FOX Four: Oregon knocks FSU out of top spot, Baylor enters playoff
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): TCU at Texas (Thursday, 7:30, FS1), ASU at Arizona (Friday, 3:30, FOX), Western Kentucky at Marshall (Friday, Noon, FS1), Notre Dame at USC (Saturday, 3:30, FOX), West Virginia at Iowa State (Saturday, Noon, FS1), Kansas at Kansas State (Saturday, 4 p.m., FS1), Washington at Washington State (Saturday, 10:30, FS1).
1) OREGON DUCKS (9.10)
The Ducks crushed Colorado, 44-10, in Week 13.
Feldman: "Whipping Colorado doesn't get the Ducks a spot here, but they have three double-digit wins over ranked teams and two of them were on the road, including a game where they led UCLA 42-10 in the fourth quarter."
Papadakis: “The Ducks will be heavily favored in the Civil War against Oregon State and over the Pac-12 South winner in the conference title game. Since Oregon went to the up-tempo speed option offense in 2007, I believe this is the best Ducks team yet! And that's because Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota is best quarterback in Oregon history.”
Stone: “Wins over what I believe will be top-10 teams Michigan State and UCLA, coupled with their recent domination of their schedule (six straight games with at least 42 points in double-digit wins), earn them the top spot. They have a solid chance to win college football's treble (conference champion, Heisman winner, national title).”
Quinn: “Handled Colorado, which should bode well for the ‘eye test’ by the committee. Mariota continues his masterful play on his way to a Heisman Trophy. The Arizona loss doesn't look quite as bad after the Wildcats pounded a beat-up Utah team. Winning in Corvaills is no easy task, just as Arizona State, so the Ducks have some work to do, and one should expect their probable matchup vs. UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game to be closer than their previous matchup.”
Klatt: “Every week their lone loss continues to look better and better while 'Bama’s loss looks worse and worse. Mariota is playing his best football and, unlike last year at this time, he is healthy. No team has beaten Oregon in the last two years when a HEALTHY Mariota is under center. The defense is not strong, but they get enough stops to allow the offense ample opportunities.”
2) FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (9.00)
Florida State had another close win, beating Boston College 20-17 at home.
Travis (had FSU sixth): “The focus on FSU off the field has served to camouflage how bad they've actually been on the field this season. If I'd take the Arkansas Razorbacks head-to-head against FSU right now -- Vegas says FSU would be a 1.5-point favorite on a neutral field -- how in the world can I justify putting FSU in my playoff? Put simply, I can't. I think every team I have in my top 10 right now would beat FSU on a neutral field next week. If Ohio State had played decently against Indiana, I'd have the Buckeyes above FSU too. FSU's not very good against the run, and Florida will line up and run it at them 50 times on Saturday. So will Georgia Tech a week later. If the Seminoles get past both those teams, I think FSU will get blown out by either Alabama or Oregon in the first round of the playoff. But I'm really not sure the Seminoles will make it past Florida or Georgia Tech.”
Feldman: “No one else in the Power 5 leagues has managed to avoid stumbling. The 'Noles keep finding ways to grind out wins and rally from deficits. No, their schedule isn't eye-popping, but they do have wins over two teams ranked in the committee's top 25, which is one more than 'Bama has.”
Papadakis: “I don't necessarily believe Florida State will win the playoff, but FSU is the only team that ALWAYS finds a way to win and is the only undefeated team left. No one has beaten FSU since 2012, and the 2014 'Noles carry that burden into EVERY game. There is an eerier coincidence looming in this week's game from 10 years ago: The 2004 Florida Gators were being coached by fired lame duck Ron Zook, and the Gators went into Tallahassee and beat No. 8 Florida State, 20-13, to ‘win one for the Zooker.’ Ten years later, Will Muschamp is Florida's lame duck coach and the Seminoles know if history repeats itself they could fall out of the playoff mix.”
Leinart: “Week 13 was the first time I thought the Seminoles may stumble, and then I realized they love games like this. They are playing with fire every week, but will they get burned? They remain undefeated, and that's more than any other team can say with exception to Marshall. At the end of the day, that's all that matters.”
Stone: “Three straight late wins by four points or fewer will be fodder for their critics, but all I see when I look at their win/loss record are W's.”
