FOX Four: Should FSU, Oregon or Alabama be nation's No. 1 team?
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): Kansas State at West Virginia (Thursday, 7 p.m., FS1), UTEP at Rice (Friday, 8 p.m., FS1), Oklahoma State at Baylor (6:30 p.m., FOX), Kansas at Oklahoma (Noon, FS1), Stanford at Cal (4 p.m., FS1).
1) FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (9.18)
Another week, another close win for the Seminoles, as they escaped a road trip to Miami with a 30-26 victory.
Travis: “The Seminoles survived against Miami, but FSU's two best wins -- Clemson and Notre Dame -- both lost and will fall out of the Top 25 this week. This means FSU is likely to finish the season without a single Top 25 win. That's pretty tough to pull off. If the committee really values strength of schedule and ‘game control,’ I think there's a small chance they could drop FSU out of the playoff if Baylor, TCU and Ohio State keep winning. Would they be willing to do it? I doubt it.”
Mandel: “At this point, you know what you’re getting with FSU. They fall behind, then come back, in part because they’re so much more talented than the teams they’re playing. They’re not going to be able to pull that act in a playoff game against a top-four opponent. But they deserve to be in the top four.”
Feldman: “I know their resume doesn't have many, or at least at this point, ANY Top 25 opponents on it, but it's not like they're facing all FCS opponents. I get that their ‘best’ win -- over ND -- keeps looking worse as the Irish plummet from the rankings. They're still facing some teams with some talented players, and no matter how much of a hole they find themselves in, they've ALWAYS found a way to win, home or road, and to me that still is a big deal. And I wouldn't pick anyone in college football to beat FSU as long as Jameis Winston's playing on a neutral field.”
Harrington: “Anyone who continues to knock this team because they're not winning in the style they were last year has either never played college football or has forgotten how difficult it is to finish a season undefeated. Florida State has now won 26 games in a row! End of discussion.”
Quinn: “I may be the only one who feels this way, but the Seminoles have remained unbeaten through all sorts of adversity this season. Their QB has yet to be beaten in college football, so for all the naysayers who think FSU is ‘dodging bullets,’ they are wrong. Whether you like FSU, Winston or Jimbo Fisher, it's irrelevant. They are the ONLY undefeated major-conference team and have earned the right to be No. 1 by winning. The Seminoles aren’t winning by luck or chance -- it's resolve. They know how to make adjustments in games and fix their problems when they need to in order to win. Anyone who plays on the big stage knows that's what separates the best teams in the country.”
Davis: “Last undefeated team from a Power 5 conference, they continue to win and extended their undefeated streak to 26 games. Being undefeated makes them No. 1 in my poll, but if they make the ‘Playoff Four,’ I don’t believe they will carry an aura of invincibility with them. Based on their play this season, whoever draws them will feel very good about the matchup.”
Wannstedt: “The 'Noles are still the unbeaten defending national champs, which is why they lead my poll. They have good road wins at Louisville and Miami, and they beat rival Clemson without Winston, which speaks to their talent around the QB.”
Leinart: “They should be No. 1, but I don't think they deserve to be. If we evaluate week by week, I still don't think they play the best football start to finish. But they have what you can't teach – ‘heart’ and the understanding of how to finish football games.”
2) OREGON DUCKS (9.09)
Oregon was off in Week 12.
Travis: “The Ducks had a bye week and have only Colorado and Oregon State left. If the Ducks finish 12-1, they're in the playoff. I have them ranked beneath Alabama because the Tide's road loss at top-10 Ole Miss is better than Oregon's home loss against Arizona. Otherwise, these resumes are very similar.”
Papadakis: “The best one-loss team in America! Oregon has already locked up the Pac-12 North. With games against Colorado and Oregon State, the Ducks have a relatively easy path to the playoff since I consider Oregon a prohibitive favorite against whomever it plays in the Pac-12 title game.”
Quinn (had Ducks No. 3, like last week): “On a bye this week and you want to move them up? You are crazy! I'd rather the Ducks play a directional school than take a week off this late into the season. They shouldn’t be rewarded for not having to face an opponent this late in the season. I'm beginning to doubt the overall strength of the Pac-12 after not seeing any separation between some of the Ducks’ other opponents.”
