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Playoff Picture: Week 11

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

LSU v Alabama
LSU captured a massive win at Alabama and jumped to No. 1 in the rankings.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The committee couldn’t have an easier job when it comes to slotting the top three teams in the country. It’s incredibly cut and dried. But after that, admittedly, we do not envy the committee one bit at this juncture. It’s frankly difficult to dial in on a No. 4 team that you can truly feel confident about. The committee landed on Georgia, which only makes sense because of their positioning in the opening poll (which was also too high). The problem, however, is that the pool of seven or eight contenders for that fourth spot is quite the muddled mess, with varying factors helping and hurting each particular team in ways that make them difficult to stack up. Let’s take a look at the committee’s efforts.

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. LSU (9-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 19)

Despite the Tigers seeming as primed as ever to finally get that elusive victory over Alabama that could propel them toward their first Playoff berth, it still felt like a “believe it when we see it” situation. Well, we saw it. LSU has the No. 1 strength of record and the best collection of wins in the nation. The Tigers have earned the top spot at this point.

2. Ohio State (9-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 38)

The Buckeyes did everything they could to hold on to the No. 1 ranking in a complete domination of Maryland, but there was no way to combat LSU tacking on a road win at Bama. We still believe Ohio State may be the best team in the country right now, but it’s resume has slid to second best.

3. Clemson (10-0; SOR: 5; SOS: 69)

We knew an undefeated Clemson wouldn’t be in danger of missing the Playoff, and it didn’t take long for the Tigers to slide comfortably into the top four. It’s hard to see the them being able to climb any higher than No. 3 barring a loss by one of the teams ahead of it, but Dabo Swinney and Co. just want to be invited to the party. They’re three wins away from that invitation.

4. Georgia (8-1; SOR: 11; SOS: 29)

The only positive thing about ranking Georgia fourth is that the committee showed the ... courage??? ... to drop Alabama out of the top four. Not that the Bulldogs are a much better choice if we’re being honest. That home loss to South Carolina looks worse with each passing week, and the committee is using a home win over Notre Dame and neutral-site victory over Florida as a crutch to supposedly cancel that bad loss out. Strength of Record is usually one of the committee’s favorite metrics, but it’s clearly thrown out the window when assessing Georgia and Alabama. They’re justifying this ranking with the two top-20 wins, but Penn State, for instance, also has two top-20 wins, a much more respectable loss, and a much higher strength of record ... yet is ranked No. 9. Riddle me that. Georgia controls its own destiny, and with what’s left on the schedule, it quite frankly should. But ranking them this high at this point feels incredibly disingenuous.

5. Alabama (8-1; SOR: 10; SOS: 39)

The Crimson Tide had an opportunity with a home game against LSU to prove that they were still the behemoth. They couldn’t capitalize, and were really never in the game to the degree the final score might indicate. We know Alabama is still very much in the Playoff hunt simply because of the name on the front of their jerseys, though they really shouldn’t be at this point. They have now added a loss (no matter how “good” a loss) to an empty resume and sit at No. 10 in Strength of Record. That metric is not the be all, end all, but it basically implies what we all know: The Tide has accomplished nothing. And barring an absolute collapse by LSU, there is nothing it can accomplish. We all know Alabama is supremely talented. They will always pass the “eye test.” But at some point results have to matter; we’ll see if the committee has the collective gall to put stock in on-field results (and ACCOMPLISHMENT) as we come down the stretch in the Playoff race.

6. Oregon (8-1; SOR: 8; SOS: 33)

Things haven’t changed much and probably won’t change much (barring any losses down the stretch) for Oregon and PAC 12 brethren Utah. We can tell these are strong teams, but the committee presumably has trouble slotting them any higher than this range because while they have some decent wins (and some dominant wins) there’s just nothing on either team’s resume to give them the kind of bump they need to threaten the top four at this juncture. We would posit that the Ducks have a slight edge because of a more forgivable loss, but these teams are very much in the same boat. They need each other to win out to set up an 11-1 vs. 11-1 PAC 12 Championship Game — a potential play-in game for the Playoff.

7. Utah (8-1; SOR: 12; SOS: 44)

See above. Until the committee makes a notable distinction between the Utes and Ducks, we will continue to treat them as essentially a single entity.

