Assessing the CFP threat level: national picture crystalizing
Each week, we’ll take a look at the credible and not-so-credible threats to the SEC’s playoff aspirations, based on the now-retired Homeland Security Advisory System. (Here’s a longer explanation.)
The second law of thermodynamics is at work within the SEC this week. You know, the law of entropy. Left to its own devices, every system tends to move from order to disorder. In time, most things transition from development to decay.
Days after the College Football Playoff committee revealed that its top four consisted of three SEC teams and Florida State, it’s becoming more and more likely the nation’s best conference will place one team in the inaugural field.
Florida State passed its last major hurdle, staving off upset-minded Louisville on the road and on national TV. Oregon blasted through Stanford for the first time in years. Both teams are playing as well as any program in the country, with superstar quarterbacks and offenses capable of erasing blemishes with a flurry of touchdowns.
Barring a major upset, the Seminoles and Ducks should claim playoff spots, as well as the SEC’s best team. That leaves one remaining spot for the Big Ten, Big 12, second SEC team and Notre Dame over which to quibble.
Scanning The Good Guys: Ole Miss fans must be devastated after losing back-to-back games and seeing several crucial players out due to injury.
But for the SEC at large, Georgia’s surprise egg-laying against Florida represents a more troubling result. The Bulldogs, once single-handedly holding up the SEC East, probably don’t have any hope of making the College Football Playoff at this point, even if UGA rallies to win the division and then the conference championship game.
That means we’re down to three: Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn. The Tide play both the other true SEC contenders in addition to LSU on the road Saturday. Suddenly Alabama’s remaining schedule looks more difficult than Auburn’s.
The winner of the SEC West is in great shape for the College Football Playoff. If you want two SEC teams, root for Alabama to win out and Mississippi State to finish with just one loss.
Now for the terrorists.
THREAT LEVEL: SEVERE
Severe risk of terrorist attacks.
Florida State: Louisville took a 24-7 third-quarter lead at home Thursday. Jameis Winston already had thrown three interceptions, Louisville held FSU on three consecutive running plays following a second-and-1, and the Cardinals squandered an opening-drive opportunity in the red zone. It seemed difficult to fathom the Seminoles weaseling their way out of this one. Then FSU hit the jets with one of its patented second-half spurts, scoring five touchdowns in the final 25 minutes of the game as Winston caught fire. Florida State closes the regular season with 3 of 4 games at home and doesn’t play another ranked opponent. There aren’t any locks to make the playoff, but coach Jimbo Fisher’s team is close.
Oregon: Florida State keeps winning, but the Ducks are the scariest team in the country right now. Since stumbling against Arizona on Oct. 2, Oregon has scored 42, 45, 59 and 45 points against Pac-12 teams. Stanford, its nemesis the last two seasons? Plastered. By 29 points. Now Oregon must go on the road to face a ranked Utah team, but the Utes seem ill-equipped to keep pace with Marcus Mariota and a devastating, balanced offense. Oregon can coast into the Pac-12 title game with a win.
Michigan State: The Spartans got to enjoy Michigan’s total meltdown while resting and preparing for Ohio State. Connor Cook, one of the better quarterbacks in the country and still improving, all but guaranteed he’ll return for his senior season in 2015. What a week. Even better, though, would be a convincing win against the Buckeyes (7-1, 4-0) to follow up last year’s surprise Big Ten championship game. That would leave a trio of three- and four-loss teams and a potential rematch with Nebraska. Vegas futures odds have loved the Spartans for several weeks because of the likelihood the team finishes as a 12-1 Big Ten champion. This team is balanced and dominant in conference play with a lone road loss to Oregon early in the year.
THREAT LEVEL: HIGH
High risk of terrorist attacks.
Big 12 champion: Baylor at Oklahoma was supposed to be a play-in game for the College Football Playoff. Instead, it seems more likely that Kansas State at TCU will determine the Big 12. The Horned Frogs put themselves in terrific position with a win here, claiming victories against Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kansas State. TCU’s remaining schedule features teams with a combined record of 8-17. A Kansas State win makes things interesting, and Baylor still is in play. The Big 12 is playing some entertaining, quality football right now, and a one-loss champion, having survived a nine-game round robin, has a terrific argument.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils took control of the Pac-12 South on Saturday night — well, early Sunday morning for most of you, as Arizona State’s overtime win against Utah concluded sometime near 2:30 a.m. ET. Notre Dame, Arizona and a potential Pac-12 championship game against Oregon means ASU has several chances to build its resume. It seems unlikely the Sun Devils escape unscathed, but the defense has crystalized in a hurry after giving up 62 and 34 points to UCLA and USC in consecutive games.