Brando: “The Pac-12 South is officially in chaos now and virtually wide open after the ASU loss at Oregon State. UCLA has the tiebreaker over both Arizona schools, but do we really wanna see that game again (Oregon/UCLA) in the title game in Santa Clara? Like it or not, that's now in play. The Ducks must respect the Civil War game after Mike Riley's team impressively came from behind against the Sun Devils. The Pac-12 South is now the SEC West light! Balance without dominance.”
Klatt: “With Marcus Mariota at QB, they would beat any team in the country right now, which is why they edge out Alabama in my poll. The defense is not strong, but they don’t have to lean on that unit because of the ability of their talented offense. The bye week came at the perfect time for the Ducks to get healthy after back-to-back games against physical defenses (Utah and Stanford). Win out and the Ducks will be playing in a national semifinal.”
3) ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (8.73)
The Crimson Tide had a big week by knocking off the No. 1 team in the nation, Mississippi State, in Tuscaloosa, 25-20.
Mandel: “The Tide finally got their signature win, dominating the No. 1 team in the country (don’t be fooled by the final score). The offense is inconsistent, but this is a vintage Nick Saban defense. No one will want to face them.”
Papadakis: “The Tide's defense has carried it to victories over LSU and Mississippi State. I like 'Bama to win its scrimmage next week against Western Carolina and then to knock off the overrated Auburn Tigers.”
Stone: “Their old marquee wins (WVU, LSU, A&M) are not as valuable today, but they did just drop No. 1 Miss. State. Tempting to move them up higher, but I had to resist listening to the sirens reminding me about their past glory and tradition.”
Nece: “Nick Saban teams get stronger as the season carries on, and right now Alabama looks like they can beat anyone in the country. Alabama's defense completely shut down the vaunted Mississippi State offense, including Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott. Blake Sims looked like he matured overnight and had a stellar game. If he plays QB moving forward the way he did on Saturday, Lane Kiffin's offense will be very hard to shut down.”
Davis: “Defeated top-ranked Mississippi State at home, to the surprise of almost no one. But they had to work for it after getting out to a 19-0 lead. Now Alabama is the odds-on favorite to win the SEC West and SEC championship game. If Mississippi State wins out, finishing the season with just one loss, the SEC WILL get two teams in the playoff. That’s my prediction, folks.”
Brando: “The good news is Auburn must come to them. The bad news? The Tigers’ scheme is still a problem for Saban and DC Kirby Smart. Even with an Auburn victory, the SEC title game is no gimme. I firmly believe 'Bama will lose one more, and Miss. State will drop the Egg Bowl in Oxford. However, in the here-and-now world of the playoff committee rankings, the Bulldogs should still be in the top four.”
Klatt: “The once-dominant offense has slowed considerably in the last two games. Blake Sims managed the game well, but with Mississippi State on the ropes, the Tide were unable to put them away until late. If they could play everyone at home, then they would be No. 1, but they can’t, so they will have to overcome some shortcomings to win another national title.”
Leinart: “Big win against the No. 1 team in the country (debatable). They are exceptional at home, and that defense is one of the best. Amari Cooper should be in New York after Prescott was eliminated from the Heisman race in this game.”
4) TCU HORNED FROGS (6.09)
The Horned Frogs went on the road to Kansas, and while it wasn’t pretty, they did secure a 34-30 victory to move one step closer to finishing 11-1.
Papadakis: “Even though the Frogs struggled before winning at Kansas, I'm moving them up to fourth – for now. If TCU and Baylor tie for the Big 12 crown, then I would have to advance Baylor over TCU because of the head-to-head win and the conference championship criteria.”
Stone: “Knee-jerk reaction was to punish them for a come-from-behind road win at less-than-flattering Kansas, but with the Big 12 gantlet they've endured, isn't a bit of a letdown, while still getting the result, to be expected?”
Quinn (had TCU fifth): “The Jayhawks, who have only one conference win this season, gave TCU all they could handle before finally pulling away in the final minutes. Give credit to TCU -- some other Big 12 teams don't play quite as well on the road (hmm, Baylor) -- and they came away with a victory by overcoming three turnovers. TCU's test against Texas seems to be more challenging than originally thought. The Longhorns have the defense and the scheme to slow TCU’s high-powered offense. And if that doesn't do it, maybe inclimate weather will? Statistics show the Horned Frogs struggle in cold or bad weather.”
