Each week we continue to get updated playoff brackets shared on live TV based solely on the results to date. This is a silly exercise, because we still have a second half of the season to play. You will not get that here. Instead, I am gazing into my crystal ball and seeing how the regular season is going to end so I can project who will be in instead of suggesting “who’s in.” I cooked up a preview projection over the summer but released my first official projection for the 2014 season at the beginning of the month. Two (insane) weeks have passed so it was time to update the projection a bit.
Here is how I see the playoff field shaping up.
1. Florida State
Previously: No. 3 Seed
Before the season started I figured Florida State was the closest to being a lock to play in the playoff. While I had them down a couple of spots previously, I still felt they were the safest bet to make it. That remains the case, and with some realigning of my projections I end up moving Florida State into my top spot in the field. This is due to my belief Florida State has the easiest path ahead of them, compared to some other contenders, and they are probably the most likely to run the table before the playoff field is set. Florida State hosts Notre Dame this weekend, and a Thursday night game at Louisville still looms, but I cannot find any team on the schedule that should give Florida State a loss. Wins against Oklahoma State and Clemson are starting to look better now that both are in the AP top 25, and Notre Dame should end the year in the top 25 as well (Irish could finish with one loss too). The thing is, we have not even seen Florida State bring its A-game this season for one reason or another. Yet, they still win. That luck may run out at some point, but when the bright lights go on and if the team is healthy, this is still the team to beat.
Previously: On the radar
Auburn was just thumped by Mississippi State this past weekend, but I feel there is enough on the roster to wiggle back into the top four playoff spots before the end of the season. This will not be easy, but the Tigers face a schedule that will easily move Auburn back up if they win their games. Auburn must play at Ole Miss, at Georgia and at Alabama before the regular season wraps up. Auburn also plays South Carolina and Texas A&M at home. Auburn is capable of winning all of these games and would likely benefit from a Mississippi State loss (but hoping for two). I previously had Alabama in my four-team field, but the way the teams are playing I actually have more faith in Auburn right now to make a run despite quite a challenging schedule in front of them. Auburn’s inclusion in my field is fueled by my hesitation to suggest Mississippi State or Ole Miss manage to run the table in the SEC, and Alabama’s offense is something that has been sputtering long enough for me to start having some real concern about it in this discussion.
The truth is, I am undecided on which school represents the SEC in the playoff field. Mississippi State and Ole Miss are the flavors of the week, and for good reason, but I still feel as though a school from the state of Alabama is going to find a way out of this division. Right now, I think Auburn is the better bet.
Previously: No. 2 Seed
Oregon had the biggest bounceback of the week following a crazy Week 6. The Ducks traveled to Pasadena, California to pound UCLA in what was supposed to be a colossal match-up of top ten teams before both teams suffered a loss at home the previous week. The final score was 42-30, but anyone who watched that game knows this game was not that close. Oregon looks like the best team in the Pac-12 to me and I believe they get by Stanford later this season. Before that, I believe Oregon gets by Washington this weekend. There is no team I would count on winning the Pac-12 more than Oregon, so to me the Ducks still look poised for a playoff case. Remember, Oregon holds a valuable win over Michigan State and that looks more and more impressive as long as the Spartans keep plugging away.
4. Michigan State
Previously: No. 4 Seed
I am sticking with a Big Ten champion grabbing the fourth playoff spot, and I am standing by Michigan State to be that team. The Spartans have had an interesting last five quarters, but I see no reason to be overly concerned about Michigan State in the Big Ten picture. This year’s defense has not been as automatic as it was a year ago, but they still find a way to come up with the plays they need. As far as Michigan State’s in the Big Ten, the only significant hurdle to leap before a third appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game is a home game against Ohio State. Ohio State is getting better each week, so do not let the week two loss at home to Virginia Tech fool you. The Buckeyes are a viable contender in the Big Ten (and are on my radar), but for now I give the Spartans a narrow edge playing at home when that game comes.
Others To Watch
Oklahoma and Baylor: The Big 12’s best chance to get a team into the four-team playoff, as I see it, is to have an undefeated conference champion. With Baylor now the lone undefeated in the conference, the Bears likely have to get through the rest of the season without losing. Baylor still has a road trip to Oklahoma and home games against Oklahoma State and Kansas State could be tricky. If Baylor can get through with a 12-0 record, they could sneak in past Michigan State, but I don’t know if they pass Oregon. But I also don’t think Baylor will run the table, which I believe puts the Big 12 on the outside looking in when all is said and done.
Ohio State: Michigan State may be my team to beat, but Ohio State may be the team playing the best football in the Big Ten right now. The Buckeyes have to go to East Lansing, which will not be easy. However, if Ohio State gets out of that game with a win, Ohio State should be rolling back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game with a great chance to make a push for a playoff spot.
Alabama: I dropped Alabama form my playoff field projection, but I am ready to slide them right back in there if the offense can start getting back on track. Alabama hosts Texas A&M this week, which should give me an idea of where to go with Alabama in the second half of the season. Alabama also gets Mississippi State and Auburn at home, which I still feel gives Alabama an edge.
Mississippi State and Ole Miss: The Mississippi schools are on top of the college football world right now, with Florida State in the middle, but one of them is guaranteed to lose since they play each other in the final game of the regular season. And as I just made note above, I think Mississippi State could go down at Alabama. Ole Miss could lose to Auburn too, and I am not so sure LSU cannot score an upset at home against the Rebels before that. I love the story, but I am not quite ready to anoint either the lock out of the SEC. I am keeping both on my radar, but if I had to choose one SEC team to go with, I am not ready to suggest it will be either of these two.
Notre Dame: You are on the radar, Notre Dame, but just barely. The Irish head to Florida State this weekend and I believe the Seminoles bring their best game of the season. That should be enough to quiet the Notre Dame hype machine.