Harrington: “I truly don't care what you have to say about any other team. Florida State is the only undefeated team in college football. As much as you may hate the way they win, that doesn't change the fact that they win. Last I checked, winning all your games makes you the champion. Did I mention they're the only team that hasn't lost yet?”
Davis: “They are NOT the most impressive team, but they ARE the last Power 5 undefeated team. They are being held to last year's standard and are still No. 1 in my book. Winning the game is still the object, correct?”
Brando: “I've seen enough and believe Georgia Tech's chances will be really good against them. Count me among the non-believers that they can keep this up. A rejuvenated Florida with no pressure to save Muschamp may be just the ticket for a huge upset come Rivalry Saturday. If FSU does win that one, don't think Georgia Tech is an easy take in the ACC title game.”
Wannstedt: “FSU is again 11-0 and the reigning champs. In 39 years of coaching, I must have missed something between those national championships and Super Bowls -- I thought the object was to win the game.”
Klatt: “Just another win by six points or fewer for FSU, their fifth such win of the season. Jameis Winston was clutch once again, but as Mike Pereira correctly pointed out, he should have been ejected earlier in the game after shoving an official. Some will argue that they may get passed by the one-loss teams and miss the playoff, but there is no way that should happen. If they remain unbeaten, they will play in a semifinal game. The argument some have made that THIS team deserves to be ranked No. 1, however, is absurd. Last year has no bearing on this season, and the accomplishments of THAT team should not be used to prop up a team that has no idea how to dominate opponents.”
3) ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (8.91)
Alabama walked through Week 13 with a 48-14 win over Western Carolina.
Mandel: “I agree with Jeff Long’s assessment that the Tide are the nation’s most complete team right now, though maybe not his specific reference to kicking. Nick Saban certainly won’t want the Iron Bowl coming down to a last-second FG.”
Leinart: “Shaking my head at the fact they get away with playing Western Carolina in late November, as well as the rest of the SEC. Everyone complains about FSU and how they play, well, we should start penalizing the SEC for playing FCS schools in late November. JOKE!"
Stone: “How can I reward a team with a No. 1 ranking when the character of their previous wins gets lessened each week and then they beat an FCS team? No disrespect to the many fine FCS teams out there, but they should have ZERO relevance to this conversation and should be judged as a negative if you face them.”
Harrington: “Arkansas' thrashing of Ole Miss does not bode well for Alabama's resume. The team that beat Alabama has now lost three games with another tough one coming up against Mississippi State. Maybe the SEC West isn't as good as everyone originally thought. Sorry, I forgot I'm not allowed to say that! Good thing Alabama took care of Western Carolina. That one made me a little nervous.”
Quinn: “Their only loss this season is to Ole Miss, and that doesn't seem quite as justifiable after the Rebels got crushed vs. Arkansas in Fayetteville. The SEC West was arguably the best division in the FBS. I say WAS because Alabama is the only team that is able to control games, while the rest of the division seems inconsistent. Last test of the regular season is against Auburn, then they will face a lesser SEC opponent in the conference championship game.”
Klatt: “We all hope Amari Cooper is OK after a scare in the win over Western Carolina (yes, Western Carolina on Nov. 22). Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have not had much success against up-tempo spread offenses over the last couple of years, and that is what they will see in this week’s Iron Bowl. The biggest question I have for the Tide is in regards to their QB, who has been steady but will need to be great if they want to win a national championship.”
4) BAYLOR BEARS (6.09)
Baylor had no issues with Oklahoma State, beating the Cowboys, 49-28, in Waco.
Papadakis: “I'm sticking to my story: If Baylor beats Texas Tech and Kansas State, then I WILL vote the Bears ahead of TCU (by following the playoff committee's criteria of head-to-head results and emphasizing conference champions). Baylor’s non-conference schedule is flimsy, but winning a Power 5 conference title carries a lot of weight over teams that didn't win one. I expect the Bears to score 70 or more against Texas Tech this week, and I expect a violent game against K-State.”
Stone: “Wins over ranked TCU and Oklahoma coupled with their mystical 'game control' excellence in the last three games makes them more than top-four worthy.”
Quinn: “Another team that passed the ‘eye test’ this week for the committee by taking care of Oklahoma State. Anyone think Baylor can score more than 82 on Texas Tech this week? I do and expect the Bears to jump TCU in the polls if not this week then in the next two weeks.”
