FOX Four: Week 11 mayhem opens playoff door for TCU; Auburn drops
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 week on FOX & FOX Sports 1 (all times ET): Washington at No. 17 Arizona (3:30, FOX), Texas at Oklahoma State (7:30, FOX), No. 5 TCU at Kansas (3, FS1), North Texas at UTEP (10, FS1).
1) MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS (9.55)
The Bulldogs beat UT-Martin, 45-16, in Week 11 and now take their undefeated record to Tuscaloosa.
Harrington: “With a tough game against Tennessee-Martin, the Bulldogs really built their resume for … this is a joke. The SEC needs to stop playing FCS schools in November.”
Klatt: “I am very close to moving Oregon to this spot, but with more injuries on their O-line, I will give the Bulldogs the benefit of the doubt. The most important thing for Miss. State is that QB Dak Prescott looked healthy for the first time in a couple of weeks. Traveling to Alabama is going to be the toughest test of their season, and next week I fully expect to have a new No. 1!”
Papadakis: “The Bulldogs are undefeated now, but with a less-than-honorable non-conference schedule, I will drop them out of my top four if they lose. Potential obstacles are this week’s game at Alabama and Nov. 29 at Ole Miss. I think the Bulldogs will definitely lose one, and probably BOTH, of these games.”
Travis: “The Bulldogs had an effective bye against UT-Martin. Now the question is: How physically drained will Alabama be after the LSU win? Remember, two years ago Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M pulled off the upset after jumping out to a 20-0 lead the week after the LSU game. Can Mississippi State take similar advantage over the Tide? Bigger picture: If State loses to Alabama, but finishes 11-1, are the Bulldogs in the playoff? I think probably so.”
Brando: “I strongly believe the SEC West implosion will continue. Miss. State will not win out, ‘Bama will lose another game and the tiebreaker clause will be read by many sportscasters on radio and television between now and Dec. 7!”
Stone (had them No. 2): “There has to be some form of punishment for playing University of Tennessee-Martin right? In years past, when the Bulldogs were just a minor player at this point in the season, nobody would have cared, but now more eyeballs are on their schedule. But a win at ‘Bama next weekend will most likely get them back to No. 1 in my book.”
Quinn: “Defeating UT-Martin as expected doesn’t give Mississippi State the bump into the No. 1 spot; rather FSU’s lack of dominance does. It’s time to put MSU at the top for this week, but I don’t expect that to last for long. I believe Alabama will give MSU a tough time this week and continue the implosion of the SEC West.”
Nece: “Yes, they got a win — no surprise. It might as well have been a bye week. While the rest of the country is battling highly ranked opponents in their division, Miss. State cruises to a victory in a pointless game.”
2) FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (9.45)
The Seminoles didn’t look dominant against Virginia, winning 34-20, but they did what they do – win. At 9-0 and without many challenges left, FSU looks like a near lock for the playoff.
Klatt: “The only word to explain the play of the defending national champs this season is lackluster! In 2013, it was easy to explain away the weak FSU schedule with the sheer dominance with which they performed. The only reason they are undefeated and at No. 3 in my poll is because of the extraordinary play of QB Jameis Winston.”
Leinart: “Not pretty again, but why would FSU want to be pretty? This has been their formula all year — win in any fashion. They are getting the job done.”
Davis: “Twenty-five straight wins, and they are running out of true challenges. At Miami on Saturday, and many expect the ‘Canes to press FSU for four quarters. I’m not one of those people.”
Quinn: “They had a bit of a scare against unranked Virginia, as Winston continues to be careless with the football, which is the last thing you want to do at this point in the season. They do not have any tests until the ACC championship game, but I don’t see that matchup (whoever it is) being as easy as originally thought.”
3) OREGON DUCKS (7.91)
The Ducks survived a test in Salt Lake City with ease, beating the Utes 51-27 to claim the Pac-12 North title.
Wannstedt: “If you’re not giving Florida State and Mississippi State credit for being unbeaten, then in my opinion Oregon would be the best team in the country. Impressive wins against Michigan State, UCLA and Utah.”
Harrington: “Oregon pulled away in the fourth quarter from a very good Utah team, which tells me they have rebuilt the confidence that was lacking during the middle part of the season. Unfortunately, the injury bug came back to bite them again. All-America center Hroniss Grassu and tight end Pharaoh Brown both sustained what looked to be major and possibly season-ending injuries, which have the potential to derail the Ducks like earlier this season.”
