Today the College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first batch of rankings for the 2014 season. For the first time this season, the college football world will get a glimpse behind the closed doors to see just how this particular selection committee will weigh the results of the season to offer us all an idea of how the committee will work. Tasked with the duty of picking the best four teams in the nation at the end of the season, we will now get an idea of what teams have impressed the committee and whether or not the committee operates differently than the traditional polls. I do not think it will differ all that much, at least for right now in the midst of the season. We shall see.
Over the summer, while attempting to look ahead to the 2014 season, I drafted my first playoff projection. I called it a beta version, because nobody knows just how the committee is going to work, and I have cautioned everyone with that reminder from the start of the season. At the time I included Florida State, Ohio State, Oregon and Alabama in my projected four-team playoff field. I have since updated and modified my projection a couple of times this season to reflect my take on the season’s outlook as things developed. When I made my projection in the summer, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was supposedly healthy and one of my favorites for the Heisman Trophy. That changed just before the start of the season with Miller undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery before the season even started. That left me to slide in Michigan State in place of the Buckeyes for a while, but Ohio State has remained on my radar for a while.
Guess what. They’re back in my projection. As we get set to get our first look at the College Football Playoff selection committee’s rankings, now is a good time to update my playoff projection. As it turns out, I am back to my original beta projected playoff field as we get close to the end of October. The seeding may be different, and some teams on my radar have an excellent chance to get in here before the season ends, but here is where I stand today (including updated McGuire Metric scores for reference).
1. Florida State (McGuire Metric: 26.5 points)
Previously: No. 1 seed
Florida State’s most impressive victory is a home game against Notre Dame, currently tied for third most valuable victory this season. While I do not believe this Florida State team to be as good as it was last season, I do not see any team standing in the way of a 13-0 record. That would include a road win Thursday night at Louisville and a third straight victory in the ACC Championship Game. Because I think Florida State will be the only undefeated among the power conference candidates, I think they will be likely to receive the number one seed.
2. Alabama (McGuire Metric: 12.0 points)
Previously: On the radar
Alabama does not have any signature wins in the McGuire Metric, although when the season wraps up and I compile an adjusted total based on final AP rankings, this could be a different story. A season-opening victory over West Virginia is beginning to look more impressive than it did when originally calculated into Alabama’s formula. I’m putting Alabama back on top of the SEC this week, and the schedule is why. The Crimson Tide will get Mississippi State and Auburn at home before the end of the season, and that could be huge. Alabama still has to get out of LSU before those games come along though, so I am not saying it will be easy for Alabama from here on out. But if Alabama does what I think they are capable of doing, they can beat LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn to reclaim the SEC West and then find a way to topple Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Do that, and Alabama will be a lock for a playoff spot, and a high one at that. If all goes according to plan, Alabama’s McGuire Metric score will skyrocket down the stretch.
3. Oregon (McGuire Metric: 27.5 points)
Previously: No. 3 seed
Oregon takes on nemesis Stanford this week, but I suspect the Ducks prevail for a win to begin running away with the Pac-12 North. The Ducks also have to go on the road to play a rising Utah team, but I think they get out of these next two weeks with a pair of wins against the Pac-12’s two best defenses. Already with a win over Michigan State in the books, the kryptonite that has been defense to Oregon in recent years will now be a thing of the past. Add in a victory in the Pac-12 Championship Game over a ranked opponent (there are currently four ranked team in the Pac-12 South), perhaps a revenge game against Arizona, and I think the Ducks capitalize to wrap up a one-loss season with a Pac-12 title. With the respect the Pac-12 has, a one-loss champion appears to be a lock for the playoff. I’ll take my chances with Oregon. Oregon also owns two of the most valuable wins this season, against Michigan State and UCLA.
4. Ohio State (McGuire Metric: 8.0 points)
Previously: On the radar
OK, let’s talk about Ohio State. The Buckeyes are coming off a double-overtime victory at Penn State that received some help from questionable officiating. But do not allow for that performance to wipe away everything else that has been done since going down to Virginia Tech. Ohio State should be 7-1 when they go to Michigan State next week, and this will be the tipping point that makes or breaks Ohio State in the playoff hunt. I have gone back and forth on the Buckeyes and Spartans, but whoever wins next week will remain my lone Big Ten representative. Ohio State has gotten better since the start of the season, and a road win at Michigan State would silence some of the criticism. As we sit here now, I have Ohio State winning the Big Ten, which would include a win over a potentially ranked Nebraska team in the Big Ten Championship Game. At 12-1 and aided by the Big 12 and SEC West picking themselves apart just enough, I think Ohio State continues to climb, which will lead it to be difficult to leave a one-loss Ohio State team out of a four-team playoff field. They may get smoked by whatever team they face in the playoff, but Ohio State will make it if things go the way I think they will.
