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Poll Problems: Week 12

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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.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Auburn
Auburn can continue its push to become the first two-loss Playoff participant if it beats Alabama on Saturday.
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

This week marked perhaps the least movement we have seen at the top of the poll since the beginning of the Playoff era. The only change in the top 12 was a 2-3 flip flop of Clemson and Miami, which may be irrelevant in the grand scheme. Rivalry Week is upon us, and there are plenty of games this week that can shape the College Football Playoff picture heading into Championship Week. The scenarios are numerous, and the possibilities are as confusing as ever.

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

1. Alabama (11-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 60)

All eyes will be on the Iron Bowl this week in a winner-take-all battle for the SEC West crown. The true intrigue surrounding Alabama centers around the Crimson Tide’s position should they lose to Auburn on Saturday. The committee proved last season that it is willing to take a one-loss team without a conference championship (Ohio State), but Alabama’s profile would look much different than the one those Buckeyes possessed - one that had multiple high-end wins and a good strength of schedule. The Crimson Tide would be lacking in both of those areas, and may be left hoping that simply the name “Alabama” is enough to get them a spot in the Playoff. Beat Auburn on the road, however, and they would be in good position - perhaps even able to sneak in with a loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship.

2. Miami (10-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 32)

The fact the committee moved the Hurricanes ahead of Clemson after an ugly win over a middling Virginia team goes to show how razor-thin the margin between the two was the week prior. It’s hard to argue with though. The teams’ profiles are similar enough that Miami’s undefeated record has to garner it some respect at some point. Plus, these teams will face off on the football field a week from Saturday, so that will sort things out between the two. But outside of that, what kind of chance would a one-loss Miami have if it loses in a competitive game to the Tigers in Charlotte? We won’t dive into all the potential scenarios, but it’s possible the Hurricanes would still have a decent shot to make the field.

3. Clemson (10-1; SOR: 4; SOS: 11)

The ding Clemson’s strength of schedule took simply from playing the Citadel may not have helped its case for hanging onto the No. 2 spot, but the Tigers can probably throw some shade at NC State for losing to Wake Forest and taking away what was being counted as a good win. Clemson still controls its own destiny, so fretting about its exact positioning in the poll doesn’t accomplish much.

4. Oklahoma (10-1; SOR: 3; SOS: 34)

There wasn’t anywhere for Oklahoma to go after tacking on a meaningless win over lowly Kansas, and the Sooners are still in win-and-you’re in mode.

5. Wisconsin (11-0; SOR: 6; SOS: 62)

Wisconsin picked up its best win of the season against Michigan, but the Badgers margin for error is still nonexistent. If they finish 13-0, it’s hard to imagine they would be left out, but it could very well come down to how they stack up against a one-loss Miami or a one-loss Alabama. That’s hard to project as we sit right now.

6. Auburn (9-2; SOR: 7; SOS: 37)

The Tigers’ playoff really began two weeks ago against Georgia, and any loss would put them out of the CFP field. But a win over Alabama this week would put them in great position to clinch the first-ever Playoff spot for a two-loss team against a Georgia team they have already beaten handily.

7. Georgia (10-1; SOR: 5; SOS: 33)

It’s pretty simple for the Bulldogs. If they beat Georgia Tech and the winner of Alabama-Auburn, there’s no way the committee is leaving them out of the field.

8. Notre Dame (9-2; SOR: 8; SOS: 7)

The Irish still have no realistic chance to make the CFP.

9. Ohio State (9-2; SOR: 15; SOS: 53)

The Buckeyes are not completely out of it, but they need some things to go their way. More specifically, they need a large collection of two-loss teams. I don’t think this team - even with a conference title - is getting the nod over a one-loss Alabama or Miami, and they still have to beat Michigan and Wisconsin to even get to that point.

10. Penn State (9-2; SOR: 12; SOS: 51)

Penn State will look back on this as a “what-if” season as close losses to Ohio State and Michigan State kept them from being truly in the Playoff conversation.

11. USC (10-2; SOR: 9; SOS: 10)

Rece Davis continues to lament the Trojans’ positioning relative to a team like Ohio State (which is fair enough, I suppose), but the counter-argument is: Where are the wins? The best thing the Trojans can tout is a home win over No. 21 Stanford, and the committee likely hasn’t forgotten their 35-point loss against Notre Dame. There’s just not enough there, even with a win in the Pac 12 Championship, to give them a reasonable shot at the field.

12. TCU (9-2; SOR: 10; SOS: 29)

The Frogs just have to beat 1-10 Baylor at home to make the Big XII Championship, but they would need an ungodly amount of chaos to have any sort of outside chance at the Playoff.

13. Washington State (9-2; SOR: 16; SOS: 50)

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.

14. Mississippi State (8-3; SOR: 14; SOS: 41)

The Bulldogs are doing a nice job of pumping Alabama’s resume.

15. UCF (11-0; SOR: 11; SOS: 97)

Should be closer to the top 10. Maybe a win against USF this week can provide a boost.

16. Michigan State (8-3; SOR: 13; SOS: 8)

Underrated according to the metrics, but the 45-point loss to Ohio State is inescapable.

17. Washington (9-2; SOR: 19; SOS: 58)

The Huskies have no chance to make the Pac 12 Championship Game but can play spoiler for archrival Washington State.

18. LSU (8-3; SOR: 20; SOS: 47)

Still has not beaten anybody of consequence other than Auburn.

19. Oklahoma State (8-3; SOR: 17; SOS: 9)

The Cowboys’ embarrassing home loss to Kansas State eliminated them from Big XII title contention.

20. Memphis (9-1; SOR: 82; SOS: 18)

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

21. Stanford (8-3; SOR: 21; SOS: 22)

The Cardinal get a shot to knock off Notre Dame but have to hope for a Washington State loss in the Apple Cup to make the Pac 12 Championship.

22. Northwestern (8-3; SOR: 24; SOS: 42)

The Wildcats have won six games in a row. Have to give them a little credit.

23. Boise State (9-2; SOR: 31; SOS: 84)

Still not enough on this resume to deserve a top-25 spot.

24. South Carolina (8-3; SOR: 27; SOS: 56)

WE GOT OURSELVES A RANKED MATCHUP IN COLUMBIA.

25. Virginia Tech (8-3; SOR: 22; SOS: 54)

The Hokies sneak back in to give the ACC a desperately needed third team in the poll