Papadakis: “With a bye and then regular-season games against weaklings Colorado and Oregon State, the Ducks have four weeks to heal up for the Pac-12 title game. Oregon has won the Pac-12 North and will be a prohibitive favorite over whichever team wins the South division.”
Leinart: “I was tempted to put them at No. 2. This was a huge trap game, and once again they put 51 points on a very good defense. Marcus Mariota is in a zone, and their defense is playing better.”
Quinn: “Mariota puts this Duck team on his back week after week. His efficiency in the passing game is at a masterful level, and he shows his versatility running the football. He’s the most deserving of the Heisman and will be the front-runner after MSU loses this week. After Week 11’s dominant win, it’s safe to say the Ducks are here to stay.”
Feldman: “The Ducks traveled to No. 17 Utah and won by 24. They’ve faced three top 20 teams — two of them on the road — and won all three by double digits. That’s strong.”
4) TCU HORNED FROGS (6.73)
In a game between two top-seven teams, Kansas State offered no challenge for the Frogs, who won by 21 and now have a relatively clear path to 11-1.
Wannstedt: “TCU is the most explosive team in the country in all three phases – offense, defense and special teams. It was without a starting running back and wide receiver against the No. 1 defense in the Big 12, and QB Trevone Boykin carried the team to a decisive victory.”
Brando: “The committee is going to have a dilemma in the end with TCU and Baylor. My gut feeling is if both win out, the committee will go with Baylor since they own the tiebreaker, but TCU appears more deserving and played a stronger non-conference schedule.”
Stone: “They’ve played five ranked opponents in six weeks, with only a slim loss to Baylor as a negative. I have a bad feeling this team might be the one-loss side that gets really screwed, because all they have left are non-winning-record teams and no Big 12 title game. Plenty of teams below TCU have ample opportunities to jump them down the line.”
Davis: “Having seen this team in person three times now, I have to try my best to step back and make sure that I’m not too close in order to see the big picture. OK, here goes: This team is good enough to beat anyone in the nation. They leave the state of Texas for the second and last time in the regular season this Saturday and head to Kansas. They still need to win with style to avoid losing spots in the College Football Playoff poll.”
Feldman: “Gary Patterson’s team keeps rolling, notching their fourth win over a ranked team in the past six weeks. The 21-point win over K-State sets them up pretty well, and their 30-7 win at Minnesota looks better after the Gophers’ dominant performance against Iowa moved them to 7-2.”
Mandel: “Boykin and the offense continue to dazzle, racking up 553 yards on Kansas State. I’m comfortable keeping the Frogs ahead of Baylor despite the head-to-head loss — due to TCU’s stronger schedule to date — but might revisit if both teams win out.”
5) ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (6.27)
Nick Saban’s team did what Ole Miss couldn’t by winning at LSU 20-13 in overtime and now prepares for a finish that includes Miss. State and Auburn.
Klatt: “The Tide showed some guts late in that ugly game against LSU to drive down the field and force overtime. They are MUCH better at home and with Mississippi State and Auburn having to come into Tuscaloosa, they have a great chance to win the SEC West and play for their second SEC title in three years.”
Harrington: “Again, not impressive against LSU, but a win. Should they win their game coming up against Mississippi State, that would be enough for me to put them ahead of TCU — but not until then.”
Travis: “The Tide survived at LSU. Now will Alabama be able to take down Mississippi State and Auburn to win the SEC West? Here’s one vote for yes.”
Brando: “Alabama’s got too many issues. Much like the Arkansas win, they were anemic offensively while finding a way against an LSU team that botched late-game clock management from the moment T.J. Yeldon fumbled.”
Davis: “For those who love the SEC, Alabama’s OT win at LSU was good, old-fashioned Southern football. To many others, it was ugly to watch. Whichever side you come down on, Alabama has three games left, all at home. Sweep those and win the SEC title game, and ‘Bama is IN. Their ‘make their case’ run starts Saturday, in Tuscaloosa, against No. 1 Mississippi State — and they will be favored.”
Nece: “Found a way to win on the road in a hostile environment. The game looked over late, but Blake Sims showed composure and character to help drive his team down for the game-tying FG and then in overtime throwing the game-winning TD. It wasn’t a pretty win, but an ugly win on the road against a solid team keeps their hopes alive.”
Mandel: “The Tide gutted out a win at LSU, which some people may nitpick, but winning at Death Valley by any margin is a feat unto itself. ‘Bama has a chance to shoot up my ballot if it beats Mississippi State.”
6) BAYLOR BEARS (4.64)
Remember when Baylor-Oklahoma was a highly anticipated game? The 11 a.m. local kick was never in doubt for the Bears, who pounded OU 48-14.
