)

The Frogs had a chance to state their case against Oklahoma but now can only play spoiler for their own conference.

13. Oklahoma State (8-2; SOR: 10; SOS: 12)


14. Washington State (8-2; SOR: 16; SOS: 52)

The Cougars can still find their way to a New Year’s Six Bowl if they can knock off Washington and Southern Cal, but the Playoff seems out of reach.

15. UCF (10-0; SOR: 12; SOS: 99)

Moved up some, but still not high enough.

16. Mississippi State (7-3; SOR: 17; SOS: 41)

The Bulldogs had Alabama on the ropes Saturday night but couldn’t finish the job in their upset bid.

17. Michigan State (7-3; SOR: 13; SOS: 4)

An outside Playoff shot fell by the wayside quickly as the Spartans were demolished 48-3 by Ohio State.

18. Washington (8-2; SOR: 21; SOS: 55)

Washington’s hopes were also dashed as the Huskies lost to Stanford on Friday night.

19. NC State (7-3; SOR: 18; SOS: 9)

The Wolfpack edged Boston College and continue to provide a useful boost to Clemson’s resume.

20. LSU (7-3; SOR: 22; SOS: 43)

Still hard to look past that loss to Troy, but LSU’s win over Auburn continues to look better and better.

21. Memphis (8-1; SOR: 19; SOS: 86)

Memphis is still on track to face UCF in a de facto New Year’s Six eliminator for the AAC Championship.

22. Stanford (7-3; SOR: 23; SOS: 20)

Stanford is always great at terrorizing its own conference.

23. Northwestern (7-3; SOR: 26; SOS: 40)

Gotta make sure they sneak these Big Ten teams into the poll.

24. Michigan (8-2; SOR: 20; SOS: 56)

Actually no huge problem with this one.

25. Boise State (8-2; SOR: 32; SOS: 84)

Sort of a puzzling inclusion, but whatever floats your boat.