As we learned last year, the College Football Playoff selection committee does not feel obligated to rank teams in the same order that the standard polls do. We saw them drop Florida State, who was struggling with some teams, a few spots lower than the polls ever would. We saw them disagree strongly with the polls about Baylor’s placement. And we should expect the Bears to be one of the more prominent differences this year as well.
Baylor is a solid second in both major polls right now. They have a bigger lead on number three in the Coaches’ Poll than in the AP Poll, but the gap in each is more than just negligible. So where will we see the committee put Baylor on Tuesday?
If last year’s rankings are any indication, Baylor will again start out much lower than in the standard polls. While the committee (and Jeff Long in his ESPN interviews) often contradicted themselves on bits of nuance in how to rank teams, the general trend was that tough schedules were rewarded. Sure, “game control” was used to promote or demote certain teams, but only after the resume of who they beat and who they lost to was analyzed first.
Which brings us to Baylor. This year, quite simply, the Bears have beaten almost no one. Their Big XII schedule is completely backloaded. In their first seven games of the season, they have beaten exactly one (5-4 Texas Tech) team with a winning record. There is no meat on the resume so far. It would not surprise me if Baylor barely made it into the Top 10 so far. There are just too many other teams out there who have meaningful wins that it will be difficult to put Baylor ahead of right now.
Of course, where Baylor is ranked on Tuesday doesn’t matter at all. The Bears will have three consecutive games against Top 10-15 teams in November. If Baylor wins all three of those (and their other two remaining games), they will be solidly in the Top Four and headed into the College Football Playoff. Three ranked wins and an undefeated run in a Power Five conference is more than enough for there to be any shadow of a doubt. People are ripping on Baylor’s schedule right now, and rightly so. Right now the schedule is very weak. But by the first week in December, it will be just as solid as most other contenders’. So while Baylor may be starting out lower down in the rankings this week, it’s only because the games that will earn them the most in the eyes of the committee are yet to come. Win those, and there is no problem.
Week 9 CFP Implications: Teams Still in College Football Playoff Contention
You might notice that our list of teams still alive here at CFP Implications has more teams than almost anywhere else that provides these lists. That’s because we only eliminate teams when there is no way to see them get into the Playoff. We never want to have to un-eliminate a team. So as long as there is some not-completely-insane scenario where a team could end up in the Top Four, we’re going to keep them alive. So while we won’t assume a scenario where the whole country ends up 8-4, we do still have Northwestern alive, even though that requires Iowa losing two games.
There is still a ton of football to be played. That means there are a ton of potential scenarios and we can’t eliminate teams while some of those scenarios has them alive. Even so, after nine weeks in the season we are down to just 27 contenders, with Temple, Duke, and Pitt being eliminated this week. And, if we’re being honest with ourselves, Toledo never really has a chance anyway.
AAC: Houston, Memphis
ACC: Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina
Big Ten: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Big XII: TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Mountain West: None
Pac 12: Utah, Stanford, UCLA
SEC: Florida, LSU, Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State
Sun Belt: None
Independents: Notre Dame
I know I have said several times that the American Athletic Conference won’t really have a chance at a Playoff representative unless Temple beat Notre Dame (along with Memphis beating Ole Miss and Houston beating Vanderbilt). But Temple looked like a quality team in that loss and Houston throttled Vandy in a way that no SEC team has been able to do this year. The Commodores put up fewer points against Houston than they have against any SEC defense and they gave up more points to the Houston offense than they have allowed against any SEC team. Houston is a very good football team and they proved it this week, as did Temple. If we see an undefeated team come out of the AAC, they will be very much alive for a Playoff spot, especially if the SEC and Pac 12 champions have two losses, something that is looking increasingly likely.
If you noticed on the list, I still have eight two-loss teams alive. Three of them each are in the Big Ten and the SEC. These are not all of the two-loss teams in Power Five conferences (Washington State, for example, was eliminated after Week 1 for losing to an FCS team). Many people are assuming that no two-loss team will ever get into the Playoff. It will happen, eventually. The question is when and how. Right now, it looks like we could have multiple power conferences with two-loss champions. I won’t run through all of the scenarios, but right now Ole Miss controls their SEC destiny. They are three wins away from having a very strong Playoff resume, including a loss in a tough nonconference game.
We saw last year that the committee did not want to punish teams for playing good competition in the nonconference portion of the schedule. A recurring trend last year was teams with good nonconference losses getting more respect from the committee than other polls. This certainly was also a factor in Ohio State’s selection at the end of the year. Of the eight two-loss teams that I have as still alive (albeit barely), seven of them have either a nonconference win over a Power Five school, or a loss to a good nonconference opponent. While neither Penn State nor Mississippi played a Power Five team in nonconference play, both have losses to ranked Group of 5 teams (Temple and Ole Miss, respectively).
Will there be surprises from the committee on Tuesday? Probably. But will those surprises have a good explanation that will give us more insight into the committee’s thought process? I certainly hope so. If last year was any indication, there will be certain trends that they follow, even if they’re not 100% consistent on everything.