We’ve come to the final week of a most unique season, and instead of gaining some clarity (or AT LEAST being able to make educated guesses based on potential scenarios), we still have basically no idea what this year’s committee is thinking or what they are capable of doing. Of course, this is undoubtedly the most difficult season yet to put together a set of rankings. There are uneven game totals, whacked out metrics, lack of interconference data points, and player absences this committee is having to assess that previous ones have not.
And yet, how are we to comprehend the fact that Florida — a team that has already suffered a loss — can lose at home to a 3-5 team and drop just one spot in the rankings and still arguably be within shouting distance of the Playoff? How do we square two-loss Iowa State, which lost at home to Louisiana by 17 points, being ranked thirteen spots higher than that same 9-1 Louisiana team? We are all for reasonable caution when it comes to ranking Group of 5 schools, but when there is blatant disrespect levied at teams like Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina to the point that Florida, which had everything to play for, can suffer what should be deathblow and be treated almost as if they didn’t play the game ... that’s hard to come to terms with.
All that aside, we will endeavor to break down the race for the Playoff just one more time in the wildest season we’ve ever seen
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 (10-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 26)
As much as Florida’s shocking loss took some luster off the SEC Championship Game, it has to be viewed as a positive from an Alabama perspective, as the Crimson Tide seem all but assured of a Playoff spot now. It always seemed likely that Bama would stay in the Playoff field even with a competitive loss to Florida, but now it feels impossible that there are four teams that could jump the Tide if they lose this week. Alabama can book its Playoff ticket.
2. Notre Dame (10-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 42)
Benefiting even more from the Gators’ result is Notre Dame, which didn’t want to entertain the possibility of being stacked up against a bunch of one-loss SEC teams should things not go in their favor this weekend. If the Irish win, obviously they will make the field comfortably. But even if they lose to Clemson in anything short of a complete blowout, it seems difficult to believe they could drop further than No. 4. As we have learned in the past, the committee is capable of anything. That said, it seems like the ACC Championship has turned into a house money type of game for Notre Dame.
3. Clemson (9-1; SOR: 9; SOS: 43)
We suppose there is a scenario where Clemson loses to Notre Dame and is still able to make the Playoff field by the skin of its teeth, but make no mistake — this is still a must-win game for the Tigers. Most objective observers would say the Tigers are one of the nation’s four best teams, but there’s not much else to hang their hats on if they aren’t able to avenge their loss to the Irish. Clemson has several decent wins, but their “best” win of the season just took a monstrous hit when Miami was blown off the field by North Carolina last week. So the Tigers’ resume is pretty much just beating up on mediocre teams, which is all fine and good, but there aren’t impactful wins you could point to that would definitively offset a second loss to the Irish. Add in that no two-loss team has ever made the field, and let’s just say it’s in Clemson’s best interest to win on Saturday and leave no drama as to whether it will be included in the Playoff.
4. Ohio State (5-0; SOR: 7; SOS: 79)
Once the Buckeyes’ game with Michigan was cancelled, it was only a matter of time before the Big Ten scrapped its preseason rule for minimum games to participate in the conference title game. But it is what it is, and the committee has spoken. The Buckeyes will be all but guaranteed a Playoff spot if they can take care of Northwestern in this week’s conference championship game.
5. Texas A&M (7-1; SOR: 3; SOS: 9)
It’s always hard to know how much mobility a team in A&M’s current situation has because the committee tends to be extremely withholding when it comes to such matters. Do the Aggies simply need Clemson or Ohio State to lose in order to slide into the Playoff? Or are there two-loss teams behind them that could jump them with a conference championship win? It’s difficult to say, but one potential thing working against A&M would an unwillingness by the committee to slide them into the No. 4 slot for a possible rematch with Alabama. This hasn’t been a scenario that has presented itself before, but we just have a hunch the committee would be averse to setting up a regular-season rematch in a semifinal game — especially when the first meeting was a complete blowout. It’s really just anybody’s guess exactly how good/bad of a position A&M is in.
6. Iowa State (8-2; SOR: 11; SOS: 20)
Almost every season, we seem to have one team lurking around the periphery of the top four that no one is talking about that could have a chance to pounce on a Playoff spot if the door opens. This pouncing rarely occurs, but the intrigue still remains. That being said, never has this “lurking” team been so dubious as this year’s Iowa State. The Cyclones are inarguably a good team, and they have played well down the stretch and (to their credit) clearly attracted the committee’s attention. But normally we’re talking about a one-loss upstart here (last year’s Baylor, for instance) that could actually stake a reasonable claim for a spot. The Cyclones not only have two losses, but one of them was at home to Louisiana by 17 points. Was that ages ago? Yes. But it counts. However, with the committee so smitten with Iowa State, we harbor the opinion that if the Cyclones beat Oklahoma in the Big XII title game, they may only need Clemson or Ohio State to lose to jump there way to the No. 4 spot. Or the committee may just slide A&M up. Who knows at this point. Also worth noting: Is Oklahoma completely out of this thing? It seems preposterous to suggest the Sooners could vault all the way into the field, but what if they blow Iowa State off the field. What if Clemson, Ohio State and Texas A&M and Florida all lose on Saturday? Would the committee give the Sooners a look? We’re not ruling anything out.
7. Florida (8-2; SOR: 13; SOS: 31)
This is an example of how the committee backs itself into a corner on certain things. They refuse to drop Florida past Georgia despite the Gators atrocious loss to LSU this week because they beat Georgia and have the same record. They also refuse to rank an undefeated Group of 5 teams above two-loss SEC teams, so we see Florida incredibly dropping just one spot in the rankings despite a second loss that, in all objectivity, should have ruined any possible hope they had of making the Playoff field. Now, with this in mind, it’s possible the Gators are simply a placeholder and are not a true threat to leap into the top four. But are you going to tell us that if Florida manages to beat Alabama on Saturday that there is no chance the committee would slide them into the field if the right teams happen to lose? We aren’t buying that for a second.
8. Georgia (8-2, SOR: 10, SOS: 8)
9. Cincinnati (8-0; SOR: 8; SOS: 81)
10. Oklahoma (7-2; SOR: 16; SOS: 37)
11. Indiana (6-1; SOR: 4; SOS: 15)
12. Coastal Carolina (11-0; SOR: 6; SOS: 77)
13. USC (5-0; SOR: 5; SOS: 68)
14. Northwestern (6-1; SOR: 12; SOS: 49)
15. North Carolina (8-3; SOR: 30; SOS: 47)
16. Iowa (6-2; SOR: 20; SOS: 46)
17. BYU (10-0; SOR: 19; SOS: 78)
18. Miami (8-2; SOR: 15; SOS: 30)
19. Louisiana (9-1; SOR: 14; SOS: 57)
20. Texas (6-3; SOR: 23; SOS: 34)
21. Oklahoma State (7-3; SOR: 21; SOS: 23)
22. NC State (8-3; SOR: 31; SOS: 51)
23. Tulsa (6-1; SOR: 17; SOS: 65)
24. San Jose State (6-0; SOR: 18; SOS: 113)
25. Colorado (4-1; SOR: 22; SOS: 91)
GAMES TO WATCH:
No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 14 Northwestern - Noon
No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 10 Oklahoma - Noon
No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 3 Clemson - 4 p.m.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 7 Florida - 8 p.m.
No. 9 Cincinnati @ No. 24 Tulsa - 8 p.m.