Back-to-back losses to unranked opponents have cost Louisville, first a place in the College Football Playoff rankings, and now, a New Year's Six Bowl … and to add insult to injury, it may have lost that spot to a team it demolished in September.
The Cardinals fell to 13th with Tuesday's release of the penultimate Top 25 — down two spots from a week ago, and eight spots from the week before that — while ACC Atlantic Division rival Florida State jumped to 12th.
That means that should third-ranked Clemson win the ACC Championship Game over No. 23 Virginia Tech on Saturday night in Orlando, the Seminoles will be headed toward the Orange Bowl.
From a momentum standpoint, it makes sense. Florida State rebounded from 5-3 after a three-point loss to Clemson by winning four straight, capped by ripping then-No. 15 Florida — the SEC East champion — 31-13. Meanwhile, Louisville just played arguably its worst two games of the season, falling to Houston 36-10 and Kentucky 41-38.
But the problem is what happened in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Sept. 17. The problem is 63-20.
Lamar Jackson and Co. overwhelmed the Seminoles when they were ranked No. 2 in the nation, but the CFP selection committee's criteria is as listed “when circumstances at the margins indicate that teams are comparable:
• Championships won • Strength of schedule • Head-to-head competition (if it occurred) • Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)
Neither the Cardinals or Seminoles won their division — that went to Clemson — so that's out. As far as SOS, using NCAA.org's cumulative opposition winning percentage, Florida State ranks fourth (behind only Tennessee, Clemson and Ohio State), while Louisville is 91st. The only metric that should truly matter here is the one that's plain as day — 63-20 — but the CFP's brain trust didn't look there.
“Strength of schedule is significant, the separation there,” said selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt. “Florida State has played a much tougher schedule. Louisville does hold the head-to-head … so we talked about in the eyes of the selection committee who is the better football team at this particular time, and that is Florida State. Strength of schedule was a factor there but also as to how those two teams have played in recent weeks.”
Credit Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles for turning things around and avoiding the first three-loss ACC season under his watch. The defense finally figured things out minus safety Derwin James, and over the last four games allowed an average of 13.5 points and over the final three weeks, limited opponents to just 194 yards per game.
Those are dramatic shifts given that after the 37-34 loss to Clemson on Oct. 29, Florida State was allowing 403.9 yards (65th in FBS) and 29.9 points (79th).
The Seminoles ended the year looking as impressive as they did in that opening win over then-No. 11 Ole Miss … but impressive enough to wipe away a 43-point loss and be ranked ahead of the team that took them down?
It was enough to win over the 12-member selection committee, and ultimately, that's the only audience Florida State need be concerned with.