Nece: “Got its first scare on the road against a Kansas team that is average at best, but this may be the test TCU needed to keep the edge needed to finish strong. Anytime you can go on the road and come from behind to win late in the season, it only builds your confidence that you can handle any situation.”
Brando: “Baylor's future may be brighter than TCU's, but if teams in front of them start losing, it's TCU that's got the advantage. Scheduling matters, and the committee is driving that point home. The Big 12 should petition its Autonomous 5 partners for a title game as soon as possible. You can't fix 11-1 versus 12-1, and Ohio State could cost both Baylor and TCU as a result this season.”
Wannstedt: “TCU is the most explosive team in the nation, and its defense makes big plays while the offense is balanced and led by the most underrated player in the country in QB Trevone Boykin. Their resume is better than Baylor’s, but with no conference championship game, Baylor gets my vote (had Baylor fourth, TCU sixth) because of its head-to-head win.”
Leinart: “They struggled against Kansas, and I realistically believe they could lose to Texas!”
5) BAYLOR BEARS (5.82)
The Bears were off in Week 12.
Harrington: “I still contend that if they win out, they're in. While this weekend showed you can never look down the road, if Baylor beats Kansas State to end the season, they will have wins against TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma. That's enough for me. But until that happens, TCU’s decisive non-conference win against a good Minnesota team is enough for me to keep them ahead of Baylor.”
Quinn: “The Big 12 appears less dominant by the week. The Bears took a week off and should not be rewarded for doing so this late in the season. On top of that, they still have to play both Oklahoma State and Kansas State before the year ends. Two tough opponents, but fortunately for the Bears both games are at home.”
Davis: “They will benefit from TCU’s struggle at Kansas (give Clint Bowen the job, Kansas; he deserves it), and the 'TCU’s ahead of Baylor in the poll, but Baylor beat TCU head-to-head!' discussion gets quelled, at least for this week. Baylor’s schedule is catching up as they finish with all Big 12 games, including hosting Oklahoma State Saturday night on FOX.”
Klatt (had them fourth): “With the head-to-head win over TCU and holding the tiebreaker for the Big 12 crown, Baylor moves into the No. 4 spot, especially after TCU had so much trouble with Kansas. They have been dominant this season, having scored 45-plus points and gaining 500-plus in seven of their nine games. Also, their defense is much better than people think, having given up fewer than 21 points in six of nine games this season.”
Wannstedt: “The Bears lost to West Virginia on the road after committing 18 penalties, but they have the most impressive stats on offense, defense and special teams of any of the nation’s top-four teams.”
6) MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS (5.55)
The Bulldogs’ perfect season came to an end in Tuscaloosa in Week 12.
Travis: “Mississippi State has better wins and a better loss than any one-loss team in the country. They outgained Alabama by nearly 100 yards, lost by five on the road against the best team in the country and still have top-10 Ole Miss left on the schedule. If Mississippi State goes 11-1, they'll be in the playoff. I've promised to do FOX Sports Live in a loin cloth if it doesn't happen.”
Mandel: “I thought about keeping the Bulldogs in the top four, as there’s no real shame in losing on the road at Alabama, but their body of work is crumbling. LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn are nowhere close to the top-10 now and they played four body bag games out of conference.”
Papadakis: “I dropped the Bulldogs from second to seventh. With their WEAK non-conference, I would have no trouble eventually placing a two-loss team ahead of Mississippi State.”
Davis: “This is a very good team, and they proved it at Alabama in a big way after being down 19-0. The inability to ring the bell in the red zone was the difference -- six times there and four of those trips resulted in three points or none. That’s not the formula for beating Alabama in their own stadium, but Miss. State may get another shot at them in the playoffs. If both they and Alabama win out, they will.”
Klatt: “The resume for the Bulldogs is not impressive with their ‘big’ wins all taking ‘bad’ losses in Week 12 (Auburn, LSU, and A&M). The timing of some of those games was very fortunate for them as well. Their non-conference schedule is horrendous, and they also got the most favorable non-division matchups the SEC West could hope for in Kentucky and Vandy. This is NOT a top-four team!”
Leinart: “Still can put their resume up against any one-loss team, but this is what you get for playing UT-Martin in November. They don't look like a top team in my eyes, and Prescott continues on his slow decline of great QB play early.”
7) OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (4.73)
After beating Michigan State on the road in Week 11, the Buckeyes followed it up with a 31-24 win at Minnesota.