Brando: “Bill Snyder's team should be sent a thank-you card for Thanksgiving for surviving an uneven performance in Morgantown and beating WVU. Baylor gets to close its season Dec. 6 against a top-10 K-State, and that W would really help them and TCU, as well.”
Wannstedt: “Their competition is good enough to merit this ranking, and the head-to-head win over TCU must count for something. Baylor’s umbers on offense and defense are as good as anyone’s. The Kansas State game should settle this discussion.”
Klatt: “The only team ranked in the top seven that has multiple wins over ranked opponents with one of those wins coming against another top-seven team is Baylor. They have also dominated their schedule to a greater extent than any other top-seven team this season. The biggest difference between this team and the previous Art Briles squads is the fact they play outstanding defense. They’re one of the best home teams in all of CFB, and getting Kansas State at home is enormous. The winner of that game will own a share of the Big 12 conference championship.”
5) TCU HORNED FROGS (6.00)
TCU was off in Week 13.
Travis: “Early upset call: Texas beats TCU on Thanksgiving night. If that happens, then the door swings wide open for Baylor to be the sole champion of the Big 12. We've got this game on FS1, and it should be a really good one.”
Mandel: “The Horned Frogs’ non-conference win over Minnesota -- now 8-3 -- is proving to be quite the feather in its cap. It’s also even more impressive in hindsight that they crushed K-State the way they did.”
Stone: “Out of sight, out of mind is no way to go through life, but that's this week’s reality for TCU. Turkey Day at a resurgent Texas team will get the spotlight back on a team that has all the on-field capabilities to be a top-four team, but their time to move up is growing short.”
Harrington (had TCU fourth): “They've beaten three teams in the Top 25 (Kansas State, Oklahoma and Minnesota), and their only loss is to Baylor. TCU’s resume far outweighs anyone else who could claim the No. 4 spot. Baylor is the only other team that has the right to that spot, and if they beat Kansas State to finish the season, they should get it -- but not till then.”
Wannstedt: “It's amazing what a week off will do in rankings. TCU is as good as any of top four in my opinion, but the week off and head-to-head loss to Baylor puts them behind the Bears.”
Klatt: “A remarkable season for Gary Patterson and TCU, but with Baylor owning the head-to-head tiebreaker, I do not see a way into the playoff without some serious chaos in front of them. If TCU is put into the playoff over Baylor, it will be an incredible injustice and create a landscape in CFB that I do not want to be a part of! We would then be living in a world that devalues the simple question: WHO WON THE GAME?”
6) MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS (5.45)
After losing to Alabama in Week 12, Miss. State bounced back and crushed Vanderbilt 51-0 in Week 13.
Travis: “Mississippi State delivered the most dominating performance of the SEC season, totally crushing Vanderbilt 51-0. Now State enters the Egg Bowl with a chance to post an 11-1 record and wait around for a week to see if that will be good enough to make the playoff. Will it? Here's one vote for yes.”
Feldman: “Blowing out a woeful Vandy team probably won't impress many, especially since the best W’s on their resume (LSU, Auburn and A&M) all have struggled of late. Also, with Ole Miss plummeting, having lost three in a row against FBS opponents, the Egg Bowl won't afford them as much of a boost as it looked like it would've a month ago.”
Papadakis: “After crushing Vanderbilt, I'm keeping the Bulldogs at No. 7. Their WEAK non-conference schedule gave them wiggle room in my book. Even with a win over rival Ole Miss in this week's Egg Bowl, I can't move Mississippi State above any other one-loss team.”
Leinart: “The Egg Bowl doesn't look so promising anymore, does it? Beating a three-loss Ole Miss team that just got its lunch taken and thrown in a trash can by Arkansas doesn't look so great.”
Harrington: “With only one win against a Top 25 team, I have a hard time putting them in the top four. Yes, their loss was to Alabama, but no matter how you may feel about the SEC, they simply haven't won as many quality games as Baylor and TCU.”
Davis: “Need a big win at Mississippi to really put the pressure on the committee to take a team that may not be a conference champion. MSU's resume does stack up, though.”
Quinn: “An easy win verses Vanderbilt should prime the Bulldogs for a beatdown vs. Ole Miss this week. They will have to go to Oxford to get the win, but the Rebels are wounded and their run defense has been exposed in three separate losses to LSU, Auburn and now Arkansas. Expect Dak Prescott to use his feet more than his arm next week, but this will open up the play-action game as well.”