8. Minnesota (9-0; SOR: 4; SOS: 72)

The Gophers got a huge statement win over Penn State and vaulted from No. 17 to No. 8 in just a week’s time. You could certainly make a case for them to be higher, but would you be putting too much stock in one game? Possibly ... let’s recall that there is literally nothing else of substance on the Minnesota resume aside from this most recent win. And while they have played very well as of late, the three-game stretch where the beat South Dakota State, Fresno State, and Georgia Southern by a combined 11 points to open the season is still part of their “total body of work.” But on the other hand, their Strength of Record suddenly sits at 4. It’s clear the committee is still biding their time a bit here, but a road win at Iowa this Saturday could (and should) provide the impetus to put the Gophers closer to the head of the pack.

9. Penn State (8-1; SOR: 6; SOS: 31)

The Nittany Lions’ are a victim of committee tendency as they find themselves in the No. 9 slot despite arguably having a top-4 resume. The recency of the loss to Minnesota certainly doesn’t help matters, but it’s more than that. The committee feels compelled to rank Penn State behind the Minnesota team it lost to, and that’s obviously logical. The problem is that because of the committee’s hesitancy regarding Minnesota, that compounds Penn State’s ranking problem and forces them down the rankings when their resume suggests they should be higher. Our opinion would be, however, that this is still a team that controls its own destiny when it comes to making the Playoff. The game at Ohio State in two weeks is still just as important as it was previously, the Nittany Lions just have to make sure they don’t stumble again in the meantime.

10. Oklahoma (8-1; SOR: 15; SOS: 55)

The committee has made it clear that it does not respect Oklahoma right now, and with good reason. That’s a problem for the Sooners, who are in a position where even if they win out, they could still very well fall short of making the field as a 12-1 Big XII champion. There’s still a lot of football to play, but the Sooners have to handle their own business and hope some dominoes fall in their favor.

11. Florida (8-2; SOR: 9; SOS: 13)

As we said last week, Florida would need utter chaos to have any remote chance to make the field.

12. Auburn (7-2; SOR: 7; SOS: 3)

Auburn has upcoming games with Georgia and Alabama and can throw a wrench or two into the Playoff race, but they are out of contention with two SEC losses.

13. Baylor (9-0; SOR: 3; SOS: 65)

We mentioned earlier that the committee is applying its Strength of Record metric selectively, but we’re not sure we’ve ever seen a CFP ranking so incongruous to a team’s SOR as Baylor’s current positioning. We perhaps understand the committee treating Baylor a bit like Minnesota based on some nail-biting wins over questionable opponents, but at some point you have to respect a team that is continuing to find ways to win. Not to mention, they have convincing road wins over two current top-25 teams. We have a feeling a win over Oklahoma this weekend would change the committee’s tune on Baylor the same way Minnesota’s win over Penn State did. It may not be likely that the Bears run the table, but their Playoff fate is still 100% in their hands.

The rest of the poll:

14. Wisconsin (7-2; SOR: 16; SOS: 35)

15. Michigan (7-2; SOR: 14; SOS: 26)

16. Notre Dame (7-2; SOR: 17; SOS: 32)

17. Cincinnati (8-1; SOR: 13; SOS: 68)

18. Memphis (8-1; SOR: 23; SOS: 90)

19. Texas (6-3; SOR: 27; SOS: 30)

20. Iowa (6-3; SOR: 20; SOS: 37)

21. Boise State (8-1; SOR: 21; SOS: 91)

22. Oklahoma State (6-3; SOR: 29; SOS: 11)

23. Navy (7-1; SOR: 24; SOS: 105)

24. Kansas State (6-3; SOR: 26; SOS: 28)

25. Appalachian State (8-1; SOR: 19; SOS: 107)

GAMES TO WATCH:

Indiana @ No. 9 Penn State - Noon
Wake Forest @ No. 3 Clemson - 3:30 p.m.
No. 4 Georgia @ No. 12 Auburn - 3:30 p.m.
No. 8 Minnesota @ No. 20 Iowa - 4 p.m.
No. 10 Oklahoma @ No. 13 Baylor - 7:30 p.m.