Predicting the College Football Playoff rankings after Week 11
And then there was 1.
That is, 1 undefeated Power 5 team left. Georgia is that team after Oklahoma fell to Dave Aranda’s Baylor squad. UTSA and Cincinnati are still unbeaten, as well, but given how the selection committee feels about an unbeaten team from the SEC, it’s becoming clear that Georgia is going to have a Playoff bid locked up before it steps on the field in Atlanta.
As for the rest? Well, that’s a good question. The top 4 might not see much of a shakeup after all 4 teams in action won. Then again, is it crazy to think the selection committee will now pretend that Ohio State and Oregon didn’t play? I wouldn’t rule out the idea of having Ohio State at No. 3 after it dismantled Purdue.
And what about Michigan? Are the Wolverines in position to capitalize on that Penn State win by leapfrogging Cincinnati?
Let’s dig into all of it. And as I always say, these rankings are how I think it’ll play out, not necessarily what I think they should be:
Just think about this for a second:
Yes, I realize that Baylor has 2 losses and Ohio State has 1. It does, however, make you wonder if Baylor could’ve made a legitimate Playoff push if it hadn’t suffered that TCU loss. But that did indeed happen. Still, I think Baylor gets the No. 10 spot ahead of Ole Miss because it beat a pair of current top-15 teams by double digits.
9. Oklahoma State
Among CFP contenders, look at the average margin of victory against Power 5 competition:
- Georgia — 29.1
- Ohio State — 23.5
- Oklahoma State — 20.7
- Alabama — 17.9
- Notre Dame — 14
- Michigan — 12.5
- Cincinnati — 12.5
- Wake Forest — 12.1
- Oregon — 9.9
- Michigan State — 9.5
- Oklahoma — 9.3
Oklahoma State could also have a win against a current top-10 team in the Playoff rankings if Baylor makes that jump. Oklahoma State could be an intriguing team to make the field. But as I wrote last week, the problem is that would include beating Oklahoma in the regular season and either winning a rematch with the Sooners or Bears. Clearly, the selection committee isn’t impressed with the strength of the Big 12. I mean, Oklahoma was undefeated and ranked No. 8 last week. It’s probably fair to say a 1-loss Big 12 team has a ceiling.
8. Notre Dame
Cincinnati and a lack of a conference championship game will likely hold the Irish back from a Playoff berth, but the résumé is probably better than the average person realizes. Among the CFP contenders, Georgia is the only team with more wins against Power 5 teams with winning records:
- Georgia — 4
- Notre Dame — 3
- Ohio State — 3
- Alabama — 2
- Michigan — 2
- Oklahoma — 2
- Oklahoma State — 2
- Oregon — 2
- Wake Forest — 2
- Cincinnati — 1
- Michigan State — 1
Having said that, the Playoff path is still slim to none. It would take, at the very least, a Cincinnati loss, an Alabama loss and an Oregon loss just to have that conversation. And you’d still have the fact that Cincinnati would have the head-to-head advantage after winning convincingly in South Bend. That’s slightly different than Michigan State rallying back from down 16 in the second half to win at home against Michigan (but the Spartans still deserve to be ranked higher). And it’d be different if the Irish’s remaining schedule had a couple of Top 25 teams instead of a pair of 3-win squads (Georgia Tech and Stanford). A non-Playoff New Year’s 6 Bowl likely awaits.
7. Michigan State
Much to the shock of everyone, the selection committee decided that beating Michigan didn’t really happen. Strength of loss has never been much of a factor among contenders until last week, apparently. That’s why the Spartans will likely remain in that No. 7 spot after clubbing Maryland. Michigan had the more impressive win, so one would think that they aren’t about to flip flop again. One would’ve also thought that Mel Tucker’s squad would’ve remained ahead of Michigan unless it suffered that second loss. That’ll be put to the test this week against Ohio State. Pull off that upset as a 3-score dog and suddenly that top-4 spot is a whole lot more likely.
This move would be seen as more of a slight to Cincinnati than a hat tip to Michigan, but here’s my thinking. Cincinnati was at No. 5 last week and surprisingly, Michigan was at No. 6 ahead of Michigan State. The Bearcats, even though they won by 3 scores against USF, again failed to cover the spread. It wasn’t a dominant showing by any means. Michigan, however, went on the road and beat a Penn State team with a winning record. I think, based on what the selection committee told us, that it values that metric. Michigan now has 2 such wins and Cincinnati has the 1.
