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Week 4 CFP Implications: Utah Makes a Statement

There are a lot of storylines coming out of the fourth week of the college football season. Leonard Fournette is getting a lot of attention for his record-breaking start to the season. Georgia looks strong. Ohio State and Michigan State have been far from as dominant as expected. TCU survived on a miracle, but with a defense that bad they won’t stay undefeated for long. But really, after this past week, there is only one team that everyone should be talking about.

The Utah Utes came out and laid an absolutely unprecedented performance on last year’s runner-up. They beat Oregon by six touchdowns in Autzen Stadium. That is a beatdown the likes of which Oregon hasn’t suffered in over a decade. Maybe this will go down as the game that ended Oregon’s dynasty as a West Coast power. Either way, though, it should go down as the game in which Utah announced itself on the national stage–in a way they haven’t done since the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

Utah only gained five spots in the Coaches’ Poll which, quite honestly, is just way too few. Michigan State beat Oregon by three points in East Lansing. The Utes just won by 42 in Eugene. I don’t know how Utah can be 10 spots behind Michigan State. I don’t even know what logic can have Michigan State ahead of Utah at all at this point in the season. The same critique applies to the AP Poll, though at least one voter had the guts to put Utah at #1.

Fortunately, however, the CFP selection committee judges teams based on actual resumes. They won’t release rankings for another five weeks so that by then we will have enough data to really rank teams. But, based on pure resumes so far, there is little question that Utah has to be towards the top of the rankings. If they are still undefeated in five weeks, expect them to be in the committee’s initial Top 4. And even if they lose a game, the Utes should be building a strong enough resume to stay in the picture all season long.

Week 4 CFP Implications: Teams Eliminated from Playoff Contention

We did not put this section in CFP Implications last year because, with no real knowledge or precedent to see how the committee worked, it would have been a bit presumptuous to try and guess who had no real chance of making the playoff. Now, though, we can bring this section (which we had back in the BCS days) to this column. We are going to be very gun-shy on eliminating teams early in the season, but we highly doubt we will ever have to bring back anyone we eliminated. So far, we have eliminated 61 teams, almost half of FBS. We are also down to just five Group of 5 teams remaining, though Toledo probably never even had a chance to begin with.

AAC: Only Temple, Memphis, Houston, and Navy have not yet been eliminated
ACC: Louisville, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Virginia
Big XII: Kansas, Iowa State, Texas
Big Ten: Purdue, Rutgers, Nebraska
Conference USA: All have been eliminated.
MAC: Only Toledo is not yet eliminated
Mountain West: All have been eliminated
Pac 12: Washington State
SEC: Vanderbult, Arkansas
Sun Belt: All have been eliminated
Independents: Army, BYU

Last week, we spoke about Notre Dame. Nothing really changed for the Irish now, though, after playing and blowing out UMass. They get Clemson this week in a matchup that could likely determine the postseason fate of the ACC. Now, a one-loss Power 5 champion is always still in the running for a Playoff bid. Those talking about ACC teams being out of competition after a single loss don’t really look at how few undefeated and one-loss teams we usually end a season with. One loss won’t eliminate any power team.

However, the ACC right now appears to be just Florida State and Clemson, followed by lots of teams several steps behind. Sure, if any of them win out and end the season as a one-loss champion they will probably make the Playoff. But that seems very unlikely right now. The ACC is lagging behind the other power conferences in terms of perception right now, though. More importantly, perhaps, they have a lack of teams that will constitute “quality wins” in-conference. They are down to just two ranked teams in the major polls, though presumably Duke or Georgia Tech (or even Miami) will find their way into the polls within the next few weeks. Still, that leaves little margin of error for the top teams in the conference. If Clemson loses to Notre Dame but beats Florida State in November, that means that Clemson is one upset loss away from likely shutting the ACC out of the Playoff.

The conference that appears least likely to be left out right now, interestingly enough, is the Big XII. Baylor is still playing one of the worst nonconference schedules in the country, though, so if they don’t run the table but win the conference then the Big XII will be in a very similar situation to last year. But the league currently has six undefeated teams before they get into the meat of their round-robin conference play. Several of those teams could conceivably run the table, including West Virginia and Oklahoma, who may actually look better than TCU and Baylor so far. More importantly, though, the conference looks like they could end with a good number of one-loss and two-loss teams. Since the conference plays a complete round robin schedule, that would mean that whoever wins the conference could easily meet (at the very least) three ranked teams in conference. As long as the one-loss champion isn’t names Baylor, that would be a very competitive SOS when resumes are being compared at the end of the season.

The Big Ten is in a similar situation to what we mentioned for the ACC above, though they have certain advantages. While Clemson and Florida State are both big-name teams that (in recent years, certainly) have been towards the top of college football, they don’t currently have the same respect as Ohio State and Michigan State are receiving this year. Also, Northwestern and Wisconsin are receiving some serious poll support right now with Iowa and Michigan gaining traction as well. At the bottom, the Big Ten may be lagging even behind the ACC right now. But when comparing top teams and ranked teams, which seemed to matter more to the committee last year than the quality of the bottom of the schedule, the Big Ten looks to be very competitive with the best of the rest of the power conferences this year. A one-loss Big Ten champion, at least after one month of the season, looks like they’ll be okay this year.

Let’s remember, though, it’s still early in the season and teams have plenty of time to improve or get worse. For example, the last time Northwestern started out 4-0 and ranked, they lost their next seven games. Teams that look like valuable opponents now may not be in one month, let alone in two when the season ends. We do the best we can to see the situation as is each week, but it’s definitely going to be a wild ride from here to the end of the year.


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