Harrington: “The debate about their schedule should be ending soon. Baylor went into Norman and absolutely dominated the team that many considered to be the best two-loss team in college football. If they beat Kansas State to close out the season, that would be enough in my mind to jump them ahead of TCU and most likely into the top four.”
Klatt: “Similar to what FSU did to a weak slate in 2013, Baylor has been dominant outside of the penalty-plagued day in Morgantown. They became the first team in history to score 34-plus points on Oklahoma in four consecutive seasons. Bryce Petty made great decisions all day and they control their own destiny in the Big 12, while holding the all-important tiebreaker over TCU. Depending what happens in the SEC championship game, there is now a very small possibility that we could see two Big 12 teams in the playoff.”
Papadakis: “The 21-point, fourth quarter comeback against TCU and now winning at Oklahoma has vaulted the Bears to my No. 6 — for now. If Baylor wins out, capping its season with a victory over K-State, then I would vote the Bears ahead of TCU.”
Leinart: “The Bears make the biggest jump this week by adding a quality road win against OU. Beat K-State and suddenly they are Big 12 champs and own the head-to-head against TCU. I can imagine the committee is hoping both Baylor and TCU finishing 11-1 doesn’t happen.”
Davis: “In a weekend of many impressive victories, Baylor’s dismantling of Oklahoma in Norman was as impressive as any. Surgical precision and dominant on both sides of the ball. Petty and WR Corey Coleman played a virtual game of pitch-and-catch to great effectiveness, and it was a reminder to all that the defending Big 12 champs reside in Waco, Texas.”
7) ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (4.18)
ASU sent a statement across the country with its 55-31 dismantling of Notre Dame and now returns its attention to three remaining Pac-12 games, with every goal still in play.
Klatt: “Todd Graham has done as good a job as any coach in America at getting an inexperienced defense to play to the level it has. Five turnovers, which were turned into 28 points, against the Irish was the difference. Taylor Kelly looks healthy finally, and that allows ASU to run the ball much more effectively, as D.J. Foster had 120 yards.”
Travis: “The Sun Devils crushed Notre Dame, which will finally silence Fighting Irish fans for another season. Thank God the Irish didn’t lose a close game, because if that happened the Irish would have definitely been in the playoff.”
Leinart: “The Arizona game will be tough, but win that and beat Oregon in Pac-12 championship game and they have as good a case as anybody. Suddenly their defense is one of the best and most opportune.”
Stone: “Their one loss to UCLA is getting enhanced a bit lately with the Bruins’ success, but only ranked Arizona remains on their schedule ahead of a probable Pac-12 championship game with Oregon. As impressive as the win over Notre Dame was, the Irish have been on the decline for weeks, and it didn’t give ASU as much of a boost as hoped.”
Nece: “They may no longer be flying under the radar with the whooping they put on ND. This is team that is playing well in all three phases of the game. Right now, they are playing at an elite level and can hold their own with anyone in the country.”
Feldman: “The Sun Devils have come a long way, especially on D, since getting clobbered by UCLA at home earlier in the season. If ASU can win out, beating Arizona and then Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, they’re going to the playoff.”
Mandel: “I’m done being skeptical of the Sun Devils’ defense. They flew all over the place and forced five turnovers against Notre Dame. That UCLA loss is now a distant memory.”
8) OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (3.00)
Pat Narduzzi and the Michigan State D are human after all, as they had no answer for the Buckeyes, who won in East Lansing 49-37.
Wannstedt: “If you take into consideration losing Heisman candidate and team leader Braxton Miller for the season, since Week 2 NOBODY has played better football than Ohio State.”
Klatt: “Along with ASU, they are on the short list of most improved teams in the country since September. J.T. Barrett made some huge mistakes against Virginia Tech and Penn State, but he was lights out against Michigan State. The Buckeyes have put themselves into the playoff discussion, but they will need some help over the last four weeks of the season to get the invite. A bigger question for Urban Meyer is who will be the Ohio State QB in 2015 – Barrett or Braxton Miller?”
Papadakis: “The Buckeyes’ victory in East Lansing is one of the most impressive road wins in the nation this year. With Barrett’s enormous improvement, that September loss to Va. Tech is forgiven in my book.”
Brando: “Gotta give the Buckeyes with Barrett credit, but they need too much help and in my mind the Big Ten title game took a major hit with Michigan State losing.”
Stone: “Since their bad Week 2 home loss to Va. Tech, they’ve dropped at least 49 points in all but one of their games. They are at an underrated Minnesota this week, then need a strong, respected one-loss Nebraska team to meet them in the Big Ten title game.”