Mandel: “Urban Meyer is right that winning at Minnesota in the snow would have been a challenge for any team. The Buckeyes are the hot team no one would want to face in the playoff. But their SOS is just too weak.”
Harrington: “If you said that you knew Ohio State would be here in November, you're lying. When Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury in August, Ohio State had turned to freshman J.T. Barrett. Season over, right? Wrong. All Barrett has done is put up one of the best statistical seasons in Ohio State history. In the last two games against ranked opponents -- Michigan State and Minnesota -- Barrett has thrown for 500 yards and six TDs and run for 275 and three TDs. Wow!”
Stone: “Not much room for them to move up, but the Buckeyes are now gaining more national resect and sit strongly at their spot, ready to jump up big time.”
Nece: “Sits in a perfect position. The Gophers gave the Buckeyes everything they could handle, but they held on to win in frigid temperatures. Barrett put on a show and almost had 200 yards both passing and rushing. He broke three school records -- most TDs in a season (38), most rushing yards by a QB in a game (189) and longest run by a QB (86 yards). Their defense needs to play better and match the level of play of their offense. Teams are going to starting running the football more to keep Barrett and Ohio State’s offense off the field, so it will be important for the Buckeyes to play more stout against the run.”
Klatt: “What Barrett has done this season is remarkable! He has accounted for 38 TDs (most in Ohio State history) and led his team into the playoff discussion. The score against Minnesota was much closer than the game itself, and that should give the Buckeyes a nice bump. If the committee looks at how a team is playing currently, then Ohio State will get great consideration in the No. 4 spot.”
8) OLE MISS REBELS (2.00)
The Rebels were off in Week 12.
Travis: “The Rebels had a bye week and now close with games at Arkansas and Mississippi State in Oxford. It's crazy how close Ole Miss is to being 10-0. Instead, the Rebels are 8-2 and holding out hope that Auburn can upset Alabama and that they can beat Mississippi State and advance to the SEC title game.”
Feldman: “The Rebels have a very good win over Alabama. After that it's pretty thin, although they did thump both Memphis and Tennessee, who are both playing better of late, but still. The bad news: They've lose their past two games against FBS opponents -- two teams with a combined seven losses.”
Quinn: “Even though they were on a bye, I still believe they are the best two-loss team in the country. They will most likely prove it in a couple weeks when they upset MSU at home in the Egg Bowl. If there's a second-best defense to Alabama in the SEC, it's Ole Miss’. They will copy the blueprint of the Tide in order to find ways to stop Prescott.”
Davis: “Two agonizing losses in SEC play, this program is rooting hard for ‘two-loss chaos’ to ensue! Don’t see enough of it happening to help Mississippi, but they are indeed a good team. Dangerous game at a very confident Arkansas (just shut out LSU) this week.”
9) UCLA BRUINS (1.82)
The Bruins were off in Week 12.
Travis: “Look out: Could the Bruins make a case for the playoff at 11-2 with a win over Oregon in the Pac-12 title game? Sure. That's why I took a flier on the Bruins to win the title at 200-to-1 last Thursday.”
Mandel: “The Bruins must be kicking themselves over that last-second loss to Utah. A one-loss team with its only defeat to Oregon and with wins over Arizona and ASU would have a strong case for the top four.”
Feldman: “The Bruins’ blowout win at ASU doesn't quite look as good with the Sun Devils losing to a shaky Oregon State team this weekend, but they've still won four in a row and did beat Arizona by 10 points.”
Harrington: “While many still say they're underachievers compared to their preseason expectations, they have beaten two teams in this week’s top 15 and their two losses are to No. 2 Oregon and No. 23 Utah. Add that to the fact they traveled to Charlottesville to play Virginia and played a ‘neutral-site’ game against Texas in Arlington, and that's a pretty impressive season. Credit Jim Mora for keeping his guys focused on the long-term goal.”
Quinn: “UCLA will play in the Pac-12 championship if they win out. The Bruins’ matchup against USC this week for the battle of L.A. should be epic. Both teams have stout front sevens that can get after the passer and stop the run. I give the edge to UCLA because of their secondary and the ability of Ishmael Adams to turn an INT into a TD in a hurry. Cody Kessler has made smart decisions all year long for USC, but he's not as versatile as Brett Hundley. Hundley is so tough to game plan for because when things break down, he improvises and there's no way for a defense to prepare for that.”
