Starting 11: The Playoff Beckons

BY foxsports • November 24, 2014

Get ready for a wild final weekend of the college football regular season. I've got so much written here, let's just dive right in. 

1. So what's the committee's playoff top seven going to look like this week?

1. Alabama 2. Oregon 3. FSU 4. Mississippi State 5. TCU 6. Ohio State 7. Baylor 8. UCLA 9. Georgia 10. Kansas State is my prediction. 

So let's assume that all ten teams win, what does next week's ranking look like? The exact same.

Okay, let's assume that no one loses for the rest of the year, what do I predict the committee's final rankings will look like:

1. Alabama 2. Oregon 3. FSU 4. Mississippi State 5. Baylor 6. TCU 7. Ohio State

That's it. As I've been saying for three weeks now, Mississippi State will make the final four if it beats Ole Miss.

2. But if you don't believe me, let's examine the resumes of our playoff contenders.

Let's use three primary criteria, 1. how tough has your schedule been? 2. Who have you beaten? 3. And who have you lost to?

First, let's start with who they've played. Here are the combined opponent records of the top seven teams (via @colecubelic on Twitter):

Overall opponent records through 11 weeks:

Alabama 68-53

Miss St 66-56

Oregon 63-60

Ohio St 62-56

FSU 62-60

TCU 58-49

Baylor 49-58

Six of these teams have played an FCS opponent and Ohio State played Kent State, so let's toss that out as a dispositive issue. It's just distracting.  

You can't project every remaining opponent's game with certainty, but given the lead it already has and the fact that it would finish with 8-4 Ole Miss, 11-1 State will finish with the second-toughest schedule. In fact, these exact rankings are unlikely to change from 1-7 since most of the schedule records are complete now. 

So there's your toughest schedule component. 

Second, who have you beaten? (I'm using this week's AP poll and I'm using the top 35 -- including those receiving votes -- since the committee doesn't release its poll until Tuesday. I'd argue that Outkick's Vegas top 20 poll is actually the most accurate poll to use of all, however.)

I'm going to dismiss Alabama and Oregon from the equation because both these teams are in with 12-1 records.

What about the rest of the teams? Mississippi State has beaten every team but one in the nation's toughest division. The SEC West teams are 28-0 out of conference with current wins over the Big Ten West leader, Wisconsin, the co-leader of the Big 12 on the road, Kansas State, the Mountain West leader, Boise State, and the American leader, Memphis. State has won every game this season by a touchdown or more with the exception of LSU, a game where State was up by a large margin until LSU staged a furious late rally. Using the current AP poll as our touchstone, State has beaten one top 25 team, #15 Auburn, but has also beaten the number 26, 27 and 33 teams, Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M. #18 Ole Miss remains on the schedule. 

While it has the weakest overall schedule, Baylor has the best win of any of these teams, having beaten #6 TCU. The Bears also boast a top 25 win over #20 Oklahoma and still have #11 Kansas State on the schedule. Florida State's best win is either #23 Louisville or #24 Clemson, two teams in the bottom three of the top 25, otherwise the schedule is unimpressive. Ohio State has beaten #10 Michigan State and #22 Minnesota. TCU has wins over #11 Kansas State, #20 Oklahoma, #22 Minnesota and #34 West Virginia.

So TCU and Mississippi State are tied with the most top 35 wins, at four each, followed by Baylor with two, FSU with two, and Ohio State with two. 

Finally, who have you lost to?

Mississippi State lost at #1 Alabama by five points.

Ohio State lost at home to 5-6 Virginia Tech by 14 points.

Baylor lost at #33 West Virginia by 14 points.

TCU lost at #5 Baylor by 3 points.

FSU hasn't lost. So we'll put FSU in the playoff even though the rest of their resume is spotty. That leaves one playoff spot with four contenders. 

Ranking these losses Mississippi State has the best loss, TCU the second best loss, Baylor the third best loss and Ohio State, by far, has the worst loss. (I'm writing more on Ohio State's loss below.) 

So when you examine all of this data objectively Mississippi State has played the toughest schedule, is tied for the most top 35 wins, has the best loss, and if it beats Ole Miss will have the most top 35 wins.

Put simply, 11-1 Mississippi State will be in the playoff.      

3. So what if teams lose?

One of the most fun things about the playoff is trying to figure out what needs to happen for your team to advance to the playoff. 

Here are my projected final committee rankings:

1. Alabama

Plays Auburn this weekend and then either Missouri or Georgia in the SEC title game

2. Oregon

Plays Oregon State this weekend and then either UCLA, Arizona, or Arizona State in the Pac 12 title game

3. FSU

Plays Florida this weekend and then Georgia Tech in the ACC title game

4. Mississippi State

Plays Ole Miss this weekend

5. Baylor

Plays Texas Tech this weekend and then Kansas State on 12/6

6. TCU

Plays Texas this weekend and then Iowa State the final weekend of the year

7. Ohio State

Plays Michigan this weekend and then either Wisconsin or Minnesota in the Big Ten title game

As teams lose, my five, six, and seven teams would slide up. 

4. Which teams outside of the top seven are still alive for the playoff?

There are four additional teams with playoff hopes still alive. 

Georgia

The Bulldogs play Georgia Tech this weekend. But in order to advance to the SEC title game against Alabama or Mississippi State, Arkansas will have to beat Missouri. If Georgia wins out to go 11-2, there's a pretty good chance the Bulldogs would be in the mix for the playoff. 

