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Playoff Picture: Week 10

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We take a look at the College Football Playoff poll each week and break down the path to the Playoff.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Louisiana State
Alabama dominated LSU 29-0 in Baton Rouge and strengthened its hold on the No. 1 spot.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

One hyped up game fit the billing, while the rest of them turned into laughers. The Playoff contenders are starting to separate themselves, but there’s still plenty of football to be played. If there’s one thing we know, it’s to expect the unexpected.

NOTE: We will only provide individual breakdowns for teams that have a reasonable shot to make the Playoff.

***“SOR” denotes strength of record

***“SOS” denotes strength of schedule

1. Alabama (9-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 41)

The Tide rolled LSU as expected and presumably have strengthened their grip on the No. 1 spot. The only question worth asking at this point regarding the Tide is, if they somehow stumbled, are they still all but a lock to make the Playoff?

2. Clemson (9-0; SOR: 3; SOS: 50)

Recent weeks have been a major drag on the Tigers’ strength numbers, but they have presumably passed the eye test with flying colors and should still have Notre Dame at arm’s length in the poll. A road trip to Boston College should remedy Clemson’s metrics to some degree, provided they emerge victorious from Chesnut Hill. All things considered, it’s the Tigers’ biggest remaining hurdle on the road to the Playoff.

3. Notre Dame (9-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 42)

The Irish let Northwestern creep back into things after dominating the game for three quarters but pulled away to remain undefeated. They still don’t have the look of a bona fide Playoff team, and there are still a couple potential games that could trip them up, but the reality is Notre Dame is three wins away from making the field.

4. Michigan: (8-1; SOR: 5; SOS: 13)

The Wolverines move up into the top 4 after manhandling Penn State to tack another quality win onto the resume. Michigan has to feel good about its Playoff chances if it wins out, although it only has one more potential win of substantial quality (@Ohio State) from here on out. There is certainly a scenario or two that could have the Wolverines sweating, but they’re in the best position they can be as the top-ranked one-loss team.

5. Georgia (8-1; SOR: 4; SOS: 22)

As expected, the Bulldogs went into Kentucky and clinched their second straight SEC East crown, ending the Wildcats’ Playoff pipedream at the same time. While Georgia can’t exactly sleepwalk to their date in the SEC Championship, its hard to see them suffering a loss in a three-game homestand to finish the regular season. Perhaps we’re glossing over rivalry matchups with Auburn and Georgia Tech a little too passively, but the Bulldogs seem to be rounding into form since taking a beating at LSU.

6. Oklahoma (8-1; SOR: 8; SOS: 31)

Oklahoma’s offense is certainly nothing to be trifled with, but the Sooners’ lackluster defense and nearly empty resume are keeping them a step behind their peers in the eyes of the committee. Their road trip to West Virginia to end the season is the last chance for a needle-moving win before a potential conference championship game — which could easily just be a rematch with West Virginia the following week. All this is to say, the Sooners are in a decent spot, but they need some things to break in their favor to feel like they have good odds to make the four-team field.

7. LSU (7-2; SOR: 6; SOS: 2)

LSU had its shot, and the Tigers fell flat in a 29-0 home loss to No. 1 Alabama. The 7 spot is a nice courtesy to their strong wins and metrics, but LSU is dead as far as the Playoff is concerned.

8. Washington State (8-1; SOR: 11; SOS: 59)

It’s hard for us to sit here and pretend the Cougars have a real shot at crashing the party, but until they lose again we refuse to rule them out of contention. Even at 12-1 with a Pac-12 title, though, it would take a certain degree of chaos for Washington State to sneak into the Final Four. The rest of the Pac-12 crumbling around them has left their resume devoid of quality wins or a great strength of record mark, and there’s no overwhelming eye test to make up for it.

9. West Virginia (7-1; SOR: 9; SOS: 45)

In one of the games of the year and, frankly, about as competitive a game as you will see, Dana Holgorsen went for the win on the road and watched his star quarterback scamper in for a two-point conversion to lead the Mountaineers over Texas 42-41 and keep their Playoff hopes alive. Despite a 3-spot difference in the current poll, West Virginia is in an equivalent position to Oklahoma to some degree. One thing to consider, however: It’s hard to know how much a cancelled game against NC State is effecting the Mountaineers or could in the future. Does an 11-1 West Virginia lose out to a 12-1 team because they have one less win? We’ve seen the committee do pettier things...

10. Ohio State (8-1; SOR: 10; SOS: 67)

It’s hard to take the Buckeyes seriously despite the fact that they still have some mobility with regard to the poll. We’re talking about a team whose last two games were a 29-point loss to a decent Purdue team and a 5-point home win over 2-7 Nebraska. There are opportunities for good wins down the stretch, but does anybody honestly trust Ohio State to get them?

