The 2014 college football season, featuring magnificent matchups and a slate of meaningful games nearly every Saturday, slows down this week. Consider it the calm before a storm of rivalry games blitzes the nation over the Thanksgiving holiday.
With nearly all the major conference contenders off or playing teams of minimal danger, it is a good week to examine rankings, remaining schedules, and simmering issues before rivalry week.
Rankings: The playoff committee releases its rankings every Tuesday in what is becoming a fascinating bit of drama for college football fans. Expect Florida State and Alabama to sit atop the rankings, and those two teams control their own destiny to reach the semifinals. If the Seminoles and the Crimson Tide win out, they make the playoffs. The same is probably true of Oregon. Should the Ducks keep winning all the way through the Pac-12 conference title game, the one-loss champs would in all likelihood make the final four. That leaves one slot. The main contenders are Baylor, Mississippi State, Ohio State, and TCU. If any or all finish with only one blemish, that squad could make a legitimate claim to belonging in the playoff.
Remaining Schedules: Ignore FSU, Alabama, and Oregon for the moment (remember if any of them win out, they are in the playoffs), and focus on those one-loss contenders who may need some help from the playoff committee. Ohio State and TCU face the easiest schedules, Mississippi State will need to get by Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, and Baylor has the toughest road. If all win their remaining games, Baylor might slip in past Mississippi State. Of the four teams that control their destiny, FSU has the easiest path (but the Noles need to watch out if Georgia Tech slips into the ACC championship game).
Simmering Issues: Three topics figure to garner attention as the committee determines its final ranking on December 7th. First, will the committee give preference to a team’s full season of work, or favor a team that is playing its best ball at the end of the campaign? Ohio State is a good case in point. The Buckeyes suffered a bad loss at home to middling Virginia Tech early in the year, but have played like gangbusters since. State backers could argue their team is peaking at the right time, while to detractors a bad loss in early September should count as much as a bad loss in November. Another issue is head to head results. Baylor beat TCU and the squads have the same record, yet the committee ranks TCU over the Bears. In an illogical way, the Horned Frogs are getting an advantage by losing to Baylor because that loss is a better one that Baylor’s loss to West Virginia. Go figure. Finally, don’t think regionalism is off the table. While Alabama’s victory over Mississippi State increased the SEC’s chances of getting two teams into the playoff, it’s no sure bet. Every fan knows the SEC schedule is brutal, but a hunch is the selection committee may well give more weight to conference champions than conference strength.
Playoff Projection: FSU (1) vs. Baylor (4); Alabama (2) vs. Oregon (3)
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This would be a good weekend to get your yard squared away for winter, but USC –UCLA could be fun, and Oklahoma State might challenge Baylor. Tennessee will send Georgia to the SEC title game if the Vols beat resilient Missouri.
Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 13; Nov 18-20 2014)