UCLA

Remember when I told y'all to take a flier on UCLA at 200 to 1 to win the playoff? Well, the Bruins smoked USC this weekend. Beat Stanford this weekend and the Bruins would get a Pac 12 title game rematch with Oregon. Finish 11-2 and I can make a pretty strong case that UCLA would belong in the playoff.  

Kansas State

The Wildcats would need to beat Baylor on the final week of the Big 12 season and see TCU lose to Texas or Iowa State. Then there would have to be mass carnage above them for a two-loss Wildcat team to advance to the playoff. 

Arizona

The wildest of wild cards, Arizona needs to beat Arizona State and then needs Stanford to beat UCLA. The Wildcats would then win the Pac 12 South. The Wildcats would then need to beat Oregon -- again -- in the Pac 12 title game. Do that and Arizona would be in the mix for the playoff. 

5. BUT WHAT ABOUT CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS, CLAY!

This is one of the dumbest arguments out there. You can't be a champion of a conference you're not in. Conference titles are completely arbitrary. The weaker your conference, by and large, the weaker the team that wins it. 

Oregon would win the ACC and the Big Ten this year. So would Alabama. Hell, Arkansas would win the Big Ten this year and right now Arkansas is the 7th best team in the SEC West. The sixth best team in the SEC West, LSU, beat Wisconsin, the team that's going to win the Big Ten West, on a neutral site. There might be ten teams in the SEC this year that would win the ACC.

There is a huge drop off in team quality after the SEC, the Pac 12, and the Big 12 this year. So conference titles in the Big Ten and the ACC shouldn't, and won't, carry much weight.  

6. Ohio State can't make the playoff.

I'm sorry, if you lose to a team that is 6-6 or worse by double digits at home, you aren't eligible to win a national title. Period. I know the Buckeyes have played better since then, but this loss is debilitating. You can't get past it. It's like Missouri's loss at home to Indiana. Once that happened, your hopes of contending for a national title were over. 

Here's a research project for you guys, has a team ever won or played for a national title with a home loss by 14 points to a team that finishes without a winning record? UPDATE: Outkick's crack research team on Twitter has examined the history of college football and this has never happened in the history of the sport. Ever. 

UPDATE 2: No team has ever lost by 14 or more at home to a team with a 6-6 or worse record and finished the pre-bowl season ranked in the top four either. 

The Virginia Tech loss really is THAT BAD. When you look at the playoff resumes of Mississippi State, Baylor and TCU, it's a disqualifying loss.

(Thanks to all the Outkick researchers on Twitter for confirming my inclination taht this was the worst loss in history for any college football team that hopes to win a national championship).  

7. FSU is 2012 Notre Dame

Remember how Notre Dame won every game in 2012, two in overtime, five by a touchdown or less, over not very good opponents? And how the national media fell all over themselves to tell you that Notre Dame "just knew how to win games," and "they're undefeated for a reason," and they have "the heart of a champion," and all these other cliches to demonstrate how the Irish just "refused to lose."

Then Alabama crushed them in the BCS title game.

I'd like to believe that's when the fallacy of pointing to a perfect record as your pimary qualification for a title gave up the ghost. No other sport is as obsessed with a perfect record as college football. None. 

This is exactly what is going to happen to FSU if the Seminoles make the playoff. Either Oregon or Alabama is going to deliver a three touchdown beat down. Just wait.

FSU is just not very good this year. Their weak schedule has covered that fact up. Even with that weak schedule you can change five plays this season and FSU is 7-4. Eventually living on the edge against bad opponents catches up with you.

FSU will get exposed in the playoff.  

8. Arkansas would beat FSU on a neutral field this week.  

This is why I'd say use Vegas over the polls. Per Outkick's Todd Fuhrman, on a neutral site FSU would open -1.5 over Arkansas. 

Let's talk about the Razorbacks for a moment, Arkansas has beaten ranked LSU and Ole Miss by a combined score of 47-0 the past two weeks. Against Alabama, Mississippi State, LSU and Ole Miss, Arkansas has given up a total of 31 points.

 

That's an incredible stat. 

Remember when some were using Mississippi State's 17-10 win over Arkansas as evidence that State was getting worse as the season went along? Maybe time to reconsider that position?

I think Arkansas will beat Missouri. If the Hogs win that game then seeing what they can do next year will be pretty fascinating.  

9. Why is Michigan State a top ten team?

This year's Spartan team is a perfect example of the polls still dictating the best teams. Compare State's resume with every other team in the top 15. It's worse than all of them. Where is the win that demonstrates that State is any good? They've lost by 19 at Oregon and by 12 at home to Ohio State. Their only top 35 win is #28 Nebraska. 

So why is State so highly ranked? Simple. Because everyone expected State to be good before the season started. This is the kind of thinking we really need to get rid of in a playoff era. 

10. Thursday, Friday and Saturday is going to be wild. 

I'll update the playoff picture each day here on Outkick.

You're all welcome to dispute my projections in the comments below. 

I hope all of you have a happy Thanksgiving. Yes, even the Florida State fans. 

11. Here are the SEC power ratings:

1. Alabama

2. Mississippi State

3. Georgia

4. Auburn

5. Arkansas

6. Ole Miss

7. Mizzou

8. Texas A&M

9. LSU

10. South Carolina

11. Florida

12. Tennessee

13. Kentucky

14. Vandy


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