FOX Four: Auburn, FSU, Baylor, Mississippi State lead playoff race

Welcome to the FOX Four.

To prepare for the inaugural College Football Playoff, we’ve assembled our own 13-member committee that will present its ranking of the top teams after each week from now through the end of the season.

How it works: Each member will submit an individual top 10, which we’ll compile to get an average score and then publish our official FOX Four rankings from highest to lowest (average score in parentheses). Though this ranking puts special emphasis on the first four teams – our current playoff picks after the most recent week of the season we’ll list a top 10 so you can see how the committee has prioritized the second batch of teams that could impact the playoff discussion.

Number of first-place votes will break ties. If two teams have the same number of first-place votes, we’ll proceed to the subsequent place until the tie is broken.

Our 13-member committee: Tim Brando, Charles Davis, Bruce Feldman, Joey Harrington, Joel Klatt, Matt Leinart, Stewart Mandel, Ryan Nece, Petros Papadakis, Brady Quinn, Rob Stone, Clay Travis and Dave Wannstedt.

"We know fans want transparency in their playoff rankings," said committee chairman Stewart Mandel. "Not only will you see our Top 10 each week but you’ll get explanations from our committee members why the teams are ranked where they are."

Below the top 10, look for brief analysis from college football analyst Coy Wire on one team primed to rise and one ready to fall in the rankings.

Next Saturday on FOX: No. 12 Oregon at No. 18 UCLA, 3 p.m. PT.

To get all FOX Sports college football content delivered to you, follow CFB on FOX on Twitter and like our Facebook page.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S BEST UNIFORMS

1) AUBURN TIGERS (9.45)

Committee members are impressed by Auburn’s resume to date, which includes a road win at Kansas State and blowouts of Arkansas and LSU. “The season-opening romp over Arkansas looks better now, as does the win at K-State,” said Bruce Feldman.” In particular, the decisive fashion by which the Tigers took down LSU may have solidified their No. 1 spot. “We now know for sure that this is not a vintage LSU team, but still … 41-7,” said Charles Davis. Auburn must turn around and back it up at torrid Mississippi State, but for now, “Auburn’s win in Manhattan is more impressive than State’s win against A&M at home,” said Joey Harrington.

2) FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (8.64)

The ’Noles weren’t dominant in wins over Oklahoma State, Clemson and NC State, but “unlike most of the top teams in the country, they have avoided the loss column,” said Joel Klatt. And their status as defending national champions did carry some weight. “In my opinion, much like boxing, you got to beat the champ if you want the belt,” said Brady Quinn. And much like Auburn, FSU gets props for winning outside of Tallahassee. “I tried to do as the committee and reward teams for their schedules,” said Stewart Mandel. “FSU beat a quality foe [Oklahoma State] away from home.”

3) BAYLOR BEARS (7.00)

The Bears may rise higher if they beat TCU on Saturday, but as of today, “Baylor’s schedule has been soft — that’s the only thing that held me back from putting them up higher,” said Rob Stone. Others conceded that Baylor “hasn’t played a soul” (Matt Leinart). But the Bears were No. 1 or 2 in others’ eyes. “Easily their best team under Art Briles, and the defense has been a dominant unit this season,” said Klatt. “Baylor is 5-0 and has beaten every team by 21 points. You can’t say that about any other team in the country,” said Clay Travis.

4) MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS (7.00)

The Bulldogs would not likely have been in anyone’s top four two weeks ago, but now, after blowout wins at LSU and against Texas A&M, “Dak Prescott has put himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation, and Mississippi State has a very physical and sound philosophy,” said Klatt. Said Leinart: “Mississippi State looks like a machine on both sides of the ball. Prescott is the best player in football.” The Bulldogs made the top four on eight of 13 ballots. One concern: “How will Dak Prescott handle the role of playing as a ‘favorite’ versus playing as an ‘underdog?’ ” said Quinn.  

BEST COLLEGE FOOTBALL STADIUMS

5) OLE MISS REBELS (6.09)

The Rebels cracked the top four on only five of 13 ballots despite their breakthrough 23-17 win over Alabama. “Couldn’t rationalize giving them a higher spot till they pass another stern SEC test,” said Stone. “I’m leery that ‘Bad Bo [Wallace]’ was on vacation last week and will return to Oxford soon enough.” Davis was one of those wowed by Ole Miss. “Tough, gritty, gutty, pick your adjective — it fit Ole Miss on Saturday,” he said. Still, there remains considerable skepticism of Wallace. “Bo Wallace played a fantastic game [against Alabama], but there is absolutely no way he will play at that level the whole season,” said Klatt.

6) NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (4.45)

Notre Dame moved to 5-0 by beating Stanford, 17-14, in Week 6 and now gets North Carolina at home before going to Florida State on Oct. 18 for a potential matchup of undefeated teams. How have the Irish won? Defense and super quarterback play. Said Quinn: “The Irish are one of the top defenses in the entire country, especially in the red zone. That and the maturation of Everett Golson, who’s 16-1 in games he’s played, gives the Irish [a chance] to enter the College Football Playoff.” The FSU game and regular-season finale at USC, in particular, will significantly affect the Irish’s playoff case. Given their talent, says Ryan Nece, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Notre Dame climbed into the top three soon.

7) TCU HORNED FROGS (4.00)

Gary Patterson has always put together quality defenses, and this year’s version ranks third in the country in yards per play allowed (3.84), but it’s QB Trevone Boykin’s “development along with the new offensive system that has made TCU a legit contender,” said Klatt. Boykin is completing 61.5 percent of his passes with 10 TDs and two picks for the 4-0 Horned Frogs. “Boykin is no longer an athlete playing the position — he’s truly a QB on the rise,” said Davis. Coming up this weekend is another huge test at Baylor.

8) ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (2.73)

The Tide fell in Oxford this past weekend, 23-17, but as Travis says, “the way things are looking in the first year of the playoff that’s far from a loss that eliminates Alabama from winning the title.” Now Alabama goes to Arkansas this weekend, where its defense will be challenged by a Hogs running game that averages 6.91 yards per carry, fifth-best in the country. “The more troubling thought is that the Bama D couldn’t stop BO WALLACE,” said Klatt.

9) ARIZONA WILDCATS (2.00)

Week 6 was an “incredible weekend and one we will never forget,” as Brando put it, and Arizona kicked it off by beating then-No. 2 Oregon in Eugene last Thursday. Now the question becomes if the Wildcats will get too much respect for one win. “I am already kicking myself because they’re the most overrated team in the top 10,” said Klatt. “They barely beat UTSA and Cal!” Davis is a little more favorable to the Wildcats, saying the Oregon win, “wasn’t a fluke – it was earned. The skeptics still abound, and understandably so, but they can quell the naysayers this weekend by beating USC at home.”

10) MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (1.27)

Michigan State is on the perimeter of the playoff discussion for now but is in position to rise with a softer schedule than most other contenders. “If the Spartans win out, they would move into the playoff if any of the current top four lose,” said Papadakis. They notched a good win over Nebraska this past weekend but left an opportunity to make a dominant impression on the table by letting the Huskers back into the game and needing a defensive stop to secure a 27-22 win at home. “I think they are very good, but that finish will linger in the minds of the public,” said Davis. “At Purdue on Saturday, and the Boilermakers may pay the price.”

Other teams receiving votes: Oregon (0.82), Oklahoma (0.82), Georgia (one 10th-place vote).

Teams with Top 4 votes: Auburn (13), FSU (12), Baylor (9), Mississippi State (8), Ole Miss (5), TCU (2), Notre Dame (2), Arizona (1).

COY WIRE’S ONE UP, ONE DOWN

Trending up: Notre Dame

With our No. 4 team, Mississippi State, facing our No. 1, Auburn, and our No. 5, Ole Miss, entering Week 7 as a prime upset candidate after recovering from a physical game against Alabama and now traveling to College Station to play Texas A&M, Notre Dame could stomp into the top five after this weekend’s matchups. With its confidence at an all-time high after beating a stout Stanford squad, Notre Dame will roll over North Carolina in South Bend. Though the Tar Heels have some playmakers on offense — like potent WR and return man Ryan Switzer — they’ll be going against Brian VanGorder’s swarming and physical defense that gets better each week in his new scheme. Conversely, UNC’s defense is atrocious. It has allowed 42 points per game, fifth-most in the nation. Notre Dame will move up this week because of style points — lots of them.

Trending down: Mississippi State

Though Dak Prescott showed that he certainly has the potential to be as dynamic through the air as he can be on the ground, completing 76 percent of his passes in the Bulldogs’ 48-31 victory over Texas A&M last weekend, he’ll be facing an Auburn defense that is made up of a different breed of athlete. These guys can play, and the stats back it up. Auburn’s defense ranks in the top 15 nationally in total defense, points allowed, red zone defense, third-down defense and rushing yards allowed. With offensive weapons quarterback Nick Marshall, running back Cameron Artis-Payne, receiver Sammie Coates and crew coming off a 566-yard performance at LSU — the most ever by an Auburn team against LSU — look for War Damn Eagle to hand Mississippi State its first loss of the season.