College Football Playoff Rankings: Predicting the Top Four (Nov. 11th)


The third round of College Football Playoff rankings will be released tonight. Who deserves to make it into the top four?

The College Football Playoff Rankings should receive another shake up this week, following the Auburn Tigers’ loss to the Texas A&M Aggies. It was Auburn’s second loss of the season, which means they are likely out of the mix for playoff consideration.

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The SEC West almost took a second major blow to its chances of getting multiple teams in the playoff this past weekend, when Alabama nearly lost to LSU. The Tide needed a late scoring drive to tie the game in regulation, before topping LSU in overtime, 20-13.

Believe it or not, the win over LSU instantly became Alabama’s best of the 2014 season so far. LSU is the only team to with a loss to Alabama that is currently ranked in the AP Poll (they are now at No. 20). Alabama’s schedule is back-loaded though, with games against No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 9 Auburn still to come. The Tide will absolutely merit inclusion into the College Football Playoff if they win both of those games (assuming they also cruise in the SEC Title game), but it isn’t difficult to imagine a loss in one or both contests.

If the rankings are fair though, Alabama might have a tough time getting into the top four this week. If you assume that Mississippi State and Florida State are locks for the top two spots, thanks to their unblemished records, that means Alabama is competing with several other one-loss teams for the last two spots, including Oregon, TCU, Baylor, and Arizona State. But really, Alabama should only be competing for the last spot in the top four, because Oregon’s resume is better than Alabama’s by a mile, at the moment.

Alabama should only be competing for the last spot in the top four, because Oregon’s resume is better than Alabama’s by a mile, at the moment.

While Alabama has only one win over a team currently ranked in the AP Poll, Oregon has three. The Ducks have a home win against No. 12 Michigan State, along with a couple road wins against No. 14 UCLA and No. 25 Utah. The Ducks have also dealt with an absurd number of injuries to their offensive line, and they could be much healthier by the time the College Football Playoff rolls around, which may or may not be taken into consideration by the committee.

So how does Alabama compare to the other one-loss teams currently in the conversation?

Well, Arizona State is currently the only other team that is ostensibly in the mix that can boast more than one victory over a top 25 team. This past Saturday, the Sun Devils steamrolled Notre Dame, who is now ranked No. 15 in the AP Poll. ASU also beat Utah earlier this season.

TCU and Baylor’s situations are a bit dicier. TCU picked up their only win against a team currently ranked in the AP Poll this past Saturday, when they pummeled Kansas State, who dropped to No. 13, as a result.

Baylor’s overall resume might be a bit weaker than TCU’s, but their lone victory over a ranked team was against TCU. I am inclined to give TCU a slight edge though because, while the Horned Frogs may have lost the head-to-head match-up, it’s not a bad loss at all. Baylor, on the other hand, is the only team truly in the conversation that has a loss to an unranked team (West Virginia).

So where does this leave us? Well, here is how I would rank the teams right now:

Top four:

  • No. 1 Mississippi State Bulldogs
  • No. 2 Florida State Seminoles
  • No. 3 Oregon Ducks
  • No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs

First teams out:

  • No. 5 Arizona State Sun Devils
  • No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide

After looking at all the resumes, the only real question I had was whether to put TCU or Arizona State in at No. 4. I opted for the Horned Frogs for a couple of reasons. For one thing, Arizona State and Oregon appear to be on a collision course in the Pac-12 Championship. Only one of those teams is going to make it in, and I think it’s going to be Oregon.

The other thing is, for the best possible playoff, I think you need four conference champions. If the regular season clearly shows that you are not the best team in your conference, then what right do you have to take up a valuable spot in the College Football Playoff, which, ideally, should determine which team is the best in the country?

That goes for Arizona State, should they fail to win the Pac-12, and it also goes for Alabama if they can’t find a way to win the SEC.

Many argue that most of the best teams in the country are all playing in the SEC West, and maybe that’s true. But I’m not taking it on faith– and that is exactly what you have to do to fully accept that argument. The elite teams in the Power Five conferences mostly refuse to play each other in non-conference games, so making conclusive statements about how those teams stack up is impossible. Alabama hasn’t played Florida State, Oregon, TCU, Arizona State, or Baylor. The best they can do to argue for their superiority is a transitive-property argument, which any smart college football fan should laugh at.

College Football Playoff contenders should prove that they are the best teams in their conferences first–then they can begin arguing that they are the best in the country.