THREAT LEVEL: ELEVATED
Significant risk of terrorist attacks.
Nebraska: Doak Walker Award candidate Ameer Abdullah left Saturday’s game in the first quarter due to a knee injury, but reports sound optimistic he’ll return. The committee gave the Cornhuskers the nod ahead of Ohio State in its inaugural poll Turesday, slotting Nebraska at No. 15. Win out, set up a potential rematch with one-loss Michigan State in the Big Ten championship and wish for continued attrition elsewhere, Nebraska fans. You could become a serious threat in the next few weeks.
Notre Dame: The playoff committee clearly values quality of opponents, especially quality wins. The Fighting Irish have none, as Stanford has lost four games and the rest of the “impressive” wins include North Carolina and Navy. Arizona State on the road next Saturday represents the toughest remaining game. Even if the team finishes with one loss, on the road to an unbeaten Florida State on a controversial call, it may find itself on the outside due to what’s become a pretty weak schedule.
Ohio State: This is where coach Urban Meyer can earn his paycheck and freshman QB J.T. Barrett can go a long way toward earning a starting job next season, assuming Braxton Miller returns healthy. The Buckeyes are looking at a 10-win regular season regardless, but knocking Michigan State off its throne would go a long way toward healing the on-field wounds incurred since the end of last year’s regular season. This Spartans defense that hounded the Buckeyes last year isn’t quite as talented, and OSU’s offense has thrived almost every game since an early loss to Virginia Tech. This is a fork in the road for the team’s 2014 season and beyond.
THREAT LEVEL: GUARDED
General risk of terrorist attacks.
Marshall: One of the more interesting unheralded debates of the season pitted one-loss East Carolina (with a decent schedule) against unbeaten Marshall (with a joke of a schedule). Now the Thundering Herd have to be a slight favorite to claim top status among teams from the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences. It’s mostly due to the lack of an outstanding candidate, like some of the TCU or Boise State teams of years past, but the first year of the CFP hasn’t featured many “unfair” cries from smaller FBS programs.
Colorado State: Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and former Alabama running back Dee Hart have the Rams in position to compete for the New Year’s Six bowl spot guaranteed to one program outside of the power conferences. CSU won at Boston College, something USC couldn’t accomplish, and also handled Colorado. The Mountain Division leaders are 7-1 with a road loss to Boise State.
THREAT LEVEL: LOW
Low risk of terrorist attacks.
SMU: The perpetual choice for lowest of low in 2014, the Mustangs suffered a 48-10 home loss to Memphis. It’s difficult to come up with new or original ways to illustrate the team’s ineptitude on a weekly basis, but I’ll try: SMU has scored five offensive touchdowns all season, three rushing and two passing. Eric Dickerson, even if the athletic department took your terrible advice and started paying players fat checks under the table to revive the football program, it would take an army of brainwashers and public relations experts to somehow convince five-star recruits to play for this forsaken, coach-less squad.
Georgia State: The only team winless in Sun Belt play, the Panthers lost by a combined 109-31 the last two weeks to a pair of recent Southern Conference members in Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. Only the SMU defense (48.0) allows more points per game than the Panthers (43.7). Troy, also 1-8, will host Georgia State this weekend in an attempt to get longtime coach Larry Blakeney one last win before the Trojans usher him to retirement. Things could get even worse the rest of the season.
Kansas: What a weekend for Missouri fans, huh? The Tigers get back into position to win another SEC East title while the Jayhawks (2-6, 0-5), playing without a head coach, get crushed by 36 points against Baylor. Kansas (or kansas, as Mizzou fans prefer) faces the only other Big 12 team without a conference win this Saturday, then closes with games against TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas State.
Iowa State: Who is that other team, you may be wondering, with the 0-5 Big 12 record? It’s the Cyclones. An angry Oklahoma team took it out on Iowa State this weekend, crushing the Big 12 bottom feeders, 59-14. Iowa State fans have the potential to be the most miserable in the United States if the team falls at Kansas and to Texas Tech the next two outings. How the heck did this team ever knock off Iowa in mid-September?