Sugar Bowl: Florida State vs. Ohio State
Rose Bowl: Alabama vs. Oregon
It would be good to see Oregon and Ohio State in the Rose Bowl to keep the traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 match-up in play, and an Alabama-Florida State Sugar Bowl would be fun too. When it comes time to ranking the teams, I have a feeling Florida State and Alabama being the top two would prevent that from happening. Regardless of how it works, I think Oregon would be most likely to stay on the west coast, and you have to figure Alabama fans would travel well enough out west for a semifinal (not that Ohio State would not, both travel well).
Others To Watch
TCU, Kansas State, Baylor: I am obviously keeping a very close eye on what is happening in the Big 12, but I think this conference will hurt itself before the season ends. Baylor may still have the best chance to come out of the Big 12 with one loss, but a road trip at Oklahoma could result in a second loss. I can see Kansas State losing at least once with games against TCU, West Virgina and Baylor all still to play and all three coming on the road. TCU is the hot team right now, but can they escape West Virginia and Kansas State without a loss? If they do, TCU will make a push into the playoff field because Kansas, Texas and Iowa State are not likely to stand in the way.
Michigan State and Nebraska: I am standing firm on Ohio State for now, but if the Buckeyes stumble in East Lansing I will go right back to giving Michigan State the edge to represent the Big Ten in the playoff. But what about Nebraska? The Huskers have a win against Miami, but their biggest wins are still to be achieved against Wisconsin and Iowa. Nebraska’s path to a playoff spot is the same as Ohio State and Michigan State (win out and win the Big Ten Championship Game), but Nebraska will have no victories over a top 25 team until then (OSU or MSU will have at least one before Big Ten title game).
Notre Dame: Notre Dame may have the best case for a playoff spot among all potential one-loss candidates if the Irish can end the season with one loss. I like this Notre Dame team better now than I did in the beginning of the season, and they nearly edged Florida State in Tallahassee. If it comes down to comparing quality losses, Notre Dame may have the best argument. But I think Notre Dame goes down at least once more this season, maybe even this weekend against Arizona State (which would be good for Oregon, by the way).
Auburn: I had Auburn in my previous playoff projection, but only because I started to have some doubts about Alabama. I have Auburn ready to step right back in over Alabama, but I still think the road game at Alabama will not go Auburn’s way this season. Auburn could drop off earlier if they fail to beat Ole Miss this week, which is possible (although I think Auburn wins), or at Georgia in mid-November. I’ll keep Auburn on my radar for now.
Mississippi State and Ole Miss: I do not have enough faith either of these teams will reach the end of the season in playoff contention, but I cannot justify removing either from the radar just yet. We know one of these teams is guaranteed a loss in the final week of the regular season, but as you have read by now I am predicting each team takes a loss before that anyway. I still think Alabama hands Mississippi State a loss in Tuscaloosa and I’m considering Auburn beating Ole Miss this weekend. That should result in both teams dropping down the playoff pecking order along the way.
Georgia: I think Georgia may have the best path to the playoff out of the SEC, thanks in large part to what is left in front of the Bulldogs. Georgia takes on woeful Florida this week, goes to Kentucky next week and then hosts Auburn. With the game in Athens, I think Georgia has a good shot to score the win. Georgia also gets Georgia Tech at home, and that should be important against a Georgia Tech team that is currently 6-2 and currently in the running in the ACC Coastal Division. Georgia Tech might even be ranked when this game comes around. Georgia also has an FCS foe on the board, Charleston Southern, sandwiched between Auburn and Georgia Tech. the biggest hurdle besides Auburn may be the SEC Championship Game (which I currently have Alabama winning).
Pac-12 South: I’m confident in Oregon coming out of the Pac-12, but the Pac-12 South is worth watching for a number of reasons. If the Ducks stumble, the Pac-12 will become very important. Arizona State still has games against Notre Dame, Arizona and Utah (those teams are a combined 18-3). Add in a potential match-up with 11-1 Oregon, and you can see an easy case for the Sun Devils. I’ll believe it when I see it though. I still think Utah is about to come down to earth soon, and Arizona may end up losing to UCLA and Utah. I see this division picking itself apart, but with three 6-1 teams as of now, it demands attention.
Which School Has Best Shot At Playoff From Each Power Conference
Here are thew teams I think with the best chance to reach the playoff by power conference. This leans heavily on remaining schedule and may not necessarily have a direct tie to the above projection notes.
ACC: Florida State
Big 12: Baylor
Big Ten: Nebraska