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Playoff Picture: Week 13

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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: Oregon at Arizona State
Could Oregon’s loss at Arizona State have damaged not only its own Playoff hopes, but Utah’s as well?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

While several contenders toyed with disaster a bit this week, only one Playoff hopeful succumbed to chaos. Oregon nearly erased a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit at Arizona State, but the Sun Devils shattered the Ducks’ dreams with an 81-yard touchdown pass on third and 16 in the final minutes to clinch the upset. While the loss obviously knocks Oregon from contention, the result of that game could also have far-reaching consequences when it comes to the selection of the Playoff field. We still have two weeks full of massive games that will write this regular season’s final chapter.

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. Ohio State (11-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 46)

We posited last week that Ohio State could be primed to jump back ahead of LSU at some point, but we figured it might require a road win at Michigan to tip the scales in the Buckeyes’ favor. The timing of the switch is important. If the committee had waited until next week (i.e., after Ohio State hypothetically tacks on a top-15 road win over Michigan to gain a resume advantage), we would have told you that a flip back in favor of LSU could still be in the cards if the Tigers knock off the committee’s No. 4 team, Georgia, in the SEC Championship the following week. But with the switch happening now, we would argue the committee has hitched its wagon to Ohio State as the No. 1 team for the duration, assuming both teams finish 13-0.

2. LSU (11-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 35)

Dropping LSU to the No. 2 spot is an indictment of the Tigers’ performance on the defensive side of the ball this season, period. They still have a slightly better resume than Ohio State, so there’s no question the eye test was the deciding factor between these teams. As we mentioned above, a flip-flop with Ohio State felt extremely likely, but the early timing of the switch is VERY problematic for the Tigers if they have designs on being the No. 1 seed. If you still think the LSU has a chance to reclaim the No. 1 spot, let me ask you this: Would Texas A&M (home) and Georgia (neutral) be a better pair of wins than Michigan (road) and Minnesota/Wisconsin (netural)? Your answer should be “no”, and so would the committee’s.

3. Clemson (11-0; SOR: 4; SOS: 67)

Just win, baby.

4. Georgia (10-1; SOR: 3; SOS: 6)

The Bulldogs haven’t looked like a Playoff team at all, but they’re almost a default pick for the No. 4 spot at the moment because no other one-loss team really has a resume worthy of overtaking them. They control their own destiny for a bid, but you’re going to have trouble convincing us they deserve to be in with anything less than an SEC Championship.

5. Alabama (10-1; SOR: 5; SOS: 54)

We would love to say the Tide are stuck in neutral and that there’s no performance they could put forth against three-loss Auburn that would allow any thought of their inclusion to creep into the committees’ heads, but we’re much too cynical for that. Still, we would like to think that if Alabama comes up against a 12-1 conference champion from the Big XII or PAC 12, the committee would honor their supposed protocol and place significant value on conference championships. They have put in 11-1 non-champions twice before, but it’s important to note they have never done so at the expense of a Power 5 conference champion with only one loss.

6. Utah (10-1; SOR: 11; SOS: 50)

Of course no Playoff hopes were damaged by Oregon’s loss more than those of the Ducks themselves, but the Utes could be considered a very close second. Their master plan was undoubtedly to continue dominating the rest of their PAC 12 schedule then knock off a highly ranked Oregon team punctuate a Playoff-worthy season. Now things are far less cut and dried. That potential win over Oregon would now lack the considerable weight it once could have held, and with a resume noticeably devoid of any “wow” factor Utah will suddenly be much more reliant on committee members looking around at each other and saying, “You know what? Utah is really good!” On the positive side, they are really good. The problem is there is no pedigree, brand, etc. associated with the Utes that the committee would lean on the way they would for the other teams in contention. Only time will tell whether a 12-1 Utah would make the cut.

7. Oklahoma (10-1; SOR: 10; SOS: 44)

You can feel the momentum for the Sooners coming, whether deserved or not. And while the SEC teams currently ranked ahead of Utah pose a minor issue for the Utes, Oklahoma could be the team that ultimately rains on their parade. This is yet another team that certainly does not scream “Playoff team” when you watch them play — they have won their last three games by a combined eight points — but they can add a couple nice bullet points to the resume with matchups with No. 21 Oklahoma State and No. 9 Baylor on the docket the next two weeks and claim a better collection of wins than Utah would be able to. Would that be enough to jump Utah in the eyes of the committee? We suspect it would essentially be a toss-up.

8. Minnesota (10-1; SOR: 12; SOS: 64)

The Gophers are still lurking, and they can put themselves in good position with a win over Wisconsin this weekend. Would anybody in their right mind pick Minnesota over Ohio State in the B1G Championship? No. But if the Gophers could shock the world, they would earn a Playoff spot.

9. Baylor (10-1; SOR: 8; SOS: 52)

The Bears jumping five spots after beating a hapless Texas team feels more like a market correction than an actual response to the win, but they’re finally ranked where they probably should be. Their problem in comparison to, say, Oklahoma is that while they could make a statement by knocking off the Sooners in their conference championship game, there is nothing at all to be gained from their game at Kansas this weekend. Even with a win, their strength of schedule will take a hit, and it’s difficult to see them vaulting up the rankings on their own accord even if they do avenge their loss to Oklahoma. In a just world where conference championships are highly valued, a 12-1 Baylor would just need a Utah loss to sneak into the Playoff, but we might have to see the committee move them ahead of Georgia and Alabama before we actually believe it.

The rest of the poll:

10. Penn State (9-2; SOR: 7; SOS: 15)

11. Florida (9-2; SOR: 6; SOS: 9)

12. Wisconsin (9-2; SOR: 15; SOS: 38)

13. Michigan (9-2; SOR: 19; SOS: 18)

14. Oregon (9-2; SOR: 17; SOS: 41)

15. Auburn (8-3; SOR: 14; SOS: 7)

16. Notre Dame (9-2; SOR: 16; SOS: 36)

17. Iowa (78-3; SOR: 18; SOS: 32)

18. Memphis (10-1; SOR: 21; SOS: 83)

19. Cincinnati (10-1; SOR: 13; SOS: 77)

20. Boise State (10-1; SOR: 20; SOS: 94)

21. Oklahoma State (8-3; SOR: 26; SOS: 33)

22. USC (8-4; SOR: 24; SOS: 3)

23. Iowa State (7-4; SOR: 31; SOS: 29)

24. Virginia Tech (8-3; SOR: 34; SOS: 72)

25. Appalachian State (10-1; SOR: 19; SOS: 114)

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 1 Ohio State @ No. 13 Michigan - Noon
No. 5 Alabama @ No. 15 Auburn - 3:30 p.m.
No. 12 Wisconsin @ No. 8 Minnesota - 3:30 p.m.
Texas A&M @ No. 2 LSU - 7 p.m.
No. 7 Oklahoma @ No. 21 Oklahoma State - 8 p.m.