Quinn: “Shocking, right? OSU has played some of the best football of any team in the country. Barrett is making a case for him to play QB for the Buckeyes after this year — even if Miller returns. Michigan State was a formidable opponent, and OSU went into East Lansing and beat them with relative ease. Their one loss to Va. Tech will hurt, but the committee doesn’t seem to care about who you lost to, but rather who you beat. MSU is nice to have on your resume, and so will Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game.”
Feldman: “Winning at Michigan State the way the Buckeyes did, lighting up the Spartans’ vaunted D, was quite a statement and shows just how far this young offense has come from that September debacle against Va. Tech. The problem is the rest of the Big Ten is so mediocre that OSU may not have enough on its resume to push past FSU, a one-loss Pac-12 champ, potentially two one-loss Big 12 teams or maybe even a two-loss SEC champ.”
9) AUBURN TIGERS (1.81)
Two fumbles on their final two possessions created a nightmare loss for the Tigers, as they dropped one at home to the Aggies, 41-38.
Wannstedt: “The loss to Texas A&M was a fluke. Auburn will get a chance to prove that against Alabama.”
Papadakis: “I haven’t bought into Auburn all year. I’ve had them in my top 10 but not my top five. Why? Over the last four games, Auburn has allowed 38, 35, 31 and 41 points. Effectively two-and-a-half games behind Miss. State in the SEC West, Auburn would need a miracle to win the division.”
Quinn: “They’re tested coming out of the SEC West, but they gave away this game to Texas A&M. I believe they have a quality win in them left against Alabama, but they will not be part of the playoff after this second loss.”
Mandel: “The Tigers’ bend-but-don’t-break defense finally imploded against Texas A&M freshman quarterback Kyle Allen. But the Tigers’ two-loss resume is still stronger than several one-loss teams.”
10) OLE MISS REBELS (0.91)
The Rebels played a bad team and won by a lot of points.
Travis: “Ole Miss lost on the road to LSU by three and lost at home to Auburn by four. So the Rebels are a touchdown away from being undefeated. They also boast a win over Alabama.”
Quinn: “Another battle-tested SEC West team makes its way back into the top 10. I don’t believe Nebraska deserves to be in the top 10 given their weak schedule in the weakest division of the Big Ten. Ole Miss has another big win in them against Miss. State in the Egg Bowl to end the regular season. That will throw a wrench in this whole deal, and I can’t wait!”
Feldman: “A win over Presbyterian isn’t going to impress any playoff committee member, but the attrition around the Rebels in the rankings helps, especially since they do own a win over ‘Bama and still have a game with unbeaten Miss. State remaining.”
Mandel: “Nice job against Presbyterian.”
Other teams receiving votes: Nebraska (0.73), UCLA (two 10th-place votes), Georgia (one 10th-place vote), Duke (one 10th-place vote), Notre Dame (one 10th-place vote).
Teams with top-four votes: Mississippi State (13), Florida State (13), Oregon (13), TCU (9), Alabama (5).
COY WIRE’S ONE UP, ONE DOWN
Trending up: Georgia
Stepping out of the 13-member committee’s top 10 to snag a Georgia team that will likely make an appearance in next week’s rankings. After losing in their rivalry game against Florida, the Dawgs bounced back in a major way by going on the road to crush Kentucky 63-31. Nick Chubb (895 yards and a 6.7-yard average) and Sony Michel (307 yards and a 7.9-yard average) have filled in admirably for Todd Gurley, but the beast is back for the matchup with Auburn between the hedges in Athens. Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has familiarity with Tigers’ impressive offense, as he was the architect of the national championship defense at FSU last season when the ‘Noles battled Auburn in the title game. Look for the Dawgs to pull off the upset and crack next week’s top 10 with a solid game plan from Pruitt and the return of Gurley.
Trending down: Mississippi State
It will have been 35 days since Mississippi State faced Auburn and the caliber of team — and athletes — that they’ll face when they take on the Crimson Tide this weekend. Games against Kentucky, Arkansas and UT-Martin have gotten them wins, but they may not have gotten them as game-ready as they need to be to beat ‘Bama. Dak Prescott hasn’t been sharp (60 percent completion percentage with four TDs and three INTs) over that span either. The Tide may be a tad drained — physically and emotionally — after their nighttime victory in Death Valley over LSU (becoming only the fourth team to do so against a Les Miles-coached Tigers team), but they were coming off a bye and now their confidence will be sky-high. Look for the Bulldogs to suffer their first loss of the season on the road in Tuscaloosa.