11. Kentucky (7-2; SOR: 7; SOS: 14)

Essentially in the same boat as LSU. With two losses and no shot at a conference title, there’s no conceivable path to the Playoff for the Wildcats after their loss to Georgia.

12. UCF (7-0; SOR: 13; SOS: 127)

Pretty much said our piece last week on the Knights. It would take an incredible scenario for them to receive serious consideration.

The rest of the poll:

13. Syracuse (7-2, SOR: 26; SOS: 73)

14. NC State (6-2; SOR: 15; SOS: 40)

15. Florida (6-3; SOR: 14; SOS: 19)

16. Mississippi State (6-3; SOR: 28; SOS: 34)

17. Boston College (7-2; SOR: 18; SOS: 61)

18. Michigan State (6-3; SOR: 13; SOS: 3)

19. Texas (6-3; SOR: 24; SOS: 12)

20. Penn State (6-3; SOR: 19; SOS: 17)

21. Iowa (6-3; SOR: 27; SOS: 20)

22. Iowa State (5-3; SOR: 16; SOS: 4)

23. Fresno State (8-1; SOR: 35; SOS: 112)

24. Auburn (6-3; SOR: 30; SOS: 37)

25. Washington (7-3; SOR: 17; SOS: 21)

BIGGEST WINNERS: Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, West Virginia

BIGGEST LOSERS: LSU, Kentucky

OTHER NOTES:

— The committee has clearly shown its conference hierarchy with regard to the one-loss teams that are in the driver’s seats for their respective league crowns, and that is Big Ten —> Big XII —> Pac 12. Does that stay the status quo if Michigan, Oklahoma, and Washington State all win out? Presumably the Cougars would remain a somewhat distant third, but is Oklahoma a threat at all to jump Michigan? One would think there is not enough meat left on the Sooners’ schedule to pull off that type of leap-frog effort.

— With that in mind, even if the committee can argue that a one-loss Michigan is clearly superior to a one-loss Oklahoma, there is still a death scenario that would put them in a terrible bind. In the event that Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan all win out, and a one-loss Georgia upsets previously unbeaten Alabama in the SEC title game (unlikely of course, but for the purposes of this discussion), which of those five teams is left out? Would the committee dare drop the Crimson Tide - the dominant No. 1 darling from the get-go - out of the Playoff entirely? One would think a 13-0 Clemson would probably move up to the No. 1 spot, and Georgia would assuredly slide somewhere into the top 4 ahead of the Alabama team it beat, but what of the other three? Notre Dame would be undefeated but would have to be docked in some fashion for not playing in a conference championship, yet could you imagine the hysteria if an Irish team without a loss were left out entirely? But then again, you would think their head-to-head win over Michigan would have to give them the edge between those two. Although, would they really kick out a Big Ten champion Michigan with just one forgivable loss to include a Crimson Tide team that didn’t win its conference? What complicates it further is that we are talking about all MASSIVE name-brand programs, so there would be no easy team to kick out because of some kind of perceived lack of pedigree. The whole thing is making my head spin, but it would be fascinating to see.

— What’s funny to watch with the poll every year is the back-to-back rankings based on head-to-head victories that are always scattered throughout — No. 13 Syracuse beat No. 14 NC State; No. 15 Florida beat No. 16 Mississippi State; No. 20 Penn State beat No. 21 Iowa, who in turn beat No. 22 Iowa State; No. 24 Auburn beat No. 25 Washington. I’m all for valuing head-to-head matchups to some degree, but it’s just becoming such a crutch that keeps them from having to do more critical analysis than they feel like.

— The ACC capitalized on carnage in the back half of the poll to boost three of its teams into the top 17 of the poll. People can complain that these teams are overrated, but it’s worth asking which teams the committee should have in their place. While Syracuse is admittedly still wildly over-ranked by comparison to its strength of record, NC State and Boston College are right about where that metric says they should be. But you can see how the committee’s head-to-head compulsion mentioned above is benefiting a team like Syracuse. In addition, the Orange are just an odd team with an odd resume to begin with. They’ll get a chance to prove their worth against Notre Dame and Boston College anyway.

— Florida loses at home to previously winless-in-conference Missouri by three touchdowns and only drops from 11 to 15 ... just an absolute joke.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 10 Ohio State @ No. 18 Michigan State, Noon
No. 16 Mississippi State @ No. 1 Alabama, 3:30 p.m.
No. 8 Washington State @ Colorado, 3:30 p.m.
No. 24 Auburn @ No. 5 Georgia, 7 p.m.
No. 2 Clemson @ No. 17 Boston College, 8 p.m.