But really, would this change much for the Bearcats? Not really. It still looks like 50-50 to make the field. It might only take an Alabama loss or an Oregon loss. My guess is that an 11-1 non-Big Ten champ wouldn’t earn a spot instead of Cincinnati. In other words, don’t look too far into a potential drop.
Again, this is predicting where I think a team will be ranked, not necessarily what I think should happen. There’s a big difference with Michigan. The selection committee told us that it values the Wolverines’ 1-loss résumé. By virtue of going on the road and rallying late to beat Penn State, it’ll get even more love. Never mind the fact that Illinois did the same thing. The selection committee will double down on last week’s ranking by moving the Wolverines ahead of a Cincinnati team who didn’t deliver a dominant showing at USF.
What’s quietly helping the Wolverines is how well that 21-point Wisconsin win in Madison has aged. The Badgers have played much better in the last month with a 6-game winning streak as a borderline top-15 team. Still, though. This all comes down to the showdown 2 weeks from now in Ann Arbor.
4. Ohio State
Credit the Buckeyes for overcoming the narrative about Purdue being a giant killer. To be fair, unranked Purdue was the giant killer, not ranked Purdue. Nonetheless, that win gave Ohio State something it needed — win No. 3 against a Power 5 team with a winning record. The problem? Ohio State’s best wins are against 3 teams with 6-4 records. That’s why the Buckeyes are overrated. It’s also perhaps why the selection committee didn’t use its Michigan-Michigan State logic to pretend that the Oregon game didn’t happen. The Buckeyes have yet to beat a New Year’s 6 Bowl contender. There’s not a single current AP Top 25 win on the résumé, either.
But I look forward to Gary Barta telling me about how nice that Maryland win was.
For all the noise about the Ducks’ lack of style points, they earned double-digit victories in each of their last 3 games. And just in case you forgot, Oregon has a rare win against a current AP Top 10 team. How rare is it? Among the contenders, here’s the breakdown of wins against current AP Top 10 teams:
- Alabama — 1
- Cincinnati — 1
- Michigan State — 1
- Oregon — 1
- Georgia — 0
- Michigan — 0
- Notre Dame — 0
- Ohio State — 0
- Oklahoma — 0
- Oklahoma State — 0
That’s still a solid feather to have in your cap. So why are more people not talking about Oregon likely having a seat at the table? Well, the Ducks are underdogs this week at Utah. Even if they win that game and end the regular season 11-1, they’re likely going to need to beat Utah again in the Pac-12 Championship. Lose either one of those games and that’s all she wrote, obviously.
The only potential question with Oregon on Tuesday night is if the selection committee feels that enough time has passed between the Ohio State game to move the Buckeyes ahead of Oregon. The internet might just melt down if that happens.
New Mexico State is indeed a cupcake, but more significant for the Tide’s résumé was the fact that Ole Miss beat Texas A&M. Lane Kiffin’s squad is in position to earn a New Year’s 6 Bowl, and it could easily be in the top 10 of the rankings. We could also see Mississippi State hop back into the Top 25. Alabama beat them both convincingly. Of course, all 4 of their other SEC games were 1-score contests in the 4th quarter. But hey, the selection committee clearly doesn’t care about that. Arkansas beating LSU to stay in the CFP rankings will also give the Tide a chance for another quality win this week.
How much does that really matter? My guess is that if Alabama loses to Georgia for loss No. 2, it won’t make the Playoff. But any — and I mean any — argument that favors the Tide is going to be dependent on those quality victories working in their favor. There’s a decent chance that Alabama could have 7-8 wins against bowl-eligible Power 5 teams at season’s end. Leading up to the likely trip to Atlanta, it’s all about giving the selection committee as much ammo as possible.
I maintain the belief that Georgia could lose another game and still be the No. 1 team. That didn’t happen on Saturday, though. The Dawgs completed an 8-0 SEC season and even more impressibly, it managed to win all of those games by at least 3 scores. Georgia is going to be 12-0 with a Playoff ticket already punched by the time it arrives in Atlanta. Assuming Alabama gets there with 1 loss, it would still be playing for a No. 1 seed, though. So yeah, there’s motivation. This is shaping up to be perhaps the most obvious No. 1 team on Selection Sunday in the 8 years of the Playoff system.