Wannstedt: “I was impressed with the bounce-back SEC win over Vanderbilt. If they remain at one loss, not having the conference championship game on their resume will and should hurt them. I see them in a possible similar place as TCU.”
7) OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (4.55)
The Buckeyes needed a flurry of Jalin Marshall touchdowns in the final 17-plus minutes to beat Indiana 42-27.
Travis: “The Buckeyes struggled with Indiana, trailing late in the third quarter against a winless Big Ten team. As if that wasn't enough, Virginia Tech lost to Wake Forest 6-3 in overtime. This means Tech is now 5-6 on the season. I'm sorry, when you lose by 14 points to a team that may well finish with a losing record, how in the world can you make a four-team playoff? I understand it was early in the season, but so what? Mizzou lost to Indiana early in the year, too. Some losses are so bad they kill any argument you might have to play for a title. The committee ought to just make this a rule: If you lose at home by double digits to a team that goes 6-6 or worse, you aren't allowed to play for the title. Period.”
Mandel: “I’m not sure why the committee elevated the Buckeyes over Baylor. They’re still at the bottom of the one-loss pack in my mind.”
Leinart (had Ohio State fourth): “I am not worried about how they played against Indiana. The way they finished the last 17 minutes of that game was in dominant fashion. I look at what they have done from their loss against Virginia Tech to now, and it is an impressive streak. Their offense is scary good when they are on. They can line up with anyone in CFB and win.”
Davis: “Making a strong playoff push, but if TCU lost ground with a shaky win at Kansas last week, what's to be done with OSU, as they struggled with Indiana into the fourth quarter?”
Wannstedt: “Very similar to how I see to Baylor. Ohio State has good competitive wins and is an improved team on offense and defense. They will stake their claim to the top four if they win the Big Ten championship. I am looking to see if Baylor and Ohio State end the year with one loss, does the conference championship win add to their resume? I believe it should.”
Klatt: “J.T. Barrett continues his outstanding season and will, most likely, find himself in New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He has now accounted for 42 TDs, which ties a Big Ten record set by Drew Brees. Indiana made the game close, but in reality it was a great player in Tevin Coleman making some huge plays against the Buckeyes’ D. Ohio State is fifth in the country in scoring offense, and they show no signs of slowing down. Also, they continue to get some help from their conference as Wisconsin and Minnesota won last week.”
8) UCLA BRUINS (2.45)
The Bruins dominated rival USC 38-20, to win their third straight against the Trojans and clear one more hurdle on the way to a Pac-12 championship game berth.
Mandel: “The Bruins played their most complete game of the year in the win over USC. They’re 9-2 against an extremely tough schedule, and I will have no problem jumping them over one-loss teams if they win the Pac-12.”
Leinart: “I hate to say it, but if they beat Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 championship, they could make as strong of a playoff argument as anyone. Hurts my stomach to say that.”
Brando: “There's no doubt the hottest team in the back half of my top 10 is UCLA. My preseason No. 1, the Bruins are 'very close to being great,' Jim Mora said before my call of the Washington game. Their rout of USC is an attention grabber. The likelihood of a rematch with Oregon gives them a clear path towards a huge jump between now and Dec. 7 to the fourth position in the standings.”
Wannstedt: “A much-improved team from earlier in the season, UCLA’s offense and defense are playing with more conviction in who they are as a team.”
Papadakis: “The Bruins are the best two-loss team in the country. I believe UCLA will win the Pac-12 South division with a win over Stanford on Friday. If the Bruins then beat Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, they could still advance to the playoff if four or five teams currently above them lose. It's not so far-fetched.”
9) GEORGIA BULLDOGS (1.27)
Georgia had an essential bye in Charleston Southern, winning 55-9.
Feldman: “OK, so you don't have much to gain facing Charleston Southern other than padding your stats, but the Dawgs do have three nice wins (Clemson, Mizzou and Auburn), and all three were pretty dominant. Then again, they have two pretty bad losses (6-5 South Carolina and getting blown out by 6-4 Florida).”
Davis: “Lost super runner Todd Gurley, but QB Hutson Mason keeps getting better. If they get to the SEC title game, they can cause huge problems for the West division champ.”
