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Playoff Picture: Week 10

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

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Purdue
Purdue shook up the Playoff race again by knocking Michigan State from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue wasn’t satisfied with throwing a wrench into just one former top-5 team’s season (Iowa), and the Boilermakers whipped yet another Playoff hopeful in Michigan State. What lies ahead for Purdue you ask? Oh, nothing special... just a trip to the Horseshoe to face No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday. Could lightning strike three times? For chaos’ sake, we can’t say we would mind.

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. Georgia (9-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 42)

The Bulldogs ran over Missouri as expected, with Kirby Smart weirdly tossing J.T. Daniels back into the mix in the third quarter to muddy an already tenuous quarterback situation, at least in the public eye. We’re not sure either of these signal callers is what you would call a “national championship quarterback” in a typical season, but it’s possible Georgia’s defense is good enough to lead the Bulldogs to a title with just any old guy leading the offense in 2021. Sticking with Bennett seems the logical choice at this point.

2. Alabama (8-1; SOR: 3; SOS: 21)

Our skepticism regarding Bama was almost substantiated in a disastrous way at home against LSU, where the Tigers had several opportunities to steal a win in the fourth quarter. The Tide ultimately held them off each time to secure a 20-14 win, but it was one of the more uninspiring results of the season for this group and showed why they shouldn’t be getting any eye test-related benefit of the doubt right now. Of course they will continue to receive that benefit.

3. Oregon (8-1; SOR: 9; SOS: 24)

The Ducks slide up a spot after winning a strange game against Washington where they dominated statistically. Their resume really hangs on that road win over Ohio State, and they are being handsomely rewarded for it. The calculus is simple for Oregon right now: Win out and win the PAC 12 title, and you should find yourself comfortably inside the top 4. If you lose a game, you are probably in big trouble.

4. Ohio State (8-1; SOR: 11; SOS: 63)

The Buckeyes didn’t exactly handle Nebraska the way you would expect a top team to, needing a field goal with a minute and a half left to finally put the game out of reach. Ohio State’s ranking is still almost nonsensical given their resume, perhaps even more so than Alabama. The committee’s slotting of teams normally correlates to a high degree with the Strength of Record metric, and Ohio State’s is a major outlier at the four spot. Combine that with a poor Strength of schedule and no wins over currently ranked teams, and this ranking becomes almost impossible to justify.

5. Cincinnati (9-0; SOR: 4; SOS: 100)

In a week where it could have made a relative statement, Cincinnati instead continued the trend of winning in unimpressive fashion. After fumbling inside their own 5-yard line with less than two minutes to play, the Bearcats had to hold Tulsa out of the end zone and did so with an incredible amount of help from Tulsa itself. The 28-20 home win in which Cincinnati was outgained by a 3-6 Golden Hurricane team is probably not going to be championed at the top of the Bearcats’ resume. However, its worth noting that Tulsa has been quite competitive this year and went toe-to-toe with the likes of Ohio State and Oklahoma State. So while Cincinnati missed an opportunity to impress, this performance should hardly be viewed as an indictment of their season thus far.

6. Michigan (8-1; SOR: 8; SOS: 45)

Sometimes we wonder if the committee does certain things simply to generate controversy. Otherwise, there is no way you can explain ranking Michigan ahead of Michigan State in this week’s poll. In every other instance we can remember — this year and in past years — when two teams have the same record and one has beaten the other head to head, the team with the head-to-head win has been ranked higher. As it should be! Not to mention, this particular matchup happened less than two weeks ago. You can argue that it being a road game for Michigan plays a factor. You can argue that Michigan may in fact still be a better team than Michigan State despite losing to them (We would actually agree with you on this!). But these things can not override a head-to-head result in this manner in a supposedly objective poll. Results have to matter. This committee has to exhaust every other comparative tactic before subjectivity can come into play in these rankings. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen, and it certainly didn’t happen here.