Klatt: “Long after most college football fans went to bed on Oct. 4, UCLA and Utah were locked in a tangle in the Rose Bowl before the Bruins missed a game-winning FG attempt as time expired. However, a penalty flag came out and UCLA got another chance to kick, but the kick again missed and the Bruins took their first loss of the season by two points. Those two snaps are the only things between a potential UCLA playoff berth and two-loss obscurity. They are still one of the most talented teams in the country and could now, potentially, play spoiler in the Pac-12 title game.”
10) GEORGIA BULLDOGS (1.00)
Georgia crushed Auburn 34-7 this weekend but lost running back Todd Gurley for the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
Feldman: “The most inconsistent team in the country has two bad losses to South Carolina and a Florida team that ran all over them for over 400 yards, but the Dawgs did shut out Mizzou at home and just routed Auburn, giving Gus Malzahn his worst loss with the Tigers.”
Quinn: “The Bulldogs delivered Auburn one of its worst defeats of the Malzahn era by controlling the line of scrimmage and running the football in a dominating fashion. Even though UGA won’t have Gurley anymore, they still seemed primed to face Alabama in the SEC championship game. They need Mizzou to lose one more game for that to happen.”
Davis: “That was the Georgia we expected to see in Jacksonville against Florida. If we had, the Bulldogs would be making their one-loss case for the committee. Now, Georgia needs help and has to deal with the loss of Gurley.”
Brando: “Ole Miss and UCLA may be the top two-loss programs right now, but it's Georgia that's college football’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They run past and through teams or get run over and leave you shaking your head from week to week. Their running game takes a hit without Gurley, but they still have Nick Chubb and offer the best challenge from the East division for the SEC championship. If Alabama does lose to Auburn and Mizzou makes it to Atlanta, the SEC scenario with no team in the top four could still come into play.”
Wannstedt: “UCLA and Georgia are very similar to me, and you can take your pick in what order you want to put them. Both teams could end up ranked higher if they win their conference, but I don't think have enough to make the final four.”
Other teams receiving votes: Michigan State (0.55), Arizona (0.09), Kansas State (one ninth-place vote), Missouri (one 10th-place vote), Wisconsin (one 10th-place vote).
Teams with top-four votes: Florida State (13), Oregon (13), Alabama (13), TCU (5), Mississippi State (4), Baylor (4).
COY WIRE’S ONE UP, ONE DOWN
Trending up: UCLA
While they’re certainly on upset alert against USC this week, look for UCLA to move up IF Ole Miss does indeed fall to Arkansas. The odds of an upset happening in a rivalry game are probably higher than in other games -- just ask 8-2 Georgia, which was shocked a few weeks ago by 5-4 Florida. The Trojans had won five straight in this rivalry game -- from 2007 to 2011 -- but UCLA has reigned as king of L.A. for the past two seasons, and there will surely be chants of redemption on USC’s practice field this week.
The Bruins defense has allowed more than 200 yards rushing four times in its last six games, and they’ll face the Pac-12’s leading rusher, Javorius Allen, who has 1,184 yards (118.4 per game) this season. But the Bruins have their eyes on the prize of the Pac-12 title game and a date with the Oregon Ducks. They should be able to make a stand in the Rose Bowl.
Trending down: Ole Miss
Considering the rest of the top 10 either has a bye or virtual bye -- by playing awful teams -- there seems to be only three legitimate chances that a top team will move down this week, and it would come via an upset. The best chances? Either Boston College over FSU after the ‘Noles’ emotionally draining victory over Miami, the Trojans over the Bruins in the Battle for Los Angeles or Arkansas over Ole Miss. Arkansas battled and scared two top-10 teams in losses to Alabama (14-13) and Mississippi State (17-10) earlier this season, and they just beat LSU 17-0.
At this point, I don’t feel the Rebels have done enough to remain in the top 10. They’re still finding favor with voters based off their two best victories over Alabama (a good one) and Texas A&M (won’t even be in the Top 25 this week). Other than those wins, they’ve beaten Presbyterian, Tennessee, Memphis, Louisiania-Lafayette, Vandy and Boise State while losing to both LSU and Auburn. The Razorbacks get the Rebels on their home turf, so they may just pull off this upset.