Quinn: “These Bulldogs dominated Charleston Southern and move a step closer to the SEC championship game. They need Missouri to lose vs. Arkansas next week for that to happen, which is definitely a possibility.”
Brando: “Georgia's plight for the SEC East got more difficult when Missouri pulled ahead late on Rocky Top Saturday night. The matchup with Arkansas Friday won't be easy, as the Hogs have pitched shutout ball for eight straight quarters.”
10) ARIZONA WILDCATS (0.64)
Arizona earned an impressive road win in Week 13 by hammering Utah 42-10.
Mandel: “I’d probably not been taking the Wildcats seriously enough, but, man, did they clobber Utah in Salt Lake City. And let’s give a little credit to them for beating Oregon for once rather than focusing on the Ducks’ injuries.”
Feldman: “The 'Cats, now 9-2, have the most impressive win of the season -- at Oregon. They also just went on the road to the nation's No. 17 team, Utah, and thumped the Utes by 32. That's a pretty strong road resume, especially when you consider this is one of the youngest teams in the country.”
Harrington: “A dominant performance on the road in Salt Lake looks really good. However, nothing looks as good as that win against Oregon in Autzen Stadium. Unfortunately, the injury to quarterback Anu Solomon may be a problem with a big game coming up against Arizona State.”
Quinn: “Nick Wilson and Anu Solomon proved to be too much for the Utes by accounting for four total TDs, and the Wildcats’ opportunistic defense recovered four turnovers. Rich Rodriguez has his team peaking at the right time. Arizona needs to beat ASU and have UCLA lose this week to win the Pac-12 South. I'd love to see the Wildcats have a rematch verses Oregon to see if they have the Ducks’ number.”
Klatt: “There is not a more surprising team in the country than Arizona. I, for one, did not give them much of a chance to go on the road and beat a tough Utah team in the cold weather, but that is exactly what they did. Solomon left the game in a walking boot, but true freshman Nick Wilson rushed for 218 yards and carried them to a big win. Depending on what happens with UCLA-Stanford, the Duel in the Desert will be for the Pac-12 south title.”
Other teams receiving votes: Kansas State (0.36); Wisconsin (0.18); Michigan State (0.18); Missouri (one 10th-place vote); Arizona State (one 10th-place vote).
Teams with top-four votes: Oregon (13), Alabama (13), Florida State (12), Baylor (5), Baylor (4), Mississippi State (4), Ohio State (1).
COY WIRE’S ONE UP, ONE DOWN
Trending up: Georgia
The Dawgs had a virtual bye last week in their cakewalk through Charleston Southern, so they should be fresh for their rivalry matchup at home against red-hot Georgia Tech, a team ranked No. 18 last week. The Bulldogs lost Gurley -- after just having received him back from suspension -- but that doesn’t matter. Freshman freak Nick Chubb has rushed for 1,152 yards and a 7.2-yard average this season, and he’ll be up against Georgia Tech’s rush defense, which is ranked in the bottom half of the ACC allowing 165 yards per game. It is not going to be easy -- and, frankly, I’m shocked the Bulldogs are favored so heavily in this game -- but if Georgia’s defense can play disciplined football and contain Georgia Tech’s terrific triple-option, UGA could jump up a few spots with inevitable upsets happening to teams currently ahead of them in the rankings.
Trending down: Mississippi State
In a weekend loaded with rivalry games -- and inevitable upsets -- this could be one that breaks the Twitterverse. Florida might get Florida State and Auburn may get Alabama, but Mississippi State will face Ole Miss, which is coming off a game in which they were smashed by Arkansas -- in large part due to six turnovers. The Rebels will be looking to redeem themselves and end their disappointing season with an insanely impactful upset in front of their home crowd in Oxford. The Rebs will have the opportunity to knock their arch nemesis clean out of the committee’s top four and would love nothing more than to do so.
Mississippi State has been perceived to be one of the nation’s best teams for most of the season, but is it? The Bulldogs lost to Alabama, and their best wins didn’t come easy. They beat LSU by five, Arkansas by one score (teams that are currently unranked by the committee) and Auburn thanks to a disastrous start by the Tigers, who turned the ball over on each of their first two possessions. Their non-conference wins are laughable, as they’ve beaten Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and UT-Martin. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if the Rebels hand the Bulldogs their second loss of the season this weekend.