College Football Playoff rankings: Alabama, Oregon in control, Ohio State has hope

BY Stewart Mandel • November 18, 2014

Another week, another window into the new selection committee evaluation process.

Here are my biggest takeaways from Tuesday’s rankings:

ALABAMA, OREGON SITTING PRETTY

Chairman Jeff Long was unequivocal in announcing the Tide, No. 5 last week, as the committee’s new No. 1 team following its decisive win over then-top-ranked Mississippi State. "We feel like Alabama is the most complete team right now — offense, defense and kicking game,” he said. (I assume he was referring to Alabama’s exceptional punter, J.K. Scott, not 12-of-18 field goal kicker Adam Griffith.) And CFP executive director Bill Hancock tweeted: “Alabama has been close all along. Best résumé as of now.”

The one-loss Tide join the one-loss Ducks above undefeated Florida State, whose résumé Long once again was dismissive of, and they certainly control their playoff destinies.

'GAME CONTROL' MATTERS

It’s not listed among the official criteria, but several times now in discussing a certain team, Long has mentioned the fact it “controlled” a game. I asked Long on Tuesday night’s teleconference for further clarification. He said it’s a subjective term to describe how the committee interprets an outcome — i.e, did the lead change back and forth or did one team control it throughout?

Therefore, FSU’s constant need for second-half rallies likely is hurting its ranking, especially given the lightly regarded opponents it’s facing. Long specifically noted that while the ‘Noles do have two wins over current top-25 teams, they are “against the current 22 [Clemson] and 24 [Louisville], so they are at the back end of the top 25.”

However, one does wonde whether they’re applying this metric selectively. Even in the course of his short ESPN interview, Long both praised Alabama for controlling last weekend’s Mississippi State game throughout but then explained the Bulldogs’ No. 4 ranking in part by saying “you never felt they were out of it.”

MISSISSIPPI STATE NO SURE THING

Mississippi State’s No. 4 but hardly assured of staying there. Long said “the difference between teams four through seven is very narrow.” He’s also reminded us weekly that conference championships will become a factor once it comes time for the final rankings. So even if the Bulldogs beat top-10 Ole Miss in two weeks, that might not be enough to ward off one or more potential one-loss conference champs (TCU, Ohio State or Baylor) just behind them.

COMMITTEE ALL IN ON TCU OVER BAYLOR

If you thought the Horned Frogs’ tougher-than-it-should-have-been win at Kansas would cause the committee to re-evaluate having them ahead of the Bears, well, “At this time the committee doesn’t feel TCU and Baylor’s body of work is comparable enough for head-to-head to kick in.” That doesn’t mean it won’t once both teams actually complete their schedules, especially since they’re only two spots apart now. But it helps TCU that the committee has an inexplicable level of respect for Minnesota, which, despite one of its three losses coming to awful Illinois, remained in the top 25 this week.

OHIO STATE MAY HAVE A CHANCE AFTER ALL

The Buckeyes moved ahead of Baylor and no longer sit at the bottom of the one-loss pack. Long on more than one occasion spoke of how impressed the committee was by Ohio State’s back-to-back wins at Michigan State and Minnesota. The Buckeyes should root for 8-2 Wisconsin (ranked 16th) to win its last two games so they’ll have a chance to add one more quality win away from home in the Big Ten championship game. Still, Mississippi State and Baylor will play at least one team ranked higher than that, so Ohio State still needs help.

IT’S TOUGH BEING THE LITTLE GUY

I certainly saw it coming, but it’s still tough for many to stomach the notion that Marshall can be 10-0, having dominated every team it played, and still not crack the top 25. But the committee said from Day 1 it would emphasize strength of schedule, and there’s no denying the Herd’s is atrocious (141st — worse than 13 FCS teams, according to Jeff Sagarin's rankings.)  Long did say that Marshall was “very close” to cracking the top 25, but he also said the group discussed Memphis, Colorado State, Northern Illinois and Boise State, so we still have no idea whether the Herd are even the most highly regarded Group of 5 team.

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.


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