7. Michigan State (8-1; SOR: 7; SOS: 44)

None of the above is intended to gloss over Michigan State’s performance against Purdue, of course. The Spartans were thoroughly beaten by the Boilermakers and now have to win out and claim the Big Ten title to be a realistic threat to make the Playoff. It’s not over for them, but there is now major work to be done.

8. Oklahoma (9-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 83)

The Sooners were off this past week, so there wasn’t much of a chance for upward mobility, but we suspect there will be in short order. The committee is clearly not in love with the Sooners, but they are undoubtedly the second biggest elephant in the room right now behind Cincinnati. You may not love the Sooners either (we certainly don’t), but the fact remains they are undefeated with a No. 2 Strength of Record and have everything in front of them when it comes to a potential Playoff bid. With two road games remaining against teams ranked in the top 13 and home date with Iowa State remaining, there is ample opportunity for Oklahoma to boost its standing significantly. Finishing undefeated would obviously land the Sooners squarely in the top 4, but the more intriguing question may be whether a one-loss Big XII champ would be able to sneak in. Recent history says yes, but does the committee respect the Oklahoma schools enough this particular season?

9. Notre Dame (8-1; SOR: 6; SOS: 41)

Nobody is loving Purdue’s sneaky success more than the Irish, who can now at least claim two wins over top-20 teams to boost a resume that had once looked mediocre at best. As such, Notre Dame is not as far out of this thing as people might think. There’s no doubt they need some well-placed losses ahead and of them, and there’s the whole “lost to Cincinnati” issue to worry about, but we aren’t ready to bury the Irish yet.

10. Oklahoma State (8-1; SOR: 5; SOS: 29)

We lean toward the prospect of a 12-1 Big XII champion Oklahoma State finding its way into the Playoff field, so there is still plenty for the Cowboys to play for. A loss any time between now and the final poll, however, would all but end their chances.

11. Texas A&M (7-2; SOR: 18; SOS: 39)

The Aggies seem a good ways off from the field with their two losses and No. 18 Strength of Record, but we wouldn’t rule them out just yet. They obviously need to win out, including this week’s test at Ole Miss. If they do, and Alabama loses to either Arkansas or Auburn, that would put A&M in position to snatch the SEC West bid to the conference title game. Somehow beat undefeated Georgia in Atlanta, and we have trouble believing the committee wouldn’t slide them all the way into the field. Far-fetched? Sure. But the scenario is on the table until it’s not.

12. Wake Forest (8-1; SOR: 13; SOS: 84)

The Deacs suffered a major, major blow in surrendering an 18-point second half lead and ultimately losing to North Carolina. They are probably toast, but beating NC State and Clemson in back-to-back weeks would have to attract some sort of committee appreciation. If they could then run the table and grab the ACC title, they would have to at least garner some sort of look from the committee. But that all depends on what the rest of the national landscape looks like at that point. Odds are Wake sealed its fate this past week, however.

13. Baylor (7-2; SOR: 16; SOS: 49)
14. BYU (8-2; SOR: 20; SOS: 64)
15. Ole Miss (7-2; SOR: 12; SOS: 11)
16. NC State (7-2; SOR: 17; SOS: 58)
17. Auburn (6-3; SOR: 15; SOS: 5)
18. Wisconsin (6-3; SOR: 28; SOS: 31)
19. Purdue (6-3; SOR: 27; SOS: 27)
20. Iowa (7-2; SOR: 14; SOS: 37)
21. Pittsburgh (7-2; SOR: 24; SOS: 68)
22. San Diego State (8-1; SOR: 23; SOS: 119)
23. UTSA (9-0; SOR: 10; SOS: 125)
24. Utah (6-3; SOR: 39; SOS: 78)
25. Arkansas (6-3; SOR: 21; SOS: 4)


No. 6 Michigan @ Penn State - Noon
No. 8 Oklahoma @ No. 13 Baylor - Noon
No. 19 Purdue @ No. 4 Ohio State - 3:30 p.m.
No. 11 Texas A&M @ No. 15 Ole Miss - 7 p.m.
No. 16 NC State @ No. 12 Wake